St. Helenan Dolores Torrigino

St. Helenan Dolores Torrigino has been a volunteer all of her life, starting when she was a youngster during World War II in Berkeley. Last December, she spoke about her life at St. Helena's Rianda House Senior Activity Center.

When asked what she gets out of volunteering, longtime St. Helena resident Dolores Torrigino was modest. “I don’t know. It keeps me from being a sit-at-home, doing nothing. It keeps my mind going.”

Torrigino has lived in town since 1980. She has three daughters and a son; six grandchildren and six great grandchildren, with the youngest being 14 months. Her son and his wife are living with her now, after having spent the past 15 years teaching in international schools. Torrigino visited them in Hong Kong and twice in Cairo, but not Myanmar, because it was considered too dangerous.

Torrigino said she has always been a volunteer and when she first knew about this interview, she thought about her first volunteer job. “It goes back to high school,” she said. “In Berkeley during the war, in 1944-45. I was a junior volunteer and I would go with the gal in the truck and get leftover flowers from the florists. We would take them to the army air base on the weekends for the chapel. How about that?”

Torrigino comes by her volunteering naturally. Although her father owned a grocery store, her mother “would pick up people to go to different meetings or take them shopping or something,” she said.

The great-grandmother spoke at the Rianda House Senior Activity Center, where she currently volunteers, and was joined by Julie Spencer, executive director of Rianda House.

Torrigino was remembering events that happened years ago, adding when her children were young, she was a den mother for the Cub Scouts. Another time, Torrigino spent two years at the Red Cloud Indian School on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

“I worked in the development office,” she said. “There was an automatic typewriter and you’d put in the paper and type ‘Dear So and So’ and it would type the letter,” Torrigino said. It stopped after typing “Thank you for your donation of” and Torrigino would punch in an amount. After that, the letter would finish printing. “Of course today, it’s all computer,” she added.

This past summer, Torrigino was able to go back to the reservation for a visit, reflecting that it had been 40 years ago. “There were still a couple of people there, and I found a few of the sisters there who knew me,” she said.

Wherever she lived, Torrigino set up libraries, including one for the St. Helena Catholic School. Additionally, she was a volunteer for different organizations that she belonged to, although she added, “I’ve forgotten what they are.” Always, though, she volunteered for the Catholic church.

In St. Helena, she was parish secretary for three years, until 1983. Currently she serves on the altar society, is a lector and helps count the money.

In the past, she has volunteered at the St. Helena Public Library, where she was secretary and administrative assistant to the librarian. She was there long enough to earn a 10-year pin and then she volunteered with the Friends of the Library, where she was in charge of the bulk mailing.

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Torrigino said she would deal with the books as they came in from other libraries, make sure she knew who they were for and put a note with the name in each book, although she says she doesn’t do that anymore.

On this Tuesday afternoon in late November, Torrigino was sitting at a table after helping with the congregate meals, which are served Monday, Tuesday and Friday at Rianda House. Although there were only five people who showed up – the weather keeps it quiet, Spencer said – Torrigino said she acted as a hostess and helped get the conversations going.

Spencer said Torrigino also helped set up a nice table and helped in the kitchen by taking the temperatures of the food as it came from Suisun through the Meals on Wheels program through Community Action Napa Valley.

Torrigino has volunteered at Rianda House for the past 10 years, since 2008. “I’ve helped deliver meals for a while, mainly to get a friend of mine, who needed to get out and do things, to help me. I’m also a calendar girl,” she said.

Spencer said, “When we first opened, we didn’t have very many calendars that we put out, so we could afford to put a stamp on it. Then Dolores came to me and said we could save money by sending it bulk rate. She used to do the calendars at the library and brought her talents here to Rianda House.” Torrigino taught Spencer how to mail the calendars with a bulk rate stamp. And she was head of the calendar girls for “many, many years,” Spencer added, although Torrigino has since passed on leadership of the group.

When Torrigino said, “That’s about all I’ve done here,” Spencer disagreed. “You’ve also volunteered for Rally 4 Rianda and you manage our puzzles, which is a big hit around here. She keeps things flowing well, which puzzle is going to be the next one. It seems to be a treat for a lot of people, to come and spend a little bit of time on the puzzles.”

“People don’t allow themselves the time at home to do those puzzles, but they do when they come here,” she added.

When asked how many puzzles are finished in a year, Torrigino answered, “It depends on how long it takes us to do them. The bigger ones we get them done in a month, some of the trickier ones, it could take us two, three or four months, depending on if it’s a big puzzle with tiny, little pieces.” Boxes of puzzles are stored in the basement of the Rianda House and Torrigino takes the ones not needed to Jackie’s Consignment Shop in Napa. “We get half of what she sells them for,” Torrigino said. “One time I got $2 and the last time I got $7. And the money goes to Rianda House.”

Beyond that, Torrigino volunteers at Adventist Health St. Helena, where she does bookkeeping type of work, and she helps in the graphic arts department, collating papers and making sure the proper forms are parts of the different charts for patients. “There’s a certain list of papers in the hospital for each procedure and when a person goes in, there’s a certain list of papers that have to go into the chart,” Torrigino said. “It’s just a kind of busywork.”

In years past, Torrigino volunteered at the California Veterans Home in Yountville, doing bookkeeping work, and at the Lincoln Theater, where she was an usher. “I couldn’t afford the shows, but if you’re an usher, you get to pick and choose which shows you go to,” she added. “I liked the music productions.”

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St. Helena Star Editor

David Stoneberg is the editor of the St. Helena Star, an award-winning weekly newspaper. Prior to joining the Star in 2006, he worked for the Lake County Record-Bee, the Clear Lake Observer American, the Middletown Times Star, The Weekly Calistogan and st