Ardella V. Delker
1924 - 2018
Del Delker and The Voice of Prophecy were inseparably linked for over sixty years. A household name in both Adventist and other Christian circles, Delker inspired thousands with her rich contralto voice, singing familiar hymns and songs with a moving, heart-touching quality. From the start of her ministry at the VOP, her signature song was The Love of God. Both the message and the quality of her voice in the singing of this song inspired countless listeners.
Although initially reluctant to accept the invitation to join the VOP, an offer she refused three times because she had not had musical training and could not read music, she finally accepted and began singing in the fall of 1947. She would become a popular part of the broadcast and a successful recording artist, featured on more than forty records and CD's.
Del was born in Java, South Dakota, on October 21,1924, the younger of two children of Andrew, the son of Russian emigrants, and Martha Hartmann Delker. Her parents divorced before she was born, and with the coming of the Great Depression, her family moved to Southern California in 1931, when her mother, who was raising Del and her brother Elmer Stanley, journeyed there with other members of her family. When the money ran out in Yakima, Washington, the family worked in a cannery until they had earned enough money to continue to Oakland, California, where Martha and her two children settled, after a brief stop in Salem , Oregon.
Her mother was a Seventh-day Adventist, and Del attended church school for four years but then persauded her mother to let her attend public high school, having been upset by the rules in the church school, and the legalism she had noted in some of the church members. She worked for the Pacific Greyhound Bus Company after graduating from high school.
A musical child from her earliest years, she loved to sing. When she was three, Del wandered off on her own, much to the alarm of her mother, who frantically began an unsuccessful search for her. At the height of despair, she received a call from the manager of the local bank, who asked, “Are you missing something?” In response to her tearful “Yes,” he responded, “Well, she’s down here, standing in front of the bank, singing for a living, and people are putting money in her hot little fists!"
As she reached her teenage years Dell aspired to sing with a dance band, an ultimate experience for a singer of popular music at that time. Although that dream was not realized, she did enjoy singing popular music as part of a women's group that performed occasionally in local USO (United Service Organizations) clubs during WW II, entertaining men in the armed forces.
Del did not join the SDA church until March 1947, having been converted in meetings held by J. L. Tucker of The Quiet Hour. She began to sing for them in their meetings and on their radio broadcasts and in the summer of that year performed in a camp meeting held in Lodi, California, singing “The Love of God,” a song that resonated with her spiritual experience.
The attention and praise she received from those in attendance led to concern on her part about her ego and an evening visit to a vineyard near the camp meeting where she prayed about those concerns and gained a sense that God would help her with that issue.
Shortly after that camp meeting, the Voice of Prophecy invited her to join them to be a secretary and sing occasionally. Delker sang only a few times for the broadcast initially, a situation that almost led her to consider leaving. When she had arrived in September 1947 the music department was in the middle of a turmoil that had started four years earlier and had just led to the release of three quartet members that summer. Beginning in 1950 she began singing regularly, following the hiring of Wayne Hooper in 1949 as coordinator of music at the broadcast. In 1951 she was included for the first time on a record with the VOP King’s Heralds quartet.
While Delker had a natural talent for music, she could not read music and relied totally on her ear and memory for singing and making harmony. Hooper became her first music teacher and helped her become a knowledgeable musician and capable sight reader, able to be a meaningful participant in ensemble singing. Near the end of his career she became his assistant and secretary.
In 1951, Leona Glidden Running, a former acquaintance, contacted her about her interest in traveling with her for a five-week trip to Europe that would include visits in seven countries, including an SDA Youth Congress in Paris in July. While at first she was thrilled with the invitation, on reflection she realized she didn’t have enough money. H.M.S. Richards and his wife, Mabel, had become concerned over the heavy commitments she was keeping and the need for a break. Aware of her financial resources they quietly raised money from her associates and friends so that she could make the trip. It proved to be marvelous experience for both Running and Delker, one that Running wrote about in the popular book 36 Days and a Dream, which became a 1953 Senior MV Book Club selection. An excerpt was also printed in the Youth’s Instructor of February 3, 1953.
In 1953 she entered Emmanuel Missionary College, now Andrews University, to pursue a degree in religion. Her absence from the program and the wish of the VOP to have her closer to the studio led Delker to transfer to La Sierra College, now La Sierra University, at the end of that first year. As her studies continued, she also maintained a busy performance schedule, singing often for the broadcast, in churches and other venues on weekends, and at camp meetings during the summers. She completed her studies and graduated with a B.A. in religion in 1958.
Because of the popularity of the broadcast and many invitations for the VOP to present programs at summer camp meetings, two groups were created, an A group that included H.M.S Richards and the King’s Heralds quartet and a B group that initially included J. Orville Iverson, Del, and organists Brad and Olive Braley. H.M.S. Richards, Jr., later replaced Iverson, and in the summer of 1967, he invited the Wedgwood Trio, a bluegrass-style group from Southern Missionary College, now Southern Adventist University, he had heard at an evangelistic meeting in Texas earlier that year, to join him and Del on their camp meeting tours. While at the time this decision proved to be very controversial with some of their hosts, Del recalled that summer’s travels as an enjoyable experience, noting the trio’s effectiveness in reaching the young.
During Delker's many years with the VOP she traveled hundreds of thousands of miles, on the road originally and in the air eventually, in the U.S. and abroad, singing on behalf of the VOP, and "most importantly, the Lord," as she often observed. Along the way, she sang and recorded music in fifteen different languages, appeared on the Faith for Today television broadcast, and learned to face the challenges that come with being a celebrity.
Although Del’s earliest wish was to marry a minister and assist in his ministry, her success and celebrity became impediments. The problem revealed itself after she first started working at the VOP, when in her role as a secretary she developed a close relationship with another worker which abruptly ended when her singing increased in frequency and she became more than a secretary. He was more interested in marrying a secretary, not a celebrity. Over the years her visibility led to a cascade of letters, notes, and poems, some sent by well-meaning persons who were convinced that she was the answer to their prayers. Many more were of dubious nature and quickly discarded.
In 1982, when the VOP music department was disbanded and the quartet released, a move she protested, she was invited to continue as part of the broadcast. At that time, she approached Hugh Martin, nationally famous popular composer and songwriter from an earlier era who had recently joined the church, to serve as her accompanist. They worked together in evangelism for most of the 1980s. In 1999 he accompanied her for a recording of a rewrite of his signature song, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” changing “Merry” to “Blessed.”
Beginning in 1969 Delker had a series of operations over the next three decades on problems related to her hips and knees that had made walking and travel painful. While the operations were not fully successful, she continued to perform beyond her retirement, despite ongoing physical challenges.
Although she officially retired in January 1990, Delker occasionally continued to sing and travel until 2007. On June 30, 2002, she was honored for her 55 years of service when she joined with many of her friends from over the years to tape a video program called Del and Friends. It was the ultimate tribute to her and to her ability to work with so many other friends and musicians in selfless Christian ministry to persons around the world.
Delker and Wayne Hooper traveled with VOP groups to Adventist colleges and universities in 2004 to join with campus musicians in celebrating the VOP's 75th anniversary. For over fifty years she had performed many of his arrangements, and her last public performance was at his funeral in 2007. She was residing in Porterville, California, when she died on January 31, 2018, at age 93.
Dan Shultz 2018
Sources: Interview with Dan Shultz, 17 February 2005; Del Delker; Her Story as Told to Ken Wade, 2002 , a primary source for this biography (The full story of Delker's life and ministry is related in this book, Pacific Press Publishing Association, Nampa, Idaho); Jeann Perkins, “The love of God,” The Youth’s Instructor, January 1, 1952, 5, 6, 18, 19; Michele Stoltz, "Voice of Prophecy Soloist Passes to Here Rest," http://www.adventistreview.org, January 31, 2018.