Klaus Detlef Karl Leukert

1941 -  

Klaus Leukert, tenor, choir conductor, and administrator, enjoyed a distinguished career in the Seventh-day Adventist school system for 36 years. In addition to directing choral groups throughout all of those years, he taught German and other classes and at the end of his career also served as a registrar and principal.

Klaus, born in Germany during World War II, was the only child born to Karl Richard Wilhelm and Elvira Elisabeth Vera Glass Leukert. Although music was important in the Leukert home, because of the turmoil in his early years he wasn't able to begin lessons until he was in fourth grade. He later recalled those early childhood years:

We spent the first few years in Stolp. When the German army retreated from the Russian front, we became displaced persons. Poland was given the area where we lived and the name of our city changed from Stolp to Slipsk. Fortunately, after the war ended, we were able to illegally cross the iron curtain into West Germany where I spent two years in an orphanage in LŁbeck, followed by another two years in a private home in Hamburg-Harburg, because my father was a war casualty and my mother was unable to find a job that allowed us to have a home together.

My mother answered an ad in Adventbote, the German equivalent of The Review, where Dr. Leroy E. Coolidge in Greeneville, Tennessee, was willing to sponsor a German nurse to work for and with him in the hospital there. She was chosen and we arrived by way of a transformed war ship, the General Harry S. Taylor, among the thousands of others who immigrated from all over Europe at that time.

When mother and I arrived, I was unable to speak English and began the second half of fourth grade in a two-room schoolhouse that is now Greeneville Adventist Academy. I had brought two musical instruments from Germany, a Hohner harmonica and a Hohner accordion, but could only play the harmonica. I took accordion lessons in Greeneville, followed by piano and saxophone and often provided music for Friday night vespers at the hospital and also for the two SDA churches in town.

Both of my parents were amateur musicians. My father had played the cello and trumpet, and my mother sang and played the zither. Mother played an almost constant variety of records in our home. I was required to practice an hour each day faithfully, except on Sabbath. When the number of instruments came to three, I was spending three hours each day practicing, more than I cared to, especially when I could see my friends playing softball outside.

Klaus continued lessons on the accordion and piano in elementary school and also had one lesson on the saxophone, which he then continued to learn on his own. After the Greeneville Adventist elementary school was upgraded to a junior academy, he continued there through his first two years in high school. During that time he worked in the hospital as an orderly and gained basic knowledge about physical therapy and the clinical laboratory.

This exposure led him to decide to become a doctor, and when it came time to make a decision about what academy he should attend, he decided to go to Fletcher Academy in North Carolina, because it offered both biology and chemistry. Because of his background, he was able to work at the on-campus Fletcher Hospital, where he increased his hospital-related experience and affirmed his interest in pursuing medicine.

The school also provided numerous opportunities in music and Klaus enthusiastically explored them fully. He played in the band, directed by Gordon Brown, and in saxophone ensembles and, now that his voice was maturing, sang in the choir, a quartet, and in other smaller vocal combinations, as well as a singing as a soloist. Both Helen Rust, choir director, and Brown, inspired him and he particularly enjoyed touring and attending music festivals.

Klaus also still played his accordion occasionally just for relaxation. On some evenings, he would sit on the porch of his residence hall and play, enjoying the sound his music made in the picturesque mountainous area where the school was located. Those who were there at that time still recall his playing as a pleasant memory.

During his senior year at FA, he and his mother drove to Washington, D.C., to locate work for him that would cover his school expenses for his attendance at Washington Missionary College, now Washington Adventist University, in the coming school year. He recently talked about what happened after he graduated from FA and arrived at the college:

As soon as I graduated from Fletcher, I went to WMC in the summer of 1960 to begin work in the clinical laboratory at Washington Sanitarium and Hospital, which was located on the edge of the college campus [now relocated and known as Washington Adventist Hospital]. I stayed in the dorm for the summer. The Dean of Men, Mike Loewen, happened to be a male quartet enthusiast, and I got drafted to sing second tenor in the quartet.

When college classes began, I was registered for a full load, with no time for music. Thatís when I realized that I couldnít live without it. Second semester I added voice lessons - a first for me. The voice professor, Glenn W. Cole, assigned me a German art song, when he found out that I spoke fluent German. I could hardly wait for the next week so that I could finally learn how to sing correctly.

When the time came for my lesson, he asked me to sing the assigned song, after which he excused himself, and left the accompanist and me looking at each other in wonder. But it wasnít long before he returned with the chair of the music department, Charles Pierce. I was asked to sing the song again, and when I finished, Mr. Pierce asked me, "So, I understand you are a pre-med major. Why?" My answer was, "Because Iím going to be a doctor."

"Have you ever thought of being a music major?" he continued. I said, "No." He said, "You know, you can become a doctor as well as a music major." Well, that had never crossed my mind until then, and I couldnít get it out of my mind. I continued my voice lessons for that semester. The summer after my freshman year, I made the decision to switch majors, much to my motherís chagrin. It took her about twenty years to finally accept that God had a part in that decision.

In Leukert's five years at the college, the school was renamed Columbia Union College. Also, during this time he met Edrine Hanson, who although a nursing major was active in music at the college, singing first soprano in the choir and in the Madrigal Singers, a select group conducted by Cole. They married in 1964.

After graduating from CUC with a B.Mus. in voice performance with minors in piano and education in 1965, Leukert enrolled at the University of Southern California to pursue a master's degree in church music under noted church musician Charles Hirt. Although he had enjoyed his experience at FA, he had decided that he did not want to work with teenage students at the secondary level, having noticed how they had behaved in music festivals he had attended. He felt that by obtaining a master's degree he would improve the likelihood of his getting a college teaching position.

Once enrolled at USC, he was disappointed to learn Hirt only taught doctoral level classes. Even so, he was able to take one class from him that he thoroughly enjoyed. In the summer of 1967, while enrolled in classes that would prepare him to write his thesis, the Leukerts received a phone call from Lyle Anderson, principal at Maplewood Academy in Minnesota, who was himself completing a master's degree at USC.

Anderson asked if he could come to see us, and we graciously said, "Of course." "Is this evening fine with you?" he asked. We agreed. What he explained to us we could only explain as providential and I found myself saying, "We have no other choice." I still had a year to finish my degree and planned to have a performance as part of my thesis. I petitioned for a one-year extension, planning to return the next summer to finish the degree and graduate.

During that year, there was a fire in the USC Registrarís office that destroyed my petition for a year's extension. I was told I would have to choose a new thesis subject and re-take all of the thesis classes in its preparation. I was not ready to move back to LA for a year to go through the added tuition and living costs, so I put the M.Mus. on hold and continued to teach at MWA.

Leukert discovered that he actually did enjoy teaching at that level and stayed at MWA, directing the choirs and teaching lessons and German and photography classes for ten years, from 1967 to 1977. The 1971 yearbook, The Maple Leaf, was dedicated to him with an extended inscription citing him for his support, accepting smile, and ability to listen to students with their uncertainties, concerns, frustrations, and dreams, and his sensitivity in responding with wise and helpful yet honest advice.

He accepted a position at Georgia-Cumberland Academy in 1977, where he again taught German and photography as well as music for five years. In the summer of his move to GCA, he enrolled at Andrews University and after four summers of study, graduated with an M.Mus. in music education in 1981. At the end of his last year at the academy, the students dedicated their yearbook, Fountain Reveries, to him, expressing their appreciation for his obvious dedication and love for them as students and the encouragement, understanding, and friendship he had provided them.

For the last 21 years of his career, Leukert worked at Thunderbird Adventist Academy in Arizona, where he directed the choirs and taught lessons and senior Bible as well as German and photography. He also worked in administration, serving as registrar for three years and as principal for two years. In his service at the academy the students came to view him as an embodiment of the best aspects of the school. Accordingly, when he retired in 2003, the yearbook reflected their sentiments:

For the past 21 years Thunderbird Academy has been blessed by the ever cheerful and always smiling Mr. Leukert. While it is true that students here at TAA havenít been around that long, it doesnít change how much they love him. The walkways of this campus will lose some of their spirit when the man with the masterful voice is gone. This is a man of many abilities serving in any position from choir director to principal. And because of the great things he has done for all of the students, he will always be remembered on this campus.

The Leukerts, who have three children, not only raised them in a home where music was a central activity, they also provided music opportunities for all of them. Heidi Edrine Leukert Chaij, a singer, flutist and percussionist, is a teacher at the secondary level; Karl Edward, a singer and tuba player, is a minister; and Kristian Klaus, a singer and trumpet player, teaches music at Monterey Bay Academy in California. Kristian recently talked about how important music was in their home and the role his father has played in his life:

My father has a tremendous tenor voice, and my mother has a wonderful soprano voice. All three of us kids grew up singing often for worships and providing special music. I always wanted to be a music teacher like my dad. I am the youngest of the three kids and 6 years from my nearest sibling. When I was born, my mom was already gearing up to go back to work as a nurse. Consequently, I spent most of my formative years going to work with my dad. I would play on the floor beside him during choir rehearsals, play under the piano during voice lessons, etc.

During my late childhood and teenage years while we were living in Arizona, my dad and Dan Kravig, who directed the instrumental program at Thunderbird Academy, were great role models for me. My best memories from those years at TAA are about music and the music department.

Leukert is not only devoted to his wife and family, he was passionate about his teaching and working with young people. In addition to the yearbook dedications, he was chosen to serve as senior class advisor/sponsor 29 times, and the class of 2002 dedicated their graduation weekend to him, noting in the graduation program:

We, the Senior Class of 2002, would like to give special recognition to a man that has made a major impact on our lives. Mr. Leukert has been here at Thunderbird Academy for nineteen years and for the last two he has been conquering the role of Principal. Since it is our last year here and our last chance to show him how much we appreciate his constant guidance, we would like to dedicate our weekend to him.

He had also been honored with the Zapara Excellence in Teaching Award in 1990, and in his last year at TAA the student association presented Leukert with a plaque honoring him as the 2002-2003 Faculty Member of the Year.

The Leukerts are now retired and living in Hahira, Georgia, where he leads out in a local church as the minister of music. He also occasionally sings and leads the singing in churches and church gatherings. 

ds/2011

Sources: Information provided by Klaus Leukert and Kristian Leukert, May 2011.