Charles Joseph Watson

1923 - 1962

Charles Watson, a pianist, music theorist, and band and orchestra conductor, taught at Union College from 1948 to 1954, teaching piano and wind instruments and directing the orchestra in his first year and the band until 1953, when H. Lloyd Leno assumed direction of the group.

Charles was born and raised in the Denver, Colorado, area, the only child of Charles B. and Esther Watson. Even though his parents were not musicians, his mother, a single parent from his earliest years, recognized his musical talent and provided him with excellent piano teachers, the first notable one being Lilian Montrose-Grahm, who had been a pupil of Liszt. Years later, Charles' wife, Del, would talk about that experience and a dilemma that developed:

Madame Montrose-Grahm was a Catholic who exposed Charles to the beliefs of that church, took him to a number of church related events, and actually helped him become an altar boy. One day while in his teenage years, he announced to his mother that he and a Baptist friend were seriously considering studying to be priests.

His mother, who was a Seventh-day Adventist, became alarmed and began looking for a nearby Adventist evangelistic series. After locating one, she urged him to attend and he agreed, since he did have some unresolved questions. He became convinced that the Adventist beliefs were more consistent with the Bible and was baptized.

Charles subsequently graduated in 1948 from Colorado State University College of Education, now the University of Northern Colorado, Greeley, with a baccalaureate degree in music and piano as his performance area. Earlier he had attended the Lamont School of Music in Denver, where he had won a Josef and Rosina Lhévinne three-year scholarship in piano. He had then studied with Josef for a while in New York City until Josef’s tragic death during a performance. Madame Lhévinne immediately closed the studio, which prematurely ended the scholarship.

Following his graduation in 1948, he was hired by Union College to teach piano lessons, direct the band, and teach music theory and music education classes. He completed his master's degree in 1952 at CSUCE while teaching at UC.

In that same year he married Del Laverne Parkins, who had graduated in 1948 from UC and was now the school nurse and a teacher of some physical education classes. She later talked about how they met and how their courtship progressed:

I was working in the clinic when Charles came in one day and surprised me by asking if I would like to go to dinner. Although I was busy and hesitated, he persisted, and I got permission from the school physician and left with him. I did not hesitate the next time he asked. At one point the courtship got a little rocky and, when invited, I served as director of nursing services at Porter Hospital in Denver in the 1951-1952 school year. That separation helped us affirm our feelings for one another and we married in Denver.

They would later have two children, Robert Maurice, in 1956, and Tanya Laverne, in 1960.

In spite of his busy teaching and ensemble-touring schedule at the college, he was active as a writer and frequently performed. In September 1952, the Music Journal, a national publication, published an article he had written about the evolution of the piano. In the following year, he presented a piano recital at the Joslyn Art Museum in February and a month later he gave a lecture and played the piano at a meeting of the Nebraska Music Teachers Association, both in nearby Omaha.

He was interested in pursuing additional graduate study and enrolled at Teacher's College at Columbia University in 1954, where he pursued full-time doctoral study for the next two years. She served as assistant superintendent of Nursing Services at Metropolitan Hospital in New York City and also during their time there coordinated the moving of a two-hundred-bed facility and operation into Manhattan.  At CU, he studied piano with Madame Lhévinne for a year, Robert Pace, noted piano pedagogue, and the acclaimed Chilean pianist Claudio Arrau.

Following completion of his course work and lessons in 1956, he took a one-year appointment at a college in Arkansas to fill in for a faculty member who had taken a leave of absence. At the end of that year he accepted an invitation to chair the piano and music theory program at Millsaps College, a prestigious Methodist school in Mississippi.

After two years at MC, Watkins accepted a position as head of piano and theory studies at Western Oklahoma State College in Weatherford, Oklahoma, to be closer to his mother after his father died. For the next three years, he served numerous times as an adjudicator at both piano and band festivals and became well known throughout the state.

Following a successful concert in Oklahoma City during this time, he was contacted by a representative of an artist management company about working with them on a regional tour that would have included recitals in Oklahoma and Texas and ended with a performance in Mexico City. He declined the offer because of his extensive commitments at WOSC.

When the Watsons had moved to Oklahoma, they established a private piano studio in which she taught beginners and he worked with advanced students. A number of their pupils were successful in competitions and the studio was a popular one.

In 1962, after he had successfully completed his orals and submitted his dissertation at CU, tragedy struck. His wife recently talked about that time:

We were invited to be guests of the president of the Oklahoma Music Teachers Association and Charles preceded me, since I had to make some corrections to his dissertation to meet a deadline. He was traveling east on the Tulsa Turnpike when a car coming from the opposite direction at a high rate of speed started hydroplaning because of the heavy rains, crossed over the median into the opposing lanes, and hit Charles head on.

The coll ege Dean's wife came to the house to tell me what had happened and that he was seriously injured. I immediately called the hospital in the town near where the accident occurred, spoke to a doctor, identifying myself as a nurse, and asked about his condition, only to be told in one short sentence that Charles had died shortly after arriving in the emergency room. My children and I were devastated. He was 39. Charles was awarded his doctorate posthumously by Columbia.

Later, Del would complete an M.Ed. and Ed.D. at CU. In 1964 she was hired to develop and chair a two-year Associate of Science in Nursing degree program at Southern Missionary College, now Southern Adventist University. In 1972 she became chair of the nursing program at Union College, where she served for four years. She then taught at the University of Oklahoma for two years before returning to school to complete her doctoral degree in 1979. In 1981 she accepted a position at California State University in San Bernardino, where she taught for eight years before retiring.

Del married Laurence Saldecke in 1998 when she was 78 and he was 85. They now reside in Redlands, California.


Sources: Interviews with Del Laverne Watson Saldecke, September 2011; Central Union Reaper, 19 April 1949, 2,3; 4 November 1952, 3; 3 February 1953, 4; 24 March 1953, 3; 20 June 1972, 3,4; 1930 U.S. Federal Census records.