Virginia L. Young, an influential advocate for mental health care in Sacramento and who preached as a child with famed evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, died Thursday at 94, her family said.
Mrs. Young was active in early efforts to establish local services for people with mental illness. As president of the Sacramento Area Mental Health Association from 1956 to 1958, she led efforts to renovate a psychiatric ward at Sacramento County Hospital and supported a state law providing funds for local mental health programs.
She helped organize a blue-ribbon panel of civic, religious and business leaders to study the need for programs and treatment facilities for mentally ill people in the community. In 1967, she became the first person re-elected president of the Sacramento mental health group.
Mrs. Young was comfortable as a group leader and public speaker. She first gained media attention as a child prodigy who played the piano at 3 and performed on the radio in Los Angeles. Her mother introduced her to McPherson, a charismatic preacher who pioneered the use of radio to broadcast her sermons to millions of followers throughout the United States.
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At first, the young Virginia Lee Hale played the piano and sang before thousands of people who packed McPherson’s Angelus Temple. By 6, she was preaching full sermons on stage with McPherson and was described by a Los Angeles newspaper as a “tiny, flaxen-haired evangelist,” her family said.
In later years, Mrs. Young “had mixed emotions” about her early years as a child preacher, said her daughter Gretchen.
“Aimee was a wonderful person, and my mother really loved the community of the church,” her daughter said. “But while other kids were out playing and having fun, she was inside preparing and rehearsing sermons.”
Born Jan. 17, 1920, in Colorado Springs, Colo., Mrs. Young moved with her family to Los Angeles at an early age. Her father left home, and her mother cleaned houses, earned a teaching credential at UCLA and was a teacher and school superintendent in suburban Lawndale.
Mrs. Young graduated from UCLA in 1941. She married Sidney Young, had three children and settled in Sacramento, where her husband was a lawyer.
After her marriage ended in divorce, she ran a cooperative preschool program and was a special-education teacher in the Sacramento City Unified School District. In later years, she taught retirement-planning courses at a community college and gave computer lessons to clients at the Hart Senior Center in Sacramento.
Mrs. Young was a warm and lively woman who enjoyed entertaining and being with people. An excellent cook, she enjoyed serving teriyaki and other nontraditional meals at Thanksgiving. She learned the guitar and once played with folk singer Pete Seeger at her home near McKinley Park. Her interests included ballet, art, newspapers, biographies, history books and her rose garden.
She became a devoted fan of the Stanford University women’s crew team. She cooked heaping plates of lasagna and drove the squad members – including her granddaughter Kristina Peterson – to competitions at Lake Natoma.
“She really relished things,” Peterson said. “If you cooked a meal with her, she’d say, ‘That is the most scrumptious thing I’ve ever eaten’ every time you did it. She embraced everything with eagerness.”
In addition to her daughter, Mrs. Young is survived by two sons, Eric and Gary; six grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren. A private service is planned.