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Published: Wednesday, 9/26/2007

Barbershop singer founded durable group

Mary Riggs, 91, who for a half-century sang bass with the women's barbershop choral group she founded in Toledo, died Monday in Orchard Villa, Oregon, where she lived for 3 1/2 years.

Family members did not know the cause of death. She had been in poor health for several months, her daughter-in-law, Judy Reiss, said.

In 1952, Mrs. Riggs received a charter for a Toledo chapter of the women's barbershop group Sweet Adelines. The Toledo chapter now is known as Pride of Toledo Chorus.

In November, 2001, during Pride of Toledo's annual show, she was honored as founder by the governor, the Ohio House of Representatives, and the White House. Toledo City Council named it "Mary Riggs Day."

"It was in the stars that I got bit by the barbershop bug so long ago," Mrs. Riggs said at the show.

She was retired from taking an active part in the group's shows - and singing in competition - and was named an associate member. Some members of the chorus performed at Orchard Villa in June, and at the end Mrs. Riggs joined them at the front in her wheelchair.

"She sang her bass harmony in there with the best of them," Mrs. Reiss said.

Mrs. Riggs' interest in barbershop singing preceded her founding of a local group.

She brought her vocal quartet out when the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America - the male barbershop group - had its 1951 international convention in Toledo.

"We were singing in the doorway of the Crystal Ballroom of the old Commodore Perry Hotel," Mrs. Riggs told The Blade in 1998. "A man heard us and asked if we were Sweet Adelines."

Mrs. Riggs' group was unaffiliated, and the man asked whether they would like to be.

"In a couple of weeks, I had the papers to start organizing a Sweet Adelines chapter in Toledo," Mrs. Riggs said in 1998. "That was July of 1951. We had our charter in 1952 and have been going ever since."

Mrs. Reiss yesterday found photos of Mrs. Riggs in Seattle and Salt Lake City and New Orleans and Atlanta. "She loved to have a good time," Mrs. Reiss said. "In all the pictures, she's always at a party with Sweet Adelines. They're singing and having a good time."

Lois Grzechowiak, a Pride of Toledo member, recalled: "She was a go-getter. She was just an outgoing person," Mrs. Grzechowiak said.

"Every time she walked out of the house, she looked her best. She dressed well and always had her hair done beautifully."

Mrs. Riggs was a graduate of Tiffin Columbian High School and moved with her family to Toledo in the early 1940s. While her late son, Robert, was growing up, she was president of the PTA and the mothers' club at Riverside School. She lived in Point Place for many years.

She and her husband, G.G. "Bubb" Riggs - also a barbershop singer - were married 25 years. He died in 1990. Her previous marriage to Arnold Reiss ended in divorce.

Surviving are her brothers, Robert and Norman Gannon; three grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren.

Services will be at 11 a.m. Friday in the Eggleston Meinert Pavley Mortuary, Millbury Chapel, where the body will be after 5 p.m. today.

The family suggests tributes to Susan G. Komen for the Cure, which is the former Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, or Faith United Methodist Church, Oregon, of which she was a member.



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