Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
SUNNY BRAE – Rosella Gaarder Pace’s adventure began nearly 97 years ago and shows no sign of slowing down.
Born in remote Otter Tail County in Minnesota, her family then moved to Freeborn County, where Rosella spent her teenage years when times were tough all over.
“High school nearly took in all the days of the Depression,” she remembers.
After that, Rosella’s family moved to a metropolis even larger and more dazzling than the town of Albert Lee.
Minneapolis opened up her world. “We thought it was the big city,” she said. “That was Heaven.”
Rosella leapt at the fresh opportunities. She got a job and at age 16, entered the University of Minnesota as an English major. But her main interest was university theatre, and she became involved in a newly emerging technology that would open up the world for her – radio.
“Radio was just beginning to be nationally programmed,” she recalls.
In her last few years of college, she performed in stage plays. That led to more and different jobs. Films and traveling shows would contact the college looking among the pool of actors for people with good voices, and radiogenic Rosella readily filled the bill.
She began doing voice work as a substitute announcer, in commercials and in dramas, with one role featuring her as the Virgin Mary.
Before graduating in 1937, she met the man she would marry, Robert. The young couple eventually moved to New York, where Robert took his first job at Columbia University.
After a year, Robert was transferred to Washington, D.C. There, someone asked Rosella why she wasn’t working in radio. “I didn’t know there was any radio to be in,” she replied. That soon changed.
She contacted radio station WJSV and was promptly cast in a radio drama. “There was plenty of work for actors,” she said.
Rosella was a hot property, and her burgeoning career soon included voice work in commercials and public service announcements as well as in journalism. Rosella did interviews for a BBC show titled Other Women’s Lives, profiling women from different countries. It resonated with listeners, who gave her what every performer craves – positive feedback, and more exposure to other women’s life experiences.
“I would get fan mail, and the comments seemed so surprising,” she said. “It was really quite novel.”
Event programs from that era show a vivacious young Rosella Pace in period garb and coiffure.
Among her archives are a complete collection of membership cards in the American Federation of Radio Artists.
After World War II, Rosella and Robert moved to Syracuse, New York, where she focused on family and parenting and lived “a normal life beyond the news center of the world.”
In New York, she also had her first involvement in another new form of media – television – doing what was known as “educational television” shows.
The couple produced two daughters, and then it was off to the West Coast where Robert had taken a job at UCLA. Eventually settling in Sherman Oaks, Rosella further developed her skills as a writer and poet, contributing to small circulation magazines, including one called Coastlines.
She participated in a poetry workshop which ran strong for a decade, with some members still in touch with Rosella to this day.
In 1993, Rosella and Robert moved to Arcata, a place with a vivid writing culture, and a new chapter in her storied life opened up. Discovering Blue Lake’s Dell’Arte School of Physical Theatre further fired her passion for performance.
“This has turned out to be kind of wonderful,” she said.
Here in Humboldt, Rosella kept house and luxuriated in the many creative opportunities available to her always idea-filled mind. She joined a book club, wrote poetry – some of it published in magazines – and composed a vanity chap book.
“She has a way with words,” said friend, caregiver and fellow Sunny Brae resident Nancy Reichard.
Robert passed away in 2011 at age 98. Rosella, who seems none the worse for wear following recent pneumonia and hip replacement surgery, now lives in a tidy second unit behind the home of one of her daughters in the Sleepy Shire of Sunny Brae. “They call me infill,” she quipped.
Rosella’s writing is informed by her avid reading. She devours local newspapers and is just finishing up War and Peace. “I’m interested in everything,” she said.
Music is another passion, indulged daily. Rosella gets in an hour a day on her Mason & Hamlin grand piano, playing classical repertoire such as Bach, Hayden, Schumann and Brahms, plus finger dexterity exercises to keep arthritis at bay.
The nonstop nonagenarian was recently featured on KHSU’s Chronologically Gifted radio show, and enjoys frequent outings with Reichard.
“We have an adventure every day,” Rosella said. “It’s just paradise to me.”
On Saturday, Aug. 9, Rosella turns 97.
“I’m having such a good life,” she said.