LA GRANDE — Dorothy Trice does not know exactly when she first heard the song “Near the Cross” played on a piano, but she does know this — the experience ignited a passion that has yet to dim many decades later.
“I wanted to learn how to play the song right after I heard it,” said Trice, who was about 17 at the time, lived in Florida and did not know how to play the piano.
Trice then began taking piano lessons and teaching herself, putting herself on the road toward becoming a skilled pianist. Today, Trice, who celebrated her 95th birthday on Sunday, Sept. 12, is still playing. She can be heard almost every Sunday at Amazing Grace Fellowship church in La Grande, where she plays songs before Sunday morning services.
Trice is a popular and familiar face at the church, just as she is in La Grande, where she has lived since 1945 after moving from Florida. She smiles broadly when asked what inspired her to move here.
“I fell in love with a handsome soldier,” said Trice, referring to her future husband, Lucky Trice, whom she met when he was stationed in Florida while with the U.S. Army.
Lucky, who grew up in Northeastern Oregon, and Dorothy were married in the 1940s. Lucky operated many businesses in La Grande before he died in 1985 at the age of 82. The businesses he owned included a shoeshine service, a furnace cleaning firm and a janitorial service. all which he operated with the help of his wife, Dorothy, and their five sons and two daughters.
The Trices’ shoeshine business was run on the 1200 block of Adams Avenue. Dorothy said shining shoes was tiring and difficult but it became much less so when electric shoe polishers became available.
“They made it so much easier,” she said.
The furnace cleaning work was also challenging, and unlike shoe shining, it posed some risks. Dorothy Trice will never forget the time one of her sons was cleaning a furnace when it unexpectedly came on. He jumped out quickly.
“He was not hurt but it was frightening,” she said.
Trice was able to attend school only through seventh grade while growing up. She worried after her husband died in the 1980s that she might need to apply for work and was told her applications may not be considered if she did not have a high school diploma. This inspired Trice, at age 62, to begin taking classes for her GED, a high school equivalency certificate.
It turned out that Trice never had to go back to work but she did return to school — as an educator. Trice became a school volunteer, who provided reading instruction to grade school students in the La Grande School District.
“I really enjoyed the kids,” she said.
Trice is in good health overall at age 95 and appears fitter than people many years her junior. She does not attribute this to anything she has done.
“I credit it to God. He has blessed me every day,” she said.
Trice takes part in several activities, including water aerobics. For well over a decade, Trice has participated in morning water aerobics sessions at Veterans’ Memorial Pool. She was going almost every weekday before a recent foot injury sidelined her. Trice said she cannot wait for the day to come when she can return to the pool.
“I really enjoy seeing all the ladies. We are such good friends,” she said. “The treat me like I’m their mother.”
Teresa Roberts, the city of La Grande’s aquatics director, said Trice is one of the most dedicated of those who attend water aerobics sessions. Roberts said she hopes Trice can return soon.
“She is very inspirational. We miss her,” the aquatics director said.
Sally Wiens, a friend of Trice’s who also exercises at Veterans’ Memorial Pool, describes Trice as one of the kindest and most caring people she knows.
“She never has a discouraging word to say about anyone,” Wiens said. “She enjoys all people.”
Wiens added that Trice is not one who takes herself seriously.
“She has a great sense of humor and can laugh at herself,” she said.
Trice said when she was younger she never gave much thought to the possibility that she might someday be celebrating her 95th birthday.
“It was too far out. I have always lived day to day,” she said.
Trice speaks as if she has never wanted to move from La Grande after moving here more than seven decades ago.
“I like everything about it. That is why I’m still here,” she said.