When Marian Mussallem died on Aug. 4 in Richmond, she was well remembered by many friends and relatives in Maple Ridge.
She had lived here with her late husband Peter Mussallem for many years and been an active part of several groups in the community.
Marian (nee Robinson) grew up in Esquimalt, a suburb of Victoria on Vancouver Island. A brilliant student, she went on to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in chemistry at UBC in 1942, followed by a Master’s degree in 1944. This was an unusual ambition for a woman at this time, when fields of study most commonly chosen were teaching, nursing or secretarial work.
As a university graduate, Marian joined the University Women’s Club of Maple Ridge. She had not been part of the group when it wrote and published Maple Ridge – A History of Settlement in 1972.
Another University Club member, Daphne Sleigh, was the first curator of the Maple Ridge Museum, at a time when it was housed in the library in the Centennial building.
When Louise Poole inspired the University Women’s Club to begin a puppetry project, Marion Mussallem became an active member.
Louise wrote the scripts for a series of puppet plays, some based on stories such as Cinderella, and some original. She had often written plays for a drama group when she had been an English teacher at Maple Ridge High School. Group members crafted hand puppets, learned their lines, and practiced moving around the stage.
These puppet plays were performed for many local organizations, and frequently to school groups. The women also conducted puppet workshops for students, giving them a chance to handle the puppets and put together a short play of their own. Three of the most popular plays performed by the University Women were episodes from Winnie the Pooh.
The more elaborate puppet plays required a larger stage than the first one used. Marion with the help of her husband Peter designed and built a new stage, which had the advantage of being portable in pieces in the back of a station wagon. Part of the entertainment was the sight of five or six women putting the new stage together complete with curtains, before each presentation.
Today’s photo, taken in the early 1980s, shows members of the puppet group on their way to present a play to another university women’s club in Kelowna.
Picnicking in Manning Park on their way to the Okanagan are from left to right: Marion Mussallem, Vienna Cameron, Sheila Nickols, Louise Poole, Daphne Sleigh, Thelma Greenwell and Margaret Smith.
The puppet group continued to perform their plays until ill health forced Louise to retire.
The puppet scripts and puppets were all given to the Maple Ridge Museum, where they were on display for a time.
When the Maple Ridge branch of the University Women’s Club closed down, it left a legacy of the proceeds from sale of its history of Maple Ridge, along with the remaining copies from the fifth reprinting.
The Maple Ridge Historical Society has plans to reprint it again before the stock runs out.
– Sheila Nickols is past president of the Maple Ridge Historical Society.