Orlo Raymond Gilbert

1938 - 2012

Orlo Gilbert, conductor of the symphony orchestra and professor of music at Southern Adventist University for 31 years, retired in 2000 after 39 years of teaching. Under his leadership, the string program at Southern Adventist University flourished and its symphony orchestra became an acclaimed ensemble that toured internationally.

Orlo was born in Belle Fourche, South Dakota, on October 8, 1938, the younger of two sons of Floyd Parker and Alice Mildred Sorenson Gilbert, teachers at Maplewood Academy and later Oak Park and San Pasqual academies. He graduated from MWA in 1956 and then attended Union College before transferring to La Sierra College, now University, where completed a music degree in 1961.He married Ellen Jane Olsen on August 23, 1960.They would have a son, Phillip Evans, and a daughter, Mary Alice (Kerford).

He began his career as band and orchestra director at San Diego Academy in 1961, teaching there for two years before accepting a position at Shenandoah Valley Academy in Virginia. In 1967 Gilbert was invited to teach at Collegedale Academy in Tennessee, where he also served as an adjunct teacher at nearby Southern Missionary College, now Southern Adventist University. In 1969, SMC hired him as full-time orchestra director and teacher in strings.

A violinist and student of Alfred Walters during his undergraduate study at La Sierra College, Gilbert was one of the first Adventist string teachers to recognize the value of the Suzuki approach, sought to learn all he could about it, and then implemented it in his teaching. When he began his work at SMC, he inherited a string program that had been in decline. Within a decade the program was flourishing, with a large and accomplished orchestra.

An extensive and successful tour to the Orient in 1979 set the stage for what would become the largest and one of the most successful orchestras in the circle of Adventist colleges and universities. In the next two decades they would take ten more world tours and play in Carnegie Hall. During the 1999-2000 schoolyear, Gilbertís final season conducting the orchestra, they performed ten different programs in twenty-nine concerts.

Gilbert pursued graduate study at the University of Minnesota and James Madison University in Virginia. He completed a masterís degree at JMU in 1967 and in 1997 was granted the first honorary doctorís degree by newly renamed Southern Adventist University, in recognition for his work with the orchestra. He was also honored at the Chattanooga Symphony's final concert of the 1999-2000 season for his 33 years as a violinist in the orchestra and was awarded the SAU Distinguished Service Medallion during the 2000 graduation weekend.

The Gilberts retired to Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, where they operated the Riverside Place Resort, a family owned business developed many years ago by Ellenís parents. Orlo and Ellen had been operating it during the summers for 22 years. In 2005 they sold the business to be able to travel and spend more time with their family.

Gilbert continued in retirement to pursue his interest in rebuilding and showing antique cars, an outgrowth of a passion for cars he had had since childhood. He and his wife were residing in Detroit Lakes at the time of his death from Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia on June 28, 2012, at age 73.


Sources: Information provided by Orlo Gilbert, 1997 and 2000; Mel R. Wilhoit, "Chattanooga Symphony Takes A 'Holiday,'" The Chattanoogan.com, 12 May 2000; Interview of Gilbert and Rhonda Burnham with Mary Otto, September 2010, lakestv3; International Adventist Musicians Association magazine, Notes, Autumn 1997, 29, 30; Summer/Autumn 2000, 17, 18; Obituary, Detroit Lakes Online ( drawn from IAMA online biography, contains some errors); Social Security Death Index and 1940 Federal Census, Ancestry.com; personal knowledge.