George Michael (1911-2001) and Audrey Beekman Wargo (1915-2008)
George Wargo was a child prodigy who started his career at age sixteen as a violin soloist with the Philadelphia Orchestra and within three years was the youngest member and principal violist with the National Symphony in the nation's capital. He became a Seventh-day Adventist in his late twenties and, beginning in his thirties, started a career in SDA education that would include three decades of service at two SDA colleges.
George was born in West Hazelton, Pennsylvania, the oldest of five children and one of three sons of Michael and Minnie A. Koch Wargo. He began his music education at age seven and made remarkable progress. His musical gifts won him a scholarship at the Philadelphia Conservatory of Music, where he studied violin with the eminent Russian violinist Boris Koutzen and, at age sixteen, a successful debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra, playing the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto.
He became principal violist of the National Symphony in Washington, D. C., at age nineteen. During his fifteen-year tenure with the NS he appeared as soloist and as guest conductor, conducting the premier performance of his Symphony in G Major. While serving in the NS, he accepted an invitation to teach at the Peabody Conservatory of Music, a position he held for ten years. During those years he performed in the Conservatory Faculty String Quartet and earned B.Mus. and M.Mus. degrees at Peabody in 1941 and 1942.
Near the end of that decade at Peabody, Wargo taught part-time for a year at Washington Missionary College, now Washington Adventist University. While teaching there he became acquainted with Seventh-day Adventists, was baptized, and helped with evangelistic meetings in the area. He met and married Audrey Purcell Beekman, a piano student at the college and an employee at the Review and Herald Publishing Association, on May 31, 1937. They would have a son, Paul.
Audrey had been born in Washington, D.C., on December 31, 1915, the only child of Daniel Dewitt and Lora Matilda Earle Beekman. Her mother was a Bible worker who later became the first secretary-treasurer of the District of Columbia Conference. Her father was a dentist and professor of dentistry at George Washington University. His father, John S. Beekman, had been an Episcopalian minister and a professor at Princeton University.
George became chair of the WMC music department in 1942. During his thirteen-year tenure as chair, Audrey taught piano and was a frequent accompanist for her husband and others. She continued to accompany him when he later taught at the University of Virginia, and when he became chair of the music program at Pacific Union College, she taught piano and was an accompanist.
While at WMC, he conducted the band and WMC Sinfonietta while continuing to perform as a member of both the Washington String Quartet and the American University String Quartet. He completed a D.Mus. at the Philadelphia Conservatory of Music in May 1946.
From 1955 to 1959 Wargo taught at the University of Virginia, until he accepted the chairmanship of the music department at Pacific Union College. During his ten-year tenure as music chair at PUC he strengthened its graduate music program and was the driving force behind the designing and building of Paulin Hall, a new comprehensive music facility.
Shortly after arriving at PUC, he became conductor of the Vallejo Symphony, a position he would hold for 21 years. After retiring from PUC in 1973 with the rank of Professor Emeritus of Music, he conducted the Vallejo Symphony for thirteen more years and continued to play, forming a Wargo Trio with Curt Johnson, cellist, and Lynn Wheeler, pianist.
Wargo's compositions include works for piano, voice, chorus, chamber groups, viola, chamber orchestra and symphony orchestra. In addition to his Symphony in G, mentioned above, the Vallejo Symphony also performed his Concerto for Strings. A friend of George Vandeman, he composed and conducted the theme music and other numbers for the It is Written television program. He also recorded for Chapel Records as a soloist and with the Wargo Symphonette.
Wargo was living in Yountville, California, when he died from a sudden heart attack at his home. He was 89. He was survived by his wife, Audrey; their son, Paul and his wife, Betty; two grandchildren; and a sister. Audrey was residing in Redding, California, when she died on March 29, 2008, at age 92. She was survived by her son, Paul and his family.
Sources: 1920 U.S. Federal Census, Ancestry.com; Social Security Death Index, 1935-2014, Ancestry.com; Tantalo Family Tree, Ancestry.com; George Wargo biographical sketch, Explore the Arts, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: http://www.kenedy-centr.otg/explorer/artists/; Life Story, likely read at the time of memorial service at Yountsville on February 3, 2001, no listed writer, copy in possession of Dan Shultz; District of Columbia, Marriage Records, 1810-1953, Ancestry.com; Audrey Beekman Wargo obituary, Pacific Union College alumni magazine, View Point, Fall 2008; Lora Matilda Earle Beekman, obituary, Columbia Union Visitor, May 14, 1936, 6; Dr. Daniel DeWitt Beekman obituary, Columbia Union Visitor, July 22, 1954, 6; "129 Page Symphony Climaxes Study Since Receiving Master's Degree," The Sligonian, May 3, 1946; George Wargo death notice, Pacific Union College alumni magazine, View Point, Spring 2001, 25; Social Security Death Index, 1935-2014, Ancestry.com.