Arlee John Torkelsen

1927 - 2008

Arlee Torkelsen, a tenor, taught music at seven academies in the Seventh-day Adventist school system and privately for 55 years. Involved in all aspects of music, he was especially known for giving private lessons for either a nominal fee or for free if students couldn't afford them.

Arlee was born in Ruthven, Iowa, one of three sons of Leland Albion (Albon) and Goldie Gertrude Christensen Torkelsen. All three of the children had musical ability and sang, but only Arlee pursued a career in music.

He and his brothers, Louis Dean and Max Christensen, spent their childhood in Ruthven and Hutchinson, Minnesota, where they attended Maplewood Academy. Legendary MWA music teacher Adrian Lauritzen was running an active multi-faceted program that included a choir of eighty (over half of the school's enrollment), a band, and numerous male quartets. Arlee was profoundly inspired by his first three years at the academy, Lauritzen's last three years of teaching there.

Following Arlee's graduation from MWA in 1945, he enrolled at Union College, where Lauritzen was teaching, but left at the end of the semester to attend McPhail College of Music. During this time he went to Southwestern Junior College, now Southwestern Adventist University, for a year where he took classes and assisted a cousin, piano and theory teacher Betty Christensen. While there, he sang second tenor in a male quartet under her sponsorship. He then returned to Minneapolis to finish a B.Mus.Ed. at MCM.

Torkelsen started his career in the fall of 1949 at Union Springs Academy in New York, directing choir and band and teaching lessons. He then taught a year at Plainview Academy in South Dakota before accepting a position at Denver Junior Academy in 1951. While teaching there he met Ivy Jo Larsen, a 1944 graduate of Campion Academy who had graduated from Union College in 1949 and was teaching kindergarten at DJA. A pianist and organist, she also played marimba. They married in June 1952 at the Boulder SDA Church in Colorado. She recently talked about how they met and their courtship:

My sister's children were students at the school and were taking lessons from Arlee after the school day ended. I would wait until they had finished their lessons and then would walk home with them.

In the course of talking with him, I found out that he was eating his meals at the Adventist hospital near our school and thought, "That's terrible." I asked my sister if she would consider having someone come and eat with us, and she said yes. He began eating supper with us, and my sister would also pack a lunch for him.

Very quickly, we discovered we had a lot of shared interests and within eleven days we were engaged! At that time it wasn't considered appropriate for us as teachers at the school to marry during the school year, so we had to wait until the following summer.

The Torkelsens taught at DJA for the next four years, then at Plainview Academy for a year, before moving to Michigan, where they taught at the newly opened Grand Ledge Academy for the next seven years, she teaching home economics and English and he music. In 1964 they accepted positions at Fresno Academy, a day school in California, where she taught English and was librarian and he taught music for six years. They returned to the Midwest in 1970 to work at Platte Valley Academy for three years. During that time their older son, Jere, a talented singer and instrumentalist, graduated from PVA.

Subsequent appointments for the Torkelsens included Takoma Academy in Maryland, where their younger son, Jon, also a singer and bassoonist, graduated. During this time, Arlee began to have serious back problems, which led to the end of his work as a music teacher.

While teaching in Denver, Torkelsen had started graduate work at the University of Colorado. He completed an M.Mus. at UC in music education in 1962. He would complete a second master's degree in education at Andrews University in 1978.

The Torkelsens accepted positions at Union College in 1978, where he worked as a guidance counselor and she worked in the library until 1982. At that time, Arlee fully retired for medical reasons, and Ivy Jo accepted a teaching position in a church school in Aberdeen, South Dakota. Following closure of that school three years later, she taught in another church school in Bismarck, North Dakota, working there until her retirement in 1988. During their time in the Dakotas he also taught some music lessons and helped her by occasionally teaching Bible classes.

They retired to Ashland, Oregon, where they worked on a volunteer basis at nearby Rogue Valley Academy, he teaching a few lessons and she serving as librarian until 2007. By the time of her full retirement in that year, she had been involved for nearly sixty years in Adventist education. During some of those years she had also assisted in music, teaching piano, organ, and marimba. The Torkelsens were living in Ashland when Arlee died in 2008, two months before his 81st birthday.


Sources: Interview, Ivy Jo Torkelesen, 8 December 2011; Information provided by Jere Torkelsen, September 2011; Northern Union Reaper, 28 February 1922, 6; Southwestern Conference The Record, 25 February 1948, 7; Atlantic Union Gleaner, 30 August 1949, 3; Central Union Reaper, 9 September 1952, 7; Lake Union Herald, 9 September 1958, 12; Leland Torkelsen obituary, Review and Herald, 6 February 1969, 28; Goldie Torkelsen obituary, North Pacific Union Gleaner, 4 March 1991, 23.