Saturday, April 02, 2016

Opal Kissinger (1924-2016)

Opal Kissinger portrays Helena Modjeska at OCHS history conference, 1988.
I wish this were some terrible April Fools Day joke, but it apparently is not. I just received word that Opal Kissinger has died. The obituary being forwarded around the Anaheim Library staff  follows below:
Opal Kissinger, 91, passed away on March 29, 2016 at St. Joseph’s Hospital after struggling for several months with numerous health issues.  She was born on July 27, 1924 in Iowa, where she was raised on a farm.  After graduating from Central Michigan University, Opal taught school in Iowa and Michigan for twenty years, following in the footsteps of her family.  She received her Masters’ Degree in education, with a minor in library science, from the State University of Iowa in the early 1960s. 

Following her marriage to Richard Kissinger, the couple moved to Orange County in 1963.  After teaching one year at Sycamore Junior High School, she became the librarian at Fremont Junior High School.  The 1967 Fremont yearbook was dedicated to her.  In 1970 she joined the Anaheim Public Library as an Adult Services librarian, becoming Local History Curator in 1974, a position she held until her retirement in 1987.

In the Anaheim History Room, Opal was responsible for collecting, cataloging, preserving and making available to the public materials related to Anaheim’s history.  Opal also administered the Mother Colony House, Anaheim’s oldest structure and museum.  During her 14 years, Opal introduced nearly 25,000 students to the Mother Colony House and Anaheim history.  She also contributed weekly articles and historic photographs to the Anaheim Bulletin, for which she was recognized as “Citizen of the Day” in 1984.  Opal was active in many clubs and organizations, including the Anaheim Historical Society, Mother Colony Household, Ebell Club and the Women’s Division of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce.  In 2006 Opal was presented with the Anaheim Historical Society’s “Margaret Atkins Award” for her work in preserving Anaheim’s history.

Opal’s most unique contribution in the preservation and dissemination of Anaheim’s history were her first-person portrayals of women from Anaheim’s past, including Madame Helena Modjeska and Vicenta Sepulveda Yorba Carrillo.

After nine years of retirement, filled with a stint on the Orange County Grand Jury (1988-1989) and conducting tours of the Anaheim Stadium, Opal returned to the History Room in 1996 as a part-time librarian to assist with the organization of the huge collection of materials accumulated by Elizabeth Schultz.  She compiled the definitive chronology for the Anaheim Public Library, which was essential to the library’s Centennial Celebration in 2002. 

In 2008 Opal made a significant donation to Heritage Services, funding exhibit space at Founders’ Park for the many Anaheim artifacts [including a mail delivery carriage and wine press] collected by her during her tenure as Local History Curator.  Her legacy endures every time a student on a field trip, a resident or a visitor is introduced to Anaheim’s rich heritage by following the “OK Trail” at Founders’ Park.
Opal, Jane Newell and I at the Anaheim Historical Society 2007 Annual Dinner.
Local historian and former OCTA chief Stan Oftelie further points out that "Opal was a very big deal in local history and before her illnesses was the guiding light/chief organizer/lifelong officer of the Association of Retired Orange County Grand Jurors."

Opal was not just a great asset to the community, she was also extremely kind and a delight to be around. Happily, much of what she helped build and grow -- including the Anaheim Heritage Center -- will remain and will continue to benefit future generations. But Opal will be missed.

Update: The following obituary for Opal appeared in the Orange County Register on April 24, 2016:

Opal Leone "Lea" Kissinger, born on July 27, 1924 in Dayton Township, Iowa, to Carl Dewitt Wilson and Emma C. (Voelgel) Wilson, passed away peacefully March 29, 2016 at St. Joseph's Hospital after struggling for several months with numerous health issues. She was raised on a farm and attended public schools in Millersburg, Iowa. She received her teaching credential from Coe College, Iowa, attended several universities in Iowa and Michigan, earning her Bachelor's and Master's Degrees in education. She received her Master's in library science from San Jose State University, California.

Opal taught school in Iowa and Michigan for many years, as well as in California after she and her husband Dick moved to Orange County in 1963. In 1970 she joined the Anaheim Public Library as an Adult Services librarian, becoming Local History Curator in 1974 in the Anaheim History Room, a position she held until her retirement in 1987.

Opal was preceded in death by her beloved husband, Richard "Dick" Kissinger; and siblings, Ward Rossel Wilson, Eva Irene Marie (Wilson) Underwood, Jessie "Judy" Mable (Wilson) Ross and Anita Anne (Wilson) Wilson. She is survived by nieces, Joan Wilson, Susan Wilson Kirchner, Anne Wilson Dowling, Victoria Beck, Mary Underwood, Christine M. Miller; nephews, Robert Ross, John Wilson, David Wilson, Steven Wilson, David Casper, Steven Casper, Robert Feller; cousins Charles Johnson, Jolene Johnson, and Craig Johnson.

Special condolences go to Opal's caregiver Yenni Maruanaya who cherished her until the end. Interment is private at Fairhaven Memorial Park, Santa Ana. At her request there will not be a memorial service. The family suggests that any contributions in Opal's memory be made to the charity or organization of your choice.

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