Larry Dean Karpenko

1944 - 2012

Larry Karpenko, singer and conductor, taught music for ten years in two Seventh-day Adventist academies. He then worked as a real estate investor for over thirty years while continuing to sing as a soloist and as a member of choral groups.

Larry was born in Minot, North Dakota, one of three sons of Fred A. and Anne A. Moseanko Karpenko, both of whom were children of Russian Immigrants.  Music was important in the home, and all three boys were supported in their music activities whether it be learning a band instrument or singing as a trio.

After attending high school for two years, Larry enrolled at Campion Academy in Colorado, where he studied voice with Merritt Schuman and sang in his choirs. Schumann, who became an inspiring mentor for Larry, recognized the outstanding quality and potential of his voice and shared with him his interest in the Westminster Choir College concept of singing. He made it possible for him to attend the summer WWC Vocal Camp in Colorado by recommending him for a scholarship.

He also featured Larry as a soloist in a presentation of the Messiah in December 1972 and in a May 1963 performance of Theodore Dubois’ Seven Last Words of Christ. After graduating from CA that spring, he enrolled at Union College, where he studied voice for one year and sang in the select choir, the Unionaires, under Lyle Jewell. He also was one of the soloists in a December performance of the Messiah at UC.

Larry then applied to Westminster with a heartfelt letter expressing his desire to become the very best singer possible so that he could be a good teacher and share the message of salvation. He gained acceptance and then distinguished himself as a student, chosen as a member and soloist in the Smith Princeton Chamber Chorus, a select group that traveled to Europe in 1965. Also during his years at WCC he sang as a soloist on the Faith for Today television program.

He was a member of the renowned Westminster Choir and had the opportunity to sing under many great conductors such as Leonard Bernstein, Leopold Stokowski, Sir Malcom Sargent , George Lynn, and others. The conductors came on campus to prepare the choir for their New York Philharmonic and Philadelphia Orchestra performances.

His experiences at WCC and the friends that he made greatly influenced him. Each year Larry tried to return to Alumni Weekend to experience the marvelous music and the graduation exercises in the Princeton University Chapel. He would invite friends to go with him because he wanted to share the Westminster experience with other people.

In 1967 he met Donna J. MacDevitt, an elementary education major at Columbia Union College, now Washington Adventist University, when she accompanied him for a solo at the Trenton SDA Church in New Jersey. He encouraged her to pursue additional piano study, which she did under Betty Christensen at CUC in her senior year.  After he graduated from WCC with a B.Mus. in music education in 1968 and they married, she became his lifelong accompanist. 

Although they were both offered teaching positions in New Jersey that summer, when the opportunity for Larry to teach music at Sheyenne River Academy in Harvey, North Dakota (later relocated and renamed Dakota Adventist Academy) opened, they responded and were there when school started that fall. For the next three years he taught voice and directed the choir in addition to managing the farm in his first year and directing the band in the next year before finally only directing the choir and teaching voice in his last year.

In his first year at SRA, Karpenko and his eighty-member chorus joined forces with two nearby high school choirs to create a 300-member chorus that performed the Messiah.  He was bass soloist in the concert. In 1969 Karpenko directed the community chorus in Harvey in the Seven Last Words of Christ and was also guest soloist with the Minot Symphony Orchestra and Chorus when they presented the Messiah later that year. 

In 1970 he received an award from the Jaycees as the Outstanding Educator in the Harvey area. He also made two records, Sheyenne River Academy Sings, and The First Sabbath Morning up in Heaven, the latter featuring groups and soloists, including himself, from that area of North Dakota. 

Those recordings led to an offer in 1971 to teach at Blue Mountain Academy in Hamburg, Pennsylvania.  In the next seven years Karpenko developed an outstanding choral program at the academy, and he became a favorite teacher, known affectionately as “Mr. K.”  When the select choir, Bel Canto Singers, was invited to sing for both the Senate and House of Representatives of the Pennsylvania legislature in Harrisburg in 1972, the latter gave him and the group a standing ovation. He completed an M.Mus. in vocal performance at Trenton State University, now the University of New Jersey, in 1974.

Karpenko had definite convictions about vocal production and singing with a full resonant voice, part of his Russian heritage, while being sensitive to musical nuance. His personal solos and training of students and ensembles reflected these beliefs and the result inspired those who listened.

After leaving BMA to pursue a longstanding interest in business, he continued to be musically active, singing as member in and soloist with the Wheatland Chorale in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, a professional level ensemble of about 32 members; Berks Grand Opera; and the Reading, Pennsylvania, Choral Society. He was known for the richness and musicality of his baritone voice, described by one of his former teachers at Westminster as “glorious” and by many who heard him sing on countless occasions and in numerous venues as “magnificent.”

His wife, Donna, recently recalled his pleasure in being a member of the Wheatland Chorale and his last performance with them as a soloist:

In 1995 Larry was encouraged to hear the Wheatland Chorale located in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  After the concert, he turned to me and said, “Now that’s a group I would like to sing in.” He auditioned and became a member and a soloist. He drove an hour each way to attend the rehearsals every week and was instrumental in recruiting several outstanding soloists in the area. 

In April this past year Larry sang two of the bass solos from the Brahms Requiem beautifully in four concerts with them. We were unaware at the time that this would be his last performance with the chorale. We knew he had a blood disease, but we didn’t know it had progressed into leukemia.  He had started to have shortness of breath and was tired after he sang.

While in the hospital, he was asked to sing for the main service for the Pennsylvania Camp meeting but was unable to accept. God blessed him with a beautiful voice, and Larry enjoyed singing and sharing his music. The Wheatland Chorale sang two numbers at his funeral service.

Karpenko also served as an elder in the Blue Mountain Academy Church and as a member of the academy board for seventeen years and chaired the Blue Mountain SDA Elementary School board for a number of years. Additionally, he directed the Bel Canto Singers, the eighty-member BMA Choir, and taught voice lessons once a week in 1991 on a volunteer basis, with Donna serving as accompanist for Bel Canto.  Both he and Donna were cited for their contributions to the academy when she recently accepted the 2012 Lifetime Achievement Award, following his death.

The Karpenkos’ two children, Julie A. and Larry Dean II, have both  been active as musicians, Julie (Reid) completing a degree at Westminster and now teaching at Andrews University as an adjunct instructor in voice and Larry, a graduate of Loma Linda University, pursuing a career as a singer and arranger in Southern California. Julies’s husband, Charles, an opera singer, is Coordinator of Vocal Studies at AU. 


Sources: Interview with Donna Karpenko, January 2013; Obituary, Minot Daily News, 18 July 2012; Central Union Reaper, 14 May 1963, 8; Northern Union Outlook, 24 January 1969, 6; Columbia Union Visitor, 5 March1970, 13; 17 February 1972, 8; Numerous tributes at leibenspergerfuneral (2012); personal knowledge.