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Nalda (Pierini) Cooper, 83, passed away peacefully on August 29th in Gig Harbor, WA. Her children were by her side as she entered into her heavenly home. She was a devoted and loving wife, mother, grandmother, sister, aunt and friend. Her spirit of adventure and a contagious smile will always be remembered. Heaven may be brighter, but our hearts are sad here on earth and she will be greatly missed.
Nalda, a longtime resident of California, was born on January 12, 1940 in Dos Palos, CA to Italo and Mary Ann (Delerio) Pierini. She and her older brother, Ronnie, grew up in South Dos Palos under their mother’s care following their parent’s divorce. At the age of 12, Nalda and Ronnie’s mother passed away. Nalda went to live with Pierinia and John Ricci, her mother’s sister and husband. Aunt Pierinia and Uncle John loved and cared for Nalda as their own. Her brother Ronnie lived with another set of relatives and kept close tabs on her. She attended the catholic school in Dos Palos and in high school was a cheerleader, graduating from Dos Palos High School in 1957. As adults, Nalda and her brother, Ronnie, remained close, becoming best friends, with a unique bond that saw them through their entire lives.
While attending high school, Nalda’s first job was working as a carhop at Neal’s Drive-In. Applying her business skills learned in high school, she worked a second job for a local attorney as a “Girl Friday”. It was in high school she met her life-long friends Jacque Knight Locke, and Arlene Neal Vergara and Eva Morris Pieirini (who would eventually marry her brother, Ronnie).
Following graduation, Nalda and Arlene moved to Merced and shared an apartment together, working at Farmers Insurance. It was in Merced, cruising Main Street one night with Arlene, where she met the love of her life, Gerald “Jerry” Cooper from El Nido who had just returned from serving a two-year term in the Navy. Following a brief courtship, Nalda and Jerry eloped and were married on November 1, 1959, with brother Ronnie and his wife Eva as their witnesses.
Nalda and Jerry made their home in El Nido, CA, a small rural farming community in the heart of California in San Joaquin Valley. She continued to work at Farmers Insurance until a year later in November, when Nalda gave birth to their daughter, Ronda; In 1962, she gave birth to their son, Rod. Once their two children were in school, Nalda worked part time as bus driver for El Nido Elementary School. In 1969, she took an entry level part-time position at the California Department of Motor Vehicles in Merced where she worked for many years in registration and driver’s licensing. She was a good friend to have when you had a car to register OR a son or daughter who needed a driver’s license. She helped many teenagers prepare and pass their tests, including her own grandchildren. While there, she also made lifelong friends including Sandy and Lee. Toward the end of her career she transferred to the Los Banos office, retiring in 2000 with a total of 31 years of service for the State of California.
Together, Nalda and her husband Jerry lived a full and happy life while living in El Nido. She was a great mom, being active in her children’s lives with clubs and sports. She enjoyed gardening, reading, being outside and warm weather! She was known for her famous spaghetti sauce, macaroni salad and homemade ice cream at family gatherings and reunions. After retirement, she and Jerry enjoyed traveling with friends and spending time with family. They enjoyed many cruises with large groups of friends, visiting a variety of places, and a road trip across the US with sister and brother-in-law Joanne and George; She loved her girl’s getaway trip with her friends to Aptos or to the Silva cabin and especially loved planning the Dos Palos High School reunions each time they came around. A constant throughout her life was the annual Cooper family summer vacation in Santa Cruz/Aptos that Nalda enjoyed as a child herself. It became a multi-generational annual event that she looked forward to every year.
None of this, though, compared to her greatest joy, however, of being a mom and then becoming a grandmother – as the time spent with her grandchildren and great-grandchildren was always a priority. She took her title of “Grammie” very seriously and was an exceptional example for others to follow. She never missed a birth, birthday, play or church performance, sporting event, graduation or wedding if she was able. The family's cruise to Mexico to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary and a family vacation at the Aulani in Hawaii was always held dear because of that rich family time.
Because of Jerry’s failing health, Nalda eventually had to make the difficult decision to move them from El Nido to Merced in 2014. They sold their house in El Nido and moved to nearby Merced for easier access to the medical services Jerry needed. She cared for her husband faithfully as his health continued to decline until his passing in 2017. They were married a total of 57 years.
Nalda’s good health drastically declined just a year later in 2018 following complications from an elective surgery. That forced a move into Pacifica, an assisted living home in Merced when she no longer could live alone. During COVID, following another hospital stay, she moved in with her daughter, Ronda where she remained until they moved to the PNW a month ago to be closer to family here. Recent years proved many challenges for Nalda as her body would not allow her to live the full life she was accustomed to and do the things she wanted to do. Even so, most often you’d find her happy with a smile on her face when you walked in the room or called her on the phone.
Though it wasn't easy for her to leave her roots of California, her adventurous spirit led the way and she was very excited for this next chapter of her life. She was settling in nicely at Stafford Suites, in Port Orchard, which provided an exceptional assisted living community for her to enjoy. She loved the staff and they loved her back. She especially loved the food. Having vacationed in Gig Harbor before, she was familiar with the region and was awestruck by the beauty of her new surroundings---the sparkling harbor water, brilliant blue skies of summer and lush green landscape captivated her. Being in such beautiful countryside coupled with additional family connections made her truly happy.
Her children wish to sincerely thank those who assisted the family in caring for Nalda in recent years in Merced after her decline in health: especially her private in-home Merced care-givers, Sylvia and Pam, her niece, Karen Burrows, her sister-in-laws Nancy and Joanne, her granddaughter Sarah, and neighbor Bernadine, all of whom when called upon happily helped to ensure Nalda was well cared for in our absence. We have deep appreciation and gratitude for those who loved her well, and will forever be grateful for the support and love shown to this precious woman.
Nalda is preceded in death by her infant sister, Barbara Jean, her parents, Italo and Mary Ann Pierini of Dos Palos, her husband, Raymond Gerald Cooper of Merced, CA her brother Ronald Pierini of Clovis, CA son-in-law, Rod Douglas of Merced, CA and infant granddaughter, Emily Rose Cooper, San Jose, CA. She is survived by her daughter Ronda (Cooper) Douglas of Gig Harbor, son Rod Cooper, daughter-in-law Natalie Cooper of San Jose, CA, nine grandchildren, 15 great-grandchildren, her brothers and sister in laws, Jan Cooper, Robert and Shirley Cooper, George and Joanne Chester, and Nancy and Eddie Silva, and nieces and nephews – all of whom she loved dearly.
A celebration of life will be held in Nalda’s honor at the Hoffmeister Center of Central Presbyterian Church in Merced, Ca on Saturday, September 16, at 12 o’clock noon. Arrangements are being made in cooperation with the Haven of Rest Cemetery in Gig Harbor, WA and Whitton Funeral Home in Merced, CA. Interment, where she will be laid to rest with her beloved husband, will take place at the San Joaquin Veterans Memorial cemetery at a later date, privately for immediate family.
In lieu of flowers, in the spirit of Nalda’s love for children and her wishes, please make a donation to St. Jude’s Hospital per her wishes at https://www.stjude.org/donate (or download the form available on their website and submit by mail to 501 St. Jude Place, Memphis, TN 38105.)
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