Vera Laverne Neill
June 11, 1931 – February 7, 2020
Following a brief illness, LaVerne Neill, age 88, died peacefully at Good Samaritan Health Care Center in Yakima, Washington on the evening of February 7, 2020. She was born the youngest of 4 children to Ella Ward Grimes and Dennis Grimes on June 11, 1931 in Nacogdoches, Texas.
The Grimes family lived a mile off the highway, deep in the Piney Woods of East Texas. Without nearby neighbors, and since LaVerne’s siblings were several years older, she lacked playmates. Because of this isolated childhood, LaVerne turned to the piano for entertainment and music became her best friend. She spent hours at the piano, developing a God-given gift into an amazing talent of playing the piano by ear. She could not read a note of music, but if someone sang a song, or if she heard a tune on the radio, she could sit down and play it. By the time LaVerne was 15 years old, she was the pianist for a nearby church. In high school she was in constant demand by her classmates to play all the Top 40 tunes at school functions.
After high school graduation LaVerne attended business college, and it was there that she met Mitchell Neill. After a brief courtship LaVerne and Mitchell married on September 3, 1949. Their marriage lasted 55 years and produced a daughter, Mitzi, in 1954, and a son, Randy, in 1956. Shortly after Randy’s birth the family moved to Houston, Texas, where they lived for almost 30 years.
During their years in Houston LaVerne volunteered in her kids’ school, playing piano for assemblies, talent shows, and fundraisers. She also continued to play for worship services and events at their church.
In the early 1970’s the church’s choir director, whose son had died in Vietnam, decided to put together a band to entertain patients at Houston’s large VA Hospital. She asked LaVerne to be the keyboardist and together they formed the Grannie Glamours and Joe. The “Grannies” worn outlandish vintage, country, and hillbilly costumes designed to bring a smile to their audiences’ faces. Their repertoire consisted of country and western, folk, religious, and modern music, and their banter was pure corn. The vets and the VA staff ate up their routines. Before long the band also was singing in other area hospitals, nursing homes, senior citizen centers and churches throughout Houston and East Texas. Their biggest gig was Houston’s annual Senior Citizens’ Fair held in the Coliseum. The fair always culminated with a concert by Little Jimmy Dickens, Kitty Wells, and other Grand Ole Opry members, and the Grannie Glamours and Joe became their opening act for a few years.
In 1986, LaVerne and Mitchell retired to Nacogdoches. Leaving the Grannies was very hard on LaVerne, but before too long, she joined a local band and became pianist for her new church’s early service.
LaVerne’s music, and everything else in her life, was put on hold in 1988 when Randy was diagnosed with AIDS. She moved back to Houston and lived with her son in the hospital for the last 6 months of his life. Following Randy’s death, LaVerne returned to Nacogdoches and, needing an outlet for her grief, started an AIDS support group, the first of its kind in the community. The group originally was for parents who had lost a child to AIDS, but before too long AIDS patients also joined.
In 1997 Mitchell was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and, over the years, LaVerne increasingly became his loving caregiver. When Mitchell started attending the Nacogdoches Treatment Center, a nonprofit organization that provides activities for individuals with various forms of dementia, LaVerne became the center’s pianist for their sing-along sessions. Following Mitchell’s death, LaVerne moved to Yakima, Washington in 2006 to be close to her daughter and son-in-law.
For her first 10 years in Yakima LaVerne lived at Orchard Park Retirement Community. During that time she became the pianist for Sunday morning worship services and Sunday night sing-alongs, as well as the accompanist for Orchard Park’s choir.
In 2016 LaVerne moved to Living Care Retirement Community and it was during her years in assisted living that she finally retired from playing the piano; arthritis in her hands made it too painful.
LaVerne is survived by her daughter, Mitzi Neill Casey, and Mitzi’s significant other, Pete Olds; sister-in-law Gloria Grimes; several nieces and nephews; and a vast community of friends, especially Mary and David Huycke. She was preceded in death by husband, Mitchell, and son, Randy; son-in-law, Kelly; her parents; brothers, LeRoy Grimes and Pete Grimes; sister, Louise Grimes Simmons; and sister-in-law, Pat Grimes.
The family extends special thanks to the staffs at Hillcrest Assisted Living at Living Care Retirement Community, Virginia Mason Memorial Hospital, and Good Samaritan Health Care Center for the exceptional care and compassion they gave LaVerne.
Donations in LaVerne’s memory may be made to Wesley United Methodist Church (14 N. 48th Ave., Yakima, WA 98908); Dr. Kelly Casey Scholarship Fund (YVC Foundation, PO Box 22520, Yakima WA, 98907-2520); and the Nacogdoches Treatment Center (119 Hughes St., Nacogdoches, Texas 75961-5021).
A memorial service will be held at 2:00 p.m. Saturday, February 15, 2020, at Wesley United Methodist Church.
- Memorial Service Saturday, February 15, 2020
Vera Laverne Neill
February 17, 2020
I remember many a weekend in Houston playing outside with all the cousins while our parents played canasta or 42 inside. Aunt Laverne has joined them in heaven!!!
February 17, 2020
My sweet Aunt Laverne taught me to play Mary had a little lamb on the piano I use to love visiting her n Uncle Mitchell. they would come watch us open Christmas gifts early Christmas mornings After Santa came asking what we got and enjoyed watching us play and have fun she had such a beautiful smile and laugh.
February 15, 2020
Aunt Laverne was a very special person. You are in our prayers. Judy