Dorothy Jaekle MacLean’s marker is among the more recent ones at Tulocay Cemetery.
Born in 1909, of a pioneer family, Dorothy died in 2001. Her story came to mind because of the interest in Napa movie theater history, inspired by the reopening of the Uptown Theatre.
A music major at the College of the Pacific, Dorothy performed at the Fox Theater, which was located at the corner of First and Randolph streets in Napa.
The Fox Theater was noted for its beautiful organ, and when Dorothy was home from college in the summertime she practiced her music there. This led to what must have been one of the first Mickey Mouse Clubs in the country.
On summer Saturday mornings in 1931, Dorothy played the organ while the children watched early Mickey Mouse cartoons. (These first appeared in 1928.) They sang along while she played.
In 1988, when I interviewed her for a column in the now-defunct Napa County Record, she said a compact the children gave her was one of her prized possessions. The inscription reads, “To Dorothy Jaekle from the Mickey Mouse Club — 1931.”
Dorothy was born in her parent’s home on Randolph Street. Her maternal grandfather, George Washington Lord, who had served with the Union forces in the Civil War and in the Nebraska Senate, came to Napa in 1898. He opened a real estate office here, and his house still stands at 333 Randolph St.
Dorothy’s mother, Georgiana, was the youngest of four daughters. In 1906 when Georgiana married Fred Jaekle, her father gave them property next door and Fred built a home for his bride.
The family enclave on Randolph Street was completed in the 1930s when Dorothy and her sister, Ruth, were each given neighboring houses at the time of their weddings. Although the homes are no longer owned by the family, the Jaekle’s Craftsman-style house at 345 Randolph St. is often featured on Napa County Landmarks house tours at Christmas time.
Dorothy’s parents were noted for their many activities in the community.
Her father owned Jaekle Brothers Planing Mill on Third Street, which stood between the Borreo Building and the Napa River. He also served on the board of Tulocay Cemetery from 1952 to 1971.
The Napa of Dorothy Jaekle’s youth was a friendly town of about 6,000 people. She said, “If you went downtown and saw someone you didn’t know, you found out who it was before nightfall.” Her memories included the bakery wagon, the ice man, and Mr. Vallerga’s vegetable wagon, which came to their neighborhood once a week with fresh produce from his garden on First Street. (This land is now part of the Copia property.)
Dorothy said she was allowed to play baseball with the boys, because they knew her father would replace any broken windows free of charge.
Her Class of 1927 was the first one to attend the new Napa High School, now the administration building at Lincoln and Jefferson streets.
Dorothy and Hector MacLean fell in love while working together on a local production of Noel Coward’s “Hay Fever.” The Napa Valley Players, founded by Hector in the 1930s, was the beginning of community theater in Napa.
At the time of my 1988 article, Hector said, “Dorothy became my leading lady and we’ve had a successful production for 56 years.”
Their daughter, Conni Venturi, lives in Napa and is a strong supporter of local theater; their son, Bruce, near Sacramento.
Although Hector was more active in theater work through the years, both husband and wife were chosen to be in close-ups during the train scene in the 1958 filming of “This Earth Is Mine,” starring Rock Hudson and Jean Simmons.
Hector MacLean was the advertising manager for Basalt Rock Company and a professional photographer and who contributed work to such publications as Sunset Magazine. He had been a football star for Napa High School, and was the timekeeper for Napa High football games for 61 years.
Music, as well as theater, was always a big part of the MacLeans’ life. Conni remembers the jam sessions her parents hosted at home, with her mother on piano and her father on saxophone. Chick Martin, then Napa City Manager, would play the trumpet and architect Bill Jeffries the trombone.
Dottie was the organist at the First Presbyterian Church for more than 35 years. One of her most moving memories was the day World War II ended.
As she said in 1988, “I went down and opened the church wide and played the organ for about two hours. The church was packed and people just came and sat and worshipped.”
Then, according to Conni, “She went home and did the same thing. People from all over the neighborhood came to join her in rejoicing as she played the piano.”
Dorothy MacLean was a charter member of the Napa Valley Symphony League and was, as she said, “one of the worker bees,” active in raising funds. She was also a founding member of Community Projects.
Hector MacLean died in 1993, and Dottie spent her last years at the Springs of Napa Valley, still contributing to the community. Although her eyesight was dimmed by macular degeneration, she still could play music by heart, and played for church and communion services there.
Dorothy was interviewed on KVON as part of its Very Influential Person series in the 1980s. When asked if there was a part of the past she would revise, she said, “I don’t know that there is. The past was so perfect. It seems like every part of our existence has been the best part. Even now they say the golden years are the best. Well … these are just part of living. They all have their little delights and their sadnesses. We lose some of our friends but we gain new ones.”
Dorothy Jaekle MacLean died in January of 2001 at Queen of the Valley Hospital, surrounded by her family. Her story reminds us of what Napa was like not so very long ago.