Dorothy Dahle was best-known for her voice — warm, soft, operatic.
As a child, she imagined herself as Jeanette MacDonald in the classic 1937 “Maytime” movie.
Her singing later launched her movie and modeling career, which she began after she turned down a scholarship to an art school in her hometown of Chicago.
As Dahle raised her family in Minneapolis, she produced musicals for her children’s schools and was involved in choral groups. But even before her Hollywood days, and long afterward, she had a strong sense of conviction and fortitude.
“When someone walks into a room and they have an aura, you know? It’s that kind of feeling. Just a natural type of inner strength,” said her niece Roxanne Tuomi.
Dahle died recently at 91 after several years of declining health.
No one knows where Dahle’s love of opera came from. Her Finnish-born parents taught their children to play the accordion and sang songs in their native language, and Dahle soon developed a beautiful soprano.
“I guess it was just an inner desire and ability,” said her daughter Dorothy Benham, who was Miss America in 1977.
When Dahle was in high school, her family moved to the Brainerd area. Soon she headed west to Hollywood — where she belonged, her family said.
She auditioned for and was chosen by Sam Goldwyn of Goldwyn Studio/Universal and Warner Bros. to be a “Golden Girl” and sang with the USO in Beverly Hills, Calif.
Soon afterward, she met her first husband, Archibald Benham, a man 26 years her senior. They came back to Minnesota, where they had two sons and two daughters.
In 1952, she was crowned the first Mrs. Minnesota. She worked as a top model in the Twin Cities for Donaldson’s and Powers department stores while under contract with Nilah Brooks Modeling Agency out of Chicago.
Her beauty and grace were captivating, her family said. “She was all about lipstick and mascara,” and made sure her children stood up straight and had proper manners, Tuomi said. Dahle, whose daughters were into pageantry, also pushed Tuomi to get outside her comfort zone.
“I was more of a shy girl and not so much for public speaking,” Tuomi said.
When Tuomi’s mother fell ill, Dahle stepped in. “She was a surrogate mother to us,” she said. “Very nurturing, supportive.”
Dahle taught her daughters and Tuomi “about growing up things and becoming young ladies,” she said.
She would take them to the theater and teach them about music. She stressed the importance of books and encouraged them to act, dance, sing and be involved in school.
Benham said the aftermath of her mother’s death is especially difficult for her because they would have been talking about the upcoming Miss America pageant.
“We’d normally be shopping now and she’d like being involved in the program,” she said. “A hard one for me right now.”
Although she left Hollywood, Dahle’s love of music remained. She often sang with her children or accompanied them on piano. Her daughters studied music throughout school.
“My mother had a lot of sisu [Finnish for fortitude]. She’d look at us and say, ‘Stay with it and persevere,’ ” Benham said.
After her first husband died, Dahle married Oscar B. Dahle, her children’s choral director. Together they sang and played music.
“That was the love of her life,” Benham said.
In addition to daughter Dorothy, Dahle is survived by another daughter, Totiana Pillsbury of Nokomis, Fla.; two sons, Archibald Kelley Benham of Minneapolis and Sean Benham of Brainerd; 12 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. Services have been held.