Great Neighbors: Dario and Lorraine CassinaSep 15th, 2010 | By Mike Morris | Category: Community
Step inside Dario Cassina’s house and classical music is playing on the stereo. A picture of a violin hangs above the piano in his living room.
To say music is Cassina’s passion would be an understatement. For years, he would delight people as he played his violin the week before Christmas at Sonora offices and businesses.
Now, at the age of 89, Cassina can’t play the instrument due to his arthritis, but his legacy of teaching music and inspiring his students lives on.
Fran Trout, who was one of Cassina’s music students at Sonora Elementary School, says he gave her and other students a lifelong appreciation of classical music.
“He loves music and he loves people,” the 75-year-old Sonora woman says. “He’s meant a lot to people throughout the community.”
Born and raised in San Francisco, Cassina earned his teaching degree from San Francisco State College. Immediately after college he joined the Marines, where he spent nearly two years in the South Pacific during World War II.
Once Cassina returned from overseas, he looked for a teaching job in the Bay Area, but was told he needed some experience. He found that opportunity when he received a phone call from Ted Bird, then principal of Sonora Elementary School, asking if he would like to teach music and physical education.
So in 1946, at the age of 25, he moved to Tuolumne County to teach at Sonora Elementary, which was at the Sonora Dome on Barretta Street.
New to town, Cassina remembers eating at a restaurant in downtown Sonora when a fellow teacher caught his eye. That lady would become his wife of 61 years, Lorraine. The pair share both a love of teaching and music: She taught English and music at Sonora High School and is a longtime pianist.
“I asked her out on a date and a couple of years later popped the question,” he says. “We were married in 1949. We call ourselves the ‘49ers.”
The couple has one daughter, Vivian, who lives with her husband in San Jose. They also have one grandson, Bryan.
After several years of teaching, Cassina was offered an administrative post at the Tuolumne County schools office. He was later elected county schools superintendent.
“At that time, there were 22 separate school districts and half of them were one-teacher, one-classroom schools,” he recalls.
His career took another direction when the Sonora Union High School Board of Trustees asked him to set up Tuolumne County’s first continuation high school, where more individualized attention was given to students who needed it.
Not only did he organize the curriculum, but he also taught there for 14 years. When he retired in 1980, the school board decided to name the school – now Dario Cassina High – after him.
Now, 30 years later, Cassina recalls success stories of so many students. To this day, parents stop him around town to thank him for helping their children in school. And he gets phone calls and notes from former students expressing appreciation.
“That’s what makes it a pleasure to have taught,” he says.
Cassina’s childhood helped shape who he was to become. Being a Boy Scout gave him structure, and his appreciation of music deepened with an ushering job at the San Francisco Opera House.
“As a music student, I got to see these world-renowned singers, violinists, pianists and orchestras,” he says. “It was free music education and just a wonderful, wonderful experience.”
Cassina started playing the violin when he was just 9. In 1967, the president of Columbia College asked him to organize and conduct a community orchestra (now called the Symphony of the Sierra), in which he continued to perform until 2001. He lost part of the vision in his left eye, so he could no longer read the music. He was named to the college’s Hall of Fame in 1999.
Until a few years ago, he would stroll into downtown Sonora businesses, as well as doctors’ and school offices, playing the violin at Christmastime.
“I used to do that for my own pleasure and people really seemed to enjoy it so much,” he says. “I would love to still play, but I can’t.”
Along with arthritis, he also has some hearing, memory and vision loss.
But his ties to the community and education system remain strong. In fact, the Sonora High football field is visible from the back deck of his home of 54 years.
Even after his retirement, Cassina was instrumental in keeping Sonora High’s music program running. He garnered community support when there was talk of axing the school band. Not only did the school keep music, but the program went on to flourish, later blossoming under Pat Sieben’s tutelage into the Golden Regiment Marching Band.
Cassina is grateful that his original intention – to get some teaching experience in Sonora and then move back to San Francisco – didn’t go quite as planned.
“The biggest and best choice of my life was to come up to Sonora,” he says.
Copyright © 2010, Friends and Neighbors Magazine