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Elaine L. Thorpe was a longtime church organist and choir director at Dundalk United Methodist Church.
Elaine L. Thorpe was a longtime church organist and choir director at Dundalk United Methodist Church.

Elaine L. Thorpe, a longtime church organist and choir director at Dundalk United Methodist Church, died Oct. 16 at Gilchrist Hospice Care in Towson of complications from Alzheimer's disease. She was 87.

The daughter of Henry Rudolph Pfeiffer, a plumber, and Alma Leontyne Osolin Pfeiffer, a homemaker, Elaine Lillian Pfeiffer was born in Westfield, N.J., and raised in nearby Garwood, N.J.

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Mrs. Thorpe was born into a musical family. Her father was a self-taught musician who played violin, banjo and mandolin.

"On Sundays after church, her family would gather for supper, music making and singing at her paternal Aunt Katy's. Her Aunt Katy, who played the piano at these gatherings, was mainly self-taught as well," said her daughter, Sally Thorpe Curimbaba of Pittsburgh. "Her Uncle Ozzie had a beautiful bass voice and sang in church, concerts and operas."

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Ms. Curimbaba said her mother had perfect pitch.

"She began to play the piano by ear between the ages of 3 and 4 and took her first piano lesson when she was 7. After her first year, her first teacher felt she had taken her as far as she could and suggested another teacher," her daughter said.

In 1940, she entered Jonathan Dayton Regional High School in Springfield, N.J., and during her freshman year, the music teacher singled out Mrs. Thorpe and asked her to play piano for the ninth-grade assembly.

"From then on she played for assemblies, glee club performances, school musicals and soloists," her daughter said. "She even composed the music and lyrics for the [school's] alma mater. It is still used today."

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"We grew up across the street from each other on Myrtle Avenue, and we went to the same schools. I remember her practicing her music every day, and it was great," said Anna Marinelli McDeed, who now lives in Longwood, Fla., and remained a close friend through the years.

During their high school years, Mrs. Thorpe, Mrs. McDeed and her sister, Pat Marinelli, formed the Queen Sisters Trio, patterned after the Andrews Sisters.

"Elaine did all of the arranging," recalled Mrs. McDeed. "We were pretty good and even won first prize at a show in Warinanco Park that was near Elizabeth, N.J. She was just a very talented and fantastic musician."

When she was 16, Mrs. Thorpe became the organist at her Lutheran church in Garwood, during which time she directed cantatas and special Lenten and Christmas services. She held the position until 1947.

Mrs. Thorpe had hoped to study music in college but because of limited family means was unable to.

After graduating in 1944 from high school, she attended and graduated in 1945 from the Washington School for Secretaries in New York City. She then went to work for an insurance agent in Newark, N.J.

While in high school, Mrs. Thorpe met and fell in love with a fellow student, Jay Stephen Thorpe. In 1948, she married Mr. Thorpe and they lived in Wilmington, Del., while he completed his chemical engineering degree at the University of Delaware.

They moved to Dundalk in 1949 when Mr. Thorpe was hired by Bethlehem Steel Corp. He worked there until 1983, when he retired as superintendent of environmental control and safety.

From 1951 to 1955, Mrs. Thorpe studied at the Peabody Conservatory.

"She withdrew in 1955 when she was expecting her first child, and sadly, she did not complete her degree," her daughter said.

From 1960 to 1963, she was the organist at Dundalk United Methodist Church, where she was also a member. From 1965 to 1970, she was also the church's choir director. She returned in 1978 as choir director and church organist for the next decade.

In addition to working as a substitute organist at other churches in the Dundalk-Sparrows Point area, she was a much-sought-after organist for weddings.

Later in life, she returned to singing and performed with the Senior Showcase at the Community College of Baltimore County at Essex. From 1985 to 2006, she was a member of the Three Arts Club of Homeland, where she accompanied many of their events and fashion shows.

From 1983 to 1992, Mrs. Thorpe and her husband lived in Guilford and Homeland, when he was director of the city's Bureau of Water and Wastewater. For the last 21 years, they lived on Miller's Island.

Mrs. Thorpe enjoyed painting, needlework and playing bridge with friends at home or at the Sparrows Point Country Club.

"She had an amazing repertoire of music she played from memory and much of it by ear, from Rachmaninoff's Prelude in C Minor to the 'Girl from Ipanema,'" said Ms. Curimbaba.

The early stages of dementia interfered with her ability to make music.

"Little by little, her repertoire got smaller. She could no longer play the Rachmaninoff piece she loved playing and I loved hearing," her daughter said.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Friday at her church, 6903 Mornington Road, Dundalk.

In addition to her husband and daughter, Mrs. Thorpe is survived by her son, J. Stephen Thorpe Jr. of White Marsh; a brother, Henry W. Pfeiffer of Chatham, N.J.; and four granddaughters.

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