John Wendell Thurber

 1931 - 2019

John Thurber, second tenor in the Voice of Prophecy King's Heralds quartet in the 1960s, was also known for his work in six union conferences in the Seventh-day Adventist church as a teacher, choir director, innovative conference and union youth leader and pastor, conference and union director, and Dakota conference president.

John was born in Hartford, Vermont, on October 6, 1931, the youngest of three children born to Leon Temple and Julia Mildred Putney Thurber. His mother was one of five musical sisters who often sang as soloists and in various combinations at camp meetings and churches all over New England. His father was an amateur violinist who also sang tenor. In the Thurber home, the coming of Sabbath was met quietly and meditatively as the sun set. They would gather around the piano as a family and celebrate with the singing of favorite hymns.

John's musical debut came when, at age three, when he led a song in an evangelistic meeting. He and his older brother, Wayne, often sang duets when they were young boys. When he was ten, the family moved to South Lancaster, Massachusetts. It was there, while in the sixth grade, that he sang in a male quartet for the first time.

When he was a freshman in at South Lancaster Academy, the Atlantic Union College quartet invited him to sing first tenor with them. The group was racially mixed and it was Thurber's first exposure to the singing of Spirituals. The group became very popular, and in his sophomore year they entered and won a regional Ted Mack Talent show singing Li'l Liz I love Ya. They were all set to proceed to the national competition in New York when the president of AUC informed them that they couldn't because the program was sponsored by Old Gold cigarettes.

This was a huge disappointment for Thurber and left him disillusioned and uneasy abut his relationship with the church. At the end of his junior year he traveled with his family to visit with his brother, Wayne, who was teaching in the music department at SMC. He ended up staying with him and eventually singing in the Adelphian Quartet, a popular group on campus and in the region.

They would sing together for three years, averaging twenty performances a month and make a guest appearance on the Adventist television program Faith for Today, which led to an invitation to become part of the program. They represented the school on recruitment trips for which its members were given full-tuition scholarships.

Near the end of his stay at SMC, when the Adelphian Quartet disbanded, he and Jack Veazey, who had also been a member, joined with Jim McClintock and Duane Stier to form a new group called the King's Men. They would sing together for a year.

While at SMC, John was influenced in his musical growth by his brother, who used John as his assistant in conducting Collegedale Academy choral groups; Harold A. Miller, a talented composer and voice teacher; and Adrian Lauritzen, chair of the music department, who was an inspiring musical mentor. Lauritzen also helped Thurber begin his career in teaching, when he invited him to teach at SMC following his graduation with a music education degree in 1956.

While still a student at SMC, he had married Patsy Fogg in May 1953.  They would have three children, John Michael (Mic), Shery (Juhasz), and Gary. Patsy would assist John throughout his career, especially in their home and marriage presentations.

When Thurber was invited to teach at AUC in 1957, he found the offer attractive since it included both music teaching and working as a dean in the dormitory. It also meant a return to New England. While the next three years were gratifying as he taught, deaned, performed, and began graduate work in Boston, when the offer came to go to Glendale Academy in California, in 1960 to direct the vocal/choral program, he readily accepted. The promise of a little less activity had great appeal.

At the end of his first year at GA, Thurber was invited by Wayne Hooper to replace him in the VOP quartet. He began singing with them that summer when they toured to camp meetings across the country.

The offer to become a member of the VOP quartet came as an exciting surprise. His quartets at SMC had interacted, even sung, with the King's Heralds at different times, and so members of the VOP group and those at SMC were acquainted with one another. When, after Thurber's first year in the VOP quartet, two positions opened, two other former SMC quartet members, Veazey and McClintock, were chosen. This group sang together for five years before Thurber left in 1967. During that time, the quartet joined with Del Delker and Maurita Phillips Thornburgh to sing in a group under Hooper called the Hymnsingers.

Starting in his first year at the VOP, Thurber organized and directed a large male chorus known as the King's Men. When he left, Wayne Hooper assumed leadership of what had become a popular singing group in Southern California.

Over the next 23 years, Thurber worked in the Texas and Carolina conferences as a youth evangelist. He worked with the young people in creating an innovative outreach program, Adventist Youth in Action (AYA) using their music and personal witnessing. In 1990, he returned to the VOP for three years, this time as a field representative. In that role he spoke, sang, and assisted in other ways in a variety of programs.

It was during this period that he experienced what he described as one the most moving experiences of his career. In 1992 he traveled with members of the VOP to Brazil to assist in celebrating the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the VOP in that country. Several meetings were held, attended by 20,000 to 50,000 persons each night, and hundreds were baptized each night.

After the Thurbers retired in 1993, he continued to assist in music ministry in many ways. They were living in Lincoln, Nebraska, when John died on February 3, 2019, at age 87. He was preceded in death by his two siblings and daughter Sherry Juhasz. He was survived by his wife, Patsy; sons Mic and Gary and their spouses Jana and Diane; son-in-law Gary Juhasz; five grandchildren, and many nieces and nephews.


Sources: Manuscript of John Thurber’s autobiography, With a Song in My Heart, sent to me in 2005; Atlantic Union Gleaner, 16 December 1957, 8; personal knowledge, I interacted with him as a music major who witnessed his work at AUC.