Saturday, October 13, 2007
Tickling the ivories tickled her fancy
Caroline Kudell's piano playing was known throughout Fullerton.
By ROBIN HINCH
The Orange County Register
Caroline Louise Kudell
Born: Feb. 26, 1919, Lawrence, Kan.
Died: Oct. 6, 2007, Fullerton
Survivors: Daughter, Maureen Peltzer; son, James Conner; brother, Clark Terrill; grandchildren, Kevin, Sheri, Craig, Amy, Michael; 15 great-grandchildren; one great-great-grandchild.
Services: 11:30 a.m. Monday, Eastside Christian Church, Fullerton. Arrangements by McAulay & Wallace Mortuary, Fullerton.
Donations: National Foundation for Cancer Research, 600 E. West Highway, Suite 525 Bethesda, MD 20814
You know the person at a party who can sit down at the piano and play every Christmas carol or drinking song or '50s favorite? Or even a Bach fugue?
That was Caroline Kudell.
After hearing a melody only once she could reproduce it on any keyboard for the rest of her days.
A Fullerton resident since 1930, she played the organ at the old Fox theater, sent countless newlyweds down the aisle to the strains of Mendelssohn's "Wedding March" and accompanied musical groups throughout Orange County.
She was 88 when she died at home Oct. 6 of complications of cancer.
Caroline, whom some called Carolyn or Connie, was born in Lawrence, Kan., the daughter of a university professor. When she was 4, the family moved to China for four years, and later moved to Fullerton. Caroline grew up in a house on Commonwealth Street, where the main post office is now.
She started playing piano at age 8. Just like in the movies (or in our dreams) she simply sat down at the piano one day and began to play. She took just enough lessons to learn to read music, but often played by ear.
By the time she was 14, she was playing the organ at the Fox Theater before the movie started and during intermission and later played the Wurlitzer at Plummer Auditorium, once as a prelude to a performance by pianist/comedian Victor Borge.
Caroline married at age 16 and had her first child a year later.
She was a strict mom, but also lots of fun. Her youth gave her the energy and sense of whimsy to really play with her kids. While taking them for a walk, for instance, she'd stride ahead of them, scamper up a tree and jump down to surprise them just as they walked by.
In her world of priorities, having fun came well before cleaning house. "The house can always be picked up later," she said.
Her first marriage was a difficult one that ended in divorce. She later married Bob Kudell, who worked for Autonetics and with whom she spent more than 30 happy years. Bob died in 1997.
After her divorce, Caroline found work as a secretary in the Fullerton College women's physical education department, where she also composed interpretive-dance music and played for many dance recitals.
Caroline was a true musician, called upon not only to play for special events around town, but also to transpose music for specific occasions. She was equally at ease playing by ear or reading a musical score.
Great fun to be around, she was full of humor, pep and charisma.
She doted on her grandchildren, who called her their "motorcycle Grandma" because she cut a speedy figure in the desert on her little Honda 90, which she taught the kids to ride.
There was something captivating about her, and she had scores of friends. Her birthday cards numbered 60 or more every year.
Her talents were greatly in demand around town for both public and private events. She belonged to a Fullerton performing-arts group, Victorian Dames, and played both on stage and in parades in her Victorian finery.
At home she was a fabulous cook whose family looked forward to her special soups, her homemade cinnamon rolls and her persimmon cookies and jam.
But sometimes, she was more creative than practical. When Bob died, her daughter asked if she had enough money. "Oh, yes," answered Caroline, who hadn't paid the bills in years. "There are still lots of checks in my checkbook."
Interviewed for this story: Daughter and son-in-law, Maureen and Charles Peltzer; grandson, Kevin.