Donna Lee Hill Strukoff
Donna Lee Strukoff, a mezzo-soprano, pianist, conductor, and composer, taught in three Seventh-day Adventist academies, at two universities, and in the public school systems in Michigan and the Chicago area. She is a multi-talented person who was a child actor on and later wrote scripts for Your Story Hour, a children's radio program founded by her father, Stanley Hill.
Donna was born in Benton Harbor, Michigan, the only child of Severa Ruth and Stanley Hill. Shortly after her birth they moved to Berrien Springs, Michigan, where she attended and graduated from the Seventh-day Adventist grade school and academy. She enrolled in the music education program as a voice major at Emmanuel Missionary College, later Andrews University, in 1957.
She earned her tuition through academy and college working in a variety of jobs, including being an accompanist and secretary for her major professor, Minnie Iverson Wood, in her freshman year. Donna began assisting Rudolf (Rudy) Strukoff, a bass and music education major, as an accompanist in October. They began dating at Thanksgiving time and became engaged in January of the following year. Donna later talked about the matchmaking role her voice teacher played:
My voice teacher, Mrs. Wood, said, "There's this Russian from Wisconsin and I want you to give him two half-hours a week as an accompanist. You will need to contact him and set up a rehearsal time." I really didn't know who he was. I walked into the music building shortly after that and he was sitting in a chair on a stairway landing. I looked at him and thought, "If he's not a Russian, nobody is." I said, "Are you Rudy Strukoff?" and he said, "Yes, I am." And that was how it started.
At this time, they started what would become a lifelong musical collaboration, she accompanying him or joining with him to sing duets and/or solos on shared programs. That collaboration earned them the grand prize when they sang a duet in the spring 1958 International Amateur Hour at AU. They married in May of the following year.
When Rudy graduated in 1960, they accepted music teaching positions at Mountain View Union Academy in California. At the end of the school year, they returned to Michigan, where she continued work on her undergraduate degree at EMC and he studied conducting with Robert Shaw at Michigan State University. That fall, the Strukoffs returned to the West Coast to teach at Milo Academy in Oregon, positions they had accepted during their year at MVUA.
The following summer, they returned to Michigan, where Donna completed a B.Mus. Ed. degree at AU and Rudy again studied under Shaw. In the fall of 1963, they began two years of residency at Michigan State University, where he enrolled as a full-time student. He completed an M.Mus. in 1964 and started to work on a doctorate while she took class work towards an M.Mus. in performance. Life as graduate students was challenging, as Donna would later observe:
In our last year at MSU [1964-1965], I played for three of Rudy's doctoral recitals. He did his last recital a week before I did my graduate recital. You can imagine how crazy it was in our apartment. We lived in housing for students with families. We never practiced after ten in the evening. Everybody around us loved to hear us practice, except one who was a librarian. She wasn't too happy.
Rudy would be holding our colicky second baby on his shoulder and patting him as he paced the floor and practiced his songs. Our three-year old son had to have cards like his daddy had so he could pretend to be looking at the words while walking behind Rudy and singing. It was quite an adventure.
In 1965-1966, while the Strukoffs were teaching music at Grand Ledge Academy in Michigan, Donna completed all classwork for her degree, and, in 1966, Rudy began teaching as an assistant professor of music at Indiana State University. In their three years at ISU, Donna served as principal mezzo-soprano soloist with the university orchestra and became choral director of the Greek Orthodox Church. She recalls,
I was not employed by Indiana State University, but was the freebie that came along with Rudy. I did a lot of solo work for them. There were two sopranos on their staff, but no mezzos. One thing I did which was the most fun was performing as the Witch of Endor in Honegger's King David. The incantation that she does is a dramatic, all-speaking part. I hadn't done anything dramatic since Story Hour so really enjoyed doing it.
Donna completed all requirements for an M.Mus. in vocal performance at MSU in the spring of 1969.
That year, their alma mater, Andrews University, invited the Strukoffs to return to teach, he as an associate professor of music and she as an adjunct instructor in voice. She would teach for one year at AU and then begin teaching music at the elementary and junior high school in nearby Eau Claire the following year, a position she held for the next eight years.
In 1977, Rudy commuted from their home in Michigan to take a one-year music teaching position at Governor's State University in Illinois, a public university in Chicago's south suburban area that had been established in 1969. They moved to the Chicago area a year later, when GSU gave Rudy a permanent position.
Based on a recommendation of her principal at Eau Claire, she was offered a job within two weeks of their arrival in their new home, teaching music and directing the choirs at three elementary schools in the Crete/Monee school district in the Chicago area. Additionally, as needed, she would serve as an adjunct professor, teaching voice and elementary music methods at GSU and sing as a recitalist and soloist with the GSU chorale and orchestra. She retired in 1998, a year after he retired from teaching at GSU.
A composer, Donna wrote Mother Goose Music, a setting of 36 nursery rhymes. She illustrated, produced, and recorded these for use in pre-school and kindergarten classes and for her grandchildren. She also composed songs for her husband and a lullaby for their youngest granddaughter, Sophia's Lullaby, which the Strukoffs recorded in 2008.
Throughout their careers, he has featured her as a soloist in numerous productions of major choral works and they also performed together in many concerts and recitals. More recently, they produced two CDs: How Great Thou Art, in 2002, and My Native Land, in 2003. Now residing in University Park, Illinois, they have three sons: Rudolf, Jr., Robbin, and Regan.
Sources: Information from the Strukoffs, 28 and 30 October and 1-3 November 2009; Lake Union Herald, 15 March 1960, 18 January 1966, 1 February 1966, 8 March 1966, 20 August 1968, 11 March 1969; North Pacific Union Gleaner, 13 November 1961; Governor's State University Inscapes, 15 January 1987; Michigan State University Music Notes, 2006-2007, Volume 21.
My Childhood Experiences with Your Story Hour and in Music
Donna Lee Hill Strukoff
My father had been the foreman in the mill at EMC but had a real burden about creating Your Story Hour program. Although it started out as a part-time venture, it would become a full-time cause for him. My mother was a stay-at-home mom. My father did the recording and music bridgework and played all kinds of roles in the program besides playing Uncle Dan. He was also the primary fundraiser for the program. It was a 24-hour a day job.
As a child I played children's parts on the program and enjoyed that experience. Years later, I was surprised to learn that the other children who had played roles had been given a little pittance for being on the program. I got a laugh out of that. I suppose because I was Uncle Dan's daughter, they felt I should do it for free!
The financing was touch and go for us and we did without, at times wondering if we were going to have groceries. It was hard on my mom. Dad told me at the end of eighth grade that he couldn't help me with my tuition in academy so I would have to earn my way, which I did all through those years. I completed academy in three years and began college in the fall of 1957.
I had started piano at age four with a Mrs. Summers, who with her husband [an organist and former chair of music at EMC] lived on College Avenue. My father was also a pianist.
I started to play piano by ear at an early age and at three he had me singing publicly. He wanted me to learn to read music so he made arrangements for piano lessons. The night he called Mrs. Summers, I sat on the stairs and just cried, "But, I don't want to take piano lessons." However, I am very grateful that he did. Music has been the center of all my life. I look forward to an eternity of heavenly music.