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Signe Suzanne Riopelle

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Signe Suzanne Riopelle Obituary
Signe Suzanne Riopelle (nee Gissberg)

July 12, 1934 - July 6, 2018

Signe was born in Long Beach, California to Gustaf and Margaret Gissberg, and never left her beloved hometown. She was the second of Gus and Peg Gissberg's daughters, and she and her older sister Joan (who predeceased her) had a very happy childhood growing up in Bixby Knolls. Signe attended Long Beach Polytechnic High School, where she was the outstanding woman of the class of 1952. At 15, she met and fell in love with Gary Riopelle at a sock hop at the Hutch, and they soon became inseparable. When Signe began college at Stanford, she missed Gary so much she decided to transfer to UCLA, where Gary was attending college on an ROTC scholarship. When she got to UCLA, Signe became a member of the Kappa Kappa Gamma Sorority, obtained her bachelor's degree in History, and continued her love affair with Gary. A few weeks after she and Gary graduated from UCLA in 1956, they were married, on June 16, 1956. After 62 wonderful years of marriage, Gary survives Signe with a heavy heart.
Signe went with Gary on his tour of duty in the Army, and during those years lived primarily in Fort Knox, Kentucky. But she and Gary always knew they would return to Long Beach, and they did so as soon as Gary had fulfilled his commitment to the Army. When they came home, Signe began her long career as a schoolteacher, and during the early years of her teaching career, she was often assigned to work with special needs students, because of her empathy, kindness, and ability to help her students grow out of their shells and prosper. Not long after they returned to Long Beach, Signe gave birth to her first child, Roland, and three other children, Robin, Russell and Randall soon followed. As her family grew, Signe gave up teaching, although she went back to teaching as a substitute teacher after her youngest child began junior high school. And as soon as she could, Signe convinced Gary to move back to Bixby Knolls, where she had grown up. Signe and Gary lived in Bixby Knolls for another 50 plus years on Pine and Chestnut Avenues, before moving to Bixby Knolls Towers on Atlantic Avenue, across the street from the Dana Branch Library, where Signe spent so many happy hours with her children, whom she raised to be voracious readers.
Signe took great pride in the accomplishments of her four children, all of whom attended the Poly High School PACE Program before attending and graduating from college. With the support of Signe and Gary, all four of their children graduated from college, and their sons, Roland, Russell and Randall all earned advanced degrees. But Signe loved to point out that her daughter Robin was the outstanding woman of the Poly High School class of 1979, and that Robin's name appears on the same trophy as Signe's, in the Poly High trophy case. Signe also loved to meet and "mother" her children's friends, for whom she supplied with pleasure everything from peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and cookies, to rides to baseball games or ballet lessons.
Throughout her life, she and Gary remained committed alumni of both UCLA and Poly High. Signe helped work to establish the PACE Program at Poly, and her son Roland was one of PACE's first graduates. Signe was a gentle but fierce advocate for social justice, and she served on the Poly Community Interracial Committee ("PCIC") when her children attended Poly, working to promote harmony among Poly's diverse student body.
Signe was the adoring grandmother of 11 grandchildren, Kristin, Michelle, Lily, Ashley, Andrew, Kelly, Zachary, Jade, Camille, Rachel and Gus, all of whom will miss her. She was even prouder of their many accomplishments than she was of her own children's successes. Some of her grandchildren have already graduated from or begun attending Wheaton College, Duke University, Williams College, Brown University, Cornell University, and Stanford University, the same school Signe left so many years ago to be with Gary. Of course, Signe often observed that it is a lot tougher to get into Stanford nowadays than it was when she was admitted, and she beamed with pride at the thought of the great educations her grandchildren were getting. Best of all, Signe was lucky enough to live to get to know a great grandchild, Jack, the son of Kristin and Evan Ellsworth, during the last two years of her life.
Signe had a very full life, and traveled widely with Gary to Europe, Asia, Russia, Central America, Canada, Alaska and Hawaii. When they were young, Signe and Gary took their children for many happy years to the Lair of the Bear Family Camp in the High Sierras, driving for 10 hours each direction with four rambunctious children caroming around the back of an ancient Country Squire station wagon.
In addition to travel, Signe loved to play bridge with Gary, her bridge partner of almost 70 years, and their monthly "bridge club" with friends was a joy for both of them for nearly 50 years. Signe was blessed to have many wonderful girlfriends, the "Needlepoint and Gossip Society" or "NAGS," who enjoyed meeting to entertain each other with tales of their children's accomplishments and their husbands' very modest shortcomings. But most of all, Signe loved holidays and visits with her family. She often marveled at how lucky she was to have her children and the joy they, their spouses – Leslie Kanter, Andy Torok, Olivia Seacrest and Grace Chee -- and their families brought her.
Although the last few years of her life were difficult because of her failing health, Signe died suddenly of a heart attack on July 6, and suffered little pain. While all who knew her mourn her, we know she would encourage us to get on with the life before us, and not focus too much on our loss. We can almost hear her saying "don't worry about me, I'm fine, get out there and do something fun to tell me about!"
A Memorial Service will be held to celebrate Signe's life at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Cypress, 4471 Lincoln Avenue, on Saturday, July 28, 2018 at 11:30 a.m. The Memorial Service will be held in the Church of Our Fathers, and a light luncheon will be served following the Memorial Service. In addition, during the evening of Friday, July 27, 2018, a viewing will be held in the Serenity Room at the Forest Lawn Cemetery's main building, second floor, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Signe's family hopes these events will be bittersweet celebrations of a life well lived, not melancholy recollections of her history. Flowers may be purchased by contacting Milagros Rangel of Forest Lawn at 714-484-2055; or a donation may be made in honor of Signe to the Long Beach Polytechnic High School Pace Program at www.paceparent.org. Please sign the guestbook at www.presstelegram.com/obits
Published in the Long Beach Press-Telegram from July 21 to July 23, 2018
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