LA GRANDE — Anita Pipes, a woman with deep La Grande roots who recently died at age 104, was on a path to local music history in the 1920s when she traveled on a horse between Island City and La Grande to take violin lessons.

The skills Pipes developed with the help of those violin lessons eventually led her to become an original member of Grande Ronde Symphony Orchestra in 1951.

She was proud to be a founding member of the symphony and enjoyed playing for it, said Jean Conklin of Pasco, Washington, one of Pipes’ two daughters.

“It gave her a natural outlet for expressing her talent,” Conklin added that her mother stopped riding horses in the 1940s but never stopped learning or playing musical instruments while following an inspiring life path.

Pipes, who died at a care facility in Kennewick, Washington, on June 25, was a quintessential lifelong learner. She taught herself to play the autoharp at age 67 and started taking piano lessons when she was 88, all while retaining a love for playing the violin.

“Music was her passion,” said Conklin of her mother, who attended Island City Elementary School and was a La Grande High School graduate.

Staying connected to the symphony

Pipes’ musical talent allowed her to become the Grande Ronde Symphony Orchestra’s concert mistress, a prestigious leadership position given to the lead violin player of an orchestra.

Pipes stepped down from the Grande Ronde Symphony Orchestra after playing for 26 years, when she and her husband, Taylor Roby Pipes, and the couple began spending winters in Arizona in the 1970s. Still she retained ties to the Grande Ronde Symphony Orchestra. The links were so strong that symphony member Patty Sandoz, of La Grande, would convert video of the Grande Symphony Orchestra’s concerts into DVDs so Pipes could watch them.

Sandoz was delighted to do this for Pipes.

“I treasured my friendship with her,” she said.

Pipes’ love of music remained stronger than ever after she left the symphony, even after she became a centenarian. Sandoz noted that in 2018 Pipes was reteaching herself to play on a piano-type keyboard she had just acquired..

Pipes spent her golden years learning about not only music but also technology.

“Many seniors are scared or overwhelmed by technology, but not my mom,” Conklin said. “She embraced it.”

Pipes was introduced to computers at age 72 and took to them quickly. Soon emailing was one of her favorite means of communication, and she found herself recording songs she played on the piano. The recordings were enhanced with musical accompaniment created by Pipes with a synthesizer-piano.

A perfectionist and tenacious

Pipes did not have the benefit of computer technology when she started her career as a bookkeeper in La Grande more than 70 years ago after graduating from a business school in Quincy, Illinois.

Pipes was a bookkeeper for many years, working for companies including the Paul Bunyan Co., Montgomery Ward and Fountain Wholesale. Pipes found working as a bookkeeper fulfilling.

“She loved it,” Conklin said.

Bookkeeping was a good fit for her since she enjoyed the challenge of accounting and meeting its high standards for accuracy.

“She was a real perfectionist and tenacious. These are the type of people who do well at bookkeeping,” Conklin said.

Pipes kept close tabs of the budget of not only the businesses she worked for but also her household. Conklin described her parents as “thrifty” individuals who never took on debt if at all possible.

“They almost always paid in cash,” she said. “If they used a credit card they would not buy anything that could not be paid off at the end of the month. If they did not have the money to buy something they didn’t buy it.”

Conklin said her parents were anything but frugal when helping those in need.

“They were quiet philanthropists. They were very generous. They would see someone who needed help and would figure out a way to help them,” she said. “It was totally unsolicited. They were not afraid to reach out.”

Pipes had few health problems during her life and was able to walk under her own power until she was about 103 when she started using a walker.

“The only reason she used it was for balance,” Conklin said.

Pipes was prone to falling later in her life but the only serious injury she sustained was a fractured wrist.

“She had bones of steel,” Conklin said.

A lifelong love of the outdoors

Conklin does not know why her mother was so healthy, but she believes a life of exercise may have been a factor.

“She always walked. We had a car but she nearly always walked. If we needed to go to town to get some yeast she would say, ‘Lets walk.’ Walking was her lifestyle,” Conklin said.

Fishing is another activity Pipes enjoyed.

All of her fishing was done with her husband, who died in 2003.

“They fished all over the Northwest,” Conklin said. “It was a joy. It was a sport both them of them could enjoy together.”

Conklin said her parents did much of their fishing in the high lakes of the Elkhorns, many of which they hiked to. The Elkhorns meant so much to Pipes that her family will later spread her ashes there.

Pipes, who lived in the La Grande area for 87 years, moved to Walla Walla, Washington, in September 2004 and to Kennewick in 2020. Sandoz, who often visited Pipes in Washington, feels blessed to have known her.

“She was truly a remarkable and inspirational woman,” Sandoz said.

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Dick Mason is a reporter with The Observer primarily covering the communities of North Powder, Imbler, Island City and Union, education, Union County veterans programs and local history. Dick joined The Observer in 1983, first working as a sports and outdoors reporter.

General assignment reporter

Beats include the communities of North Powder, Imbler, Island City and Union, education, Union County veterans programs and local history. Dick joined The Observer in 1983, first working as a sports and outdoors reporter.

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