War and Music: An American Tale

Spotlight on recipient and teacher Dzidra Reimanis

“If I had to choose one piece of music, all I need for the rest of my life is Beethoven’s piano sonatas,” says Dzidra, seen here with cuddly companion Coda, “All 32.”

“He doesn’t like taking orders.” Dzidra snuggles with Coda, her feline companion of 14 years. “When he showed up at my door as a kitten, his tail was as long as he was! So, my students and I named him Coda.”

Coda—for the musically challenged—is the ending passage of a piece of music, but also means “tail” in Italian.

At 90 years old Dzidra Reimanis still teaches piano lessons in her home in Dilworth. A teacher and former board member for Community School of the Arts, she credits Henry Bridges, its founder, for giving her “the best part of my life.”

“Henry started the school at First Presbyterian Church, and I was the first teacher he hired.” Dzidra’s lessons are now a satellite program of CSA. “I’m not teaching for myself, I want to be a part of community. I donate part of myself to the community through my teaching.”

But Dzidra’s story starts long before this. It begins in Latvia in 1927.

“It’s such a complicated history. Latvia has been ruled by so many different regimes,” Dzidra recalls in beautifully accented English. “The German barons owned the land, even when the Russians tsars were in power. Plus the Swedes and Poles. Then came the Russians, then the Germans, then the Russians again.”

Her family lived in the Latvian countryside and ran a factory that made dairy products from local cream and milk. During World War II the Germans took over her family’s business. When the war ended they fled to an American military zone.

A friend of her mother mentioned a young GI — “a boy who doesn’t like the Army laundry. And she asked if my mother would wash his clothes in exchange for cigarettes—the de facto currency at the time.” Dzidra’s mother agreed. It would be a decision that would change their lives.

Remembering their kindness but knowing only their first names, John O. Sutter tracked down Dzidra and her family through the American Red Cross. He found sponsors for them and their friends through President Truman’s Displaced Persons Act.

When she immigrated to the U.S. in 1949 she was touched by the kindness and curiosity of Americans, who would often inquire about how she was adapting and if she was happy here. Her one complaint is pretty common.

“I worked for Kendall Company in the only air-conditioned building in Charlotte,” said Dzidra, “and I didn’t want to leave at 4:30. I thought ‘I will die in this country from this heat!’”

Despite the Carolina summers Dzidra feels deeply connected to the Charlotte community. With the help of her daily meals she is still able—as she enters her tenth decade—to give back.

“When you live this long, you collect so many stories.”

With Friendship Trays (and Coda) by her side we are excited to hear the stories yet to come.

“They’re so smart and broad minded.”

Dzidra admires current students and Friendship Tray volunteers Louis and Sophie Jorge.

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