Valerie Bass, a young-at-heart retiree who opened doors for underprivileged youngsters as a Girl Scouts leader, died Sept. 28 at 96, her family said.
Mrs. Bass settled in Sacramento in 1988 to be near her children and grandchildren. A classically trained harpist, she had played for more than 30 years with the Cleveland Orchestra, the Minneapolis Symphony and other groups while raising a family. After her music career, she had managed a bridal shop and ran a nonprofit thrift store.
Eager to serve in a new community, she applied at age 73 for a part-time job as a Girl Scouts organizer. Impressed by her spunk and enthusiasm, the Girl Scouts hired her to help establish troops in low-income neighborhoods – a position normally filled by college students.
“I am a very stubborn, determined person,” she told The Sacramento Bee in 1995. “I have worked all my life, and this is the most challenging experience I have every had. I find it very interesting.”
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Mrs. Bass revitalized Troop 1392, a band of girls who met at a low-income apartment complex in West Sacramento. After winning the trust of the families – mostly immigrants from Laos, Mexico and Russia – she devoted herself to helping the youngsters overcome cultural differences, develop leadership skills and set goals. When arthritis forced her to quit her Girl Scouts job, she volunteered as troop leader.
She encouraged Troop 1392 members to get involved in the Girl Scouts color guard and other activities. She broadened their horizons with field trips, including an annual weekend in Santa Cruz. She helped students with homework and encouraged them to work hard in school.
She mentored older girls and helped their families with college applications and recommendations – including one who returned after graduation to take over as troop leader.
Mrs. Bass’ unflagging energy, unflappable cheer and desire to help others inspired Girl Scouts colleagues. She was honored for her contributions to youth by the Older Women’s League.
“She was an amazing person, an amazing volunteer,” said Jean DeCamilla of Girl Scouts Heart of Central California. “She was a real inspiration for everyone about what you can do and accomplish in later years.”
Valerie Vitale was born in 1918 in Cleveland. Her mother was a ballet dancer who performed with the Chicago Opera and in vaudeville, and her father was a music contractor and manager for an orchestra.
“She started playing the harp at 11,” said her husband, Jack. “Her father had the orchestra at a movie palace, and she sat in the front row and saw the harpist play. She was spellbound.”
At 14, she won a scholarship to the Cleveland Institute of Music and studied under Alice Chalifoux, who taught leading harpists in the United States for many years. She played with the Cleveland Orchestra and moved to Minnesota to be principal harpist for the Minneapolis Symphony under renowned conductor Dimitri Mitropolous. She married the first-chair trumpet, Jack Bass, in 1947.
She returned to Cleveland in 1951 and raised two children while working as a professional harpist. Besides jobs at a radio station and a musical theater company, she performed with the Ice Capades and an all-female orchestra, The Orchettes. She entertained in hotels, performed at private events and belonged to the American Federation of Musicians for 35 years.
After retiring from music in 1968, she opened a bridal boutique and later founded and managed a thift store for the Unitarian-Universalist Society of Cleveland. In Sacramento, she volunteered at the former UNICEF store and chaired the music committee for the Unitarian-Universalist Society of Sacramento.
“She loved to throw parties and was an exceptionally gracious hostess,” said her daughter Barbera, who recalled her mother as “very beautiful, vivacious and warm.”
Mrs. Bass’ son Charles died in 2011. In addition to her husband and daughter, she is survived by five grandchildren, six great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild.
A private service was held. Memorial donations may be made to the Chamber Music Society of Sacramento, P.O. Box 162508, Sacramento, CA 95816.