Rudolf Stephen Strukoff
Rudolf (Rudy) Strukoff, a singer, conductor, and composer, taught in three Seventh-day Adventist academies and at four universities. A linguist and prize-winning bass singer, he is known for his love of great choral music and effectiveness as a teacher and conductor.
Strukoff was born in Rostov, Russia, the older of two sons of Stephen and Olga Strukoff. His mother was of German descent and when Germany invaded Russia in World War II, the family experienced an ongoing nightmare as they moved several times, driven by the ebb and flow of the war. It was a terrifying experience that led to the death of the father in battle and the loss of relatives who were sent to Siberia and never heard from again.
Following the war, he spent his youth in Germany, where his mother, who had been raised a Lutheran, and her sons became Seventh-day Adventists. They emigrated to the U.S. in 1951 when Rudy was sixteen, arriving in New York City harbor on the USNS General M. L. Hershey on Christmas Eve and disembarking on December 26.
Although sponsored by a family in North Dakota, they ended up without support and moved to the small town of Harvey in that state, where the mother worked in the hospital and the boys worked on the farm at Sheyenne River Academy. Rudy attended for a semester and graduated from the school in 1952.
Immediately following graduation, the family moved to Lincoln, Nebraska, where Rudy attended Union College and the University of Nebraska. While attending the university, he worked the night shift at the local hospital. In 1955, when this load proved too heavy, he postponed his studies to work full-time at the hospital. After his brother joined the navy, Rudy and his mother moved to Madison, Wisconsin, in 1956.
Strukoff was invited to join the church choir in Madison and then eventually sing as a soloist. The pastor's wife, who was the organist and choir director, along with a member of the Olson family encouraged him to pursue music.
In the fall of 1957, Strukoff enrolled at Emmanuel Missionary College, later Andrews University, as a music major. He began working with Donna Hill, another music major who was his accompanist. They began dating by Thanksgiving and became engaged the following January.
At this time, they started what would become a lifelong musical collaboration, with her accompanying him or joining with him to sing duets and/or solos on shared programs. That collaboration earned them the grand prize when they sang a duet in the spring 1958 International Amateur Hour at the college. They married in May 1959.
Strukoff graduated from EMC as a voice major with a B.Mus.Ed. in 1960. That summer he studied choral methods and conducting under Roger Wagner at San Diego State University before they both started teaching music in the fall at Mountain View Union Academy in California.
At the end of the school year, they returned to Michigan, where he studied conducting with Robert Shaw at Michigan State University and she continued work on her undergraduate degree at Andrews University. That fall, the Strukoffs returned to the West Coast to teach at Milo Academy in Oregon, positions they had accepted during their year at MVUA.
In the summer of 1962, they returned to Michigan, where Rudy again studied under Shaw at MSU and Donna earned a B.Mus.Ed. at AU. They taught at Milo until 1963 and that summer moved to East Lansing, Michigan, to pursue graduate studies at MSU. Rudy earned an M.Mus. in 1964 and continued to work on his doctorate. He also taught voice and produced handwritten music manuscripts for his composition professor.
In the 1965-66 school year they taught music at Grand Ledge Academy. During that year, Rudy was named "Singer of the Year" for Michigan when he participated in a National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) competition in Detroit in the spring of 1965, while still a student at MSU. Additionally, he placed second for the Central Region, which included Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, and Missouri, when he competed at the NATS annual regional convention in Chicago, at the end of December.
In 1966, Rudy, having finished the classwork for a Ph.D. at MSU, began teaching as an assistant professor of music at Indiana State University. In his three years at ISU, Donna served as principal mezzo-soprano soloist with the university orchestra and became choral director of the Greek Orthodox Church. She also completed all requirements for an M.Mus. at MSU in 1969.
That year, Andrews University invited the Strukoffs to return to their alma mater to teach, he as an associate professor of music, and she as an adjunct instructor in voice. She would teach for one year at AU and then begin teaching music at the elementary and junior high school in nearby Eau Claire the following year, a position she would hold for the next eight years.
At the time they returned to AU, Rudy was finishing final requirements for a Ph.D. in vocal performance, music theory and composition, and music history and literature at MSU. He completed his doctoral degree the following year, in 1970, with the completion of three solo recitals and an original composition, The Greatest of These, a cantata for solo voice, organ, French horn and percussion, based on the New English Version of I Corinthians 13. He would subsequently compose other works, among them being a song cycle of seven songs for mezzo-soprano and piano titled Childhood Sketches.
The publication of the song cycle led to his election in 1973 to full membership in the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP). Strukoff, by now teaching voice and directing the University Singers at AU, was selected to appear in the 1973-1974 edition of Community Leaders and Noteworthy Americans. He would eventually appear in a number of Marquis Who's Who publications over a period of many years.
Beginning in 1974, while teaching at AU, Strukoff started taking classes towards a doctoral degree in Higher Education Administration at MSU. From 1975 to 1977, he became a full-time student and completed all classwork towards a doctorate. He stopped work on the degree when he was offered a one-year appointment in music at Governor's State University in Illinois in 1977. Following a year of commuting from their home in Michigan and an offer of a tenure track appointment for him at GSU, the Strukoffs moved to Illinois.
At GSU, a public university in Chicago's south suburban area that had been established in 1969, Strukoff taught music history classes, vocal and choral music, voice, and conducted the GSU Community Chorale and chamber orchestra. His primary interests for the next two decades there, where he became a full professor, continued to be in voice, music literature, and theory and composition. He retired from teaching in 1997.
Shortly after their arrival, Donna was offered a position in the Crete/Monee school district in the Chicago area, teaching music and directing the choirs at three elementary schools. Additionally, as needed, she served as an adjunct professor, teaching voice and elementary music methods at GSU and sang as a recitalist and soloist with the GSU chorale and orchestra.
Throughout Strukoff's career and that of his wife, Donna, who retired in 1998, he had featured her as a soloist in numerous productions of major choral works. They also performed together in many concerts and recitals.
The Strukoffs recorded two CDs: How Great Thou Art, in 2002, and My Native Land, in 2003. More recently, they also recorded Sophia's Song, a lullaby composed by Donna for their youngest grandchild, in 2008. Now residing in University Park, Illinois, they have three sons: Rudolf, Jr., Robbin, and Regan.
Sources: Information provided by the Strukoffs, 28, 30 October and 1-3 November 2009; Lake Union Herald, 12 July 1960, 18 December 1965, 18 January 1966, 1 February 1966, 8 March 1966, 20 August 1968, 11 March 1969, 8 September 1970, 11 December 1973, 23 September 1975, 28 June 1977; North Pacific Union Gleaner, 13 November 1961, 11 December 1961, 15 January 1962-9; Governor's State University Inscapes, 3 March 1986, 15 January 1987; Michigan State University Music Notes, 2006-2007, Volume 21; Emigration records for Olga, Rudolf, and Robert Strjukow, Manifest 38, 26 December 1951.
A Painful Childhood Odyssey
My mother's father came to the United States at the end of the nineteenth century, bought a farm, and was ready to bring his fiancée over, but she refused. He loved her too much to stay so returned to Russia, where he became a wealthy farmer with extensive holdings in land, orchards, and cattle. Because he was a German and a prosperous farmer, he was taken off to Siberia in the middle of the night in the 1930s, during one of Stalin's purges of landholders.
He escaped with another prisoner and they made there way back home, having to sleep in trees because of the wolves. The family hid him, keeping his return a secret. It was during this turbulent time that my mother married my father, an officer in the Russian army.
My father had had a very difficult life. When he was ten, his father died during a famine. He dug the grave himself and wrapped him in a rug. He couldn't bury him deep enough and the end of the rug was still showing when he finished.
He became a cavalry officer in the Russian army. When he married my mom, who was German, it didn't sit too well with his superiors. My mother was an outspoken lady and at some point she happened to mention something about a politician that got back to the NKBD, forerunner of the KGB. They arrested her and threw her in a common jail that held men and women together in one room with no toilet. Fortunately for her, they discovered she was pregnant, expecting me, and they let her go.
My Dad's superior, who was also a good friend of his, told him, "Take your wife and go as far a way as you can from here." He did. He went down to the Caucasus mountain region near the border of Georgia. I was born on the way there in Rostov. They stayed there for two years and my brother, Robert, was also born there.
When Germany attacked Russia, my father was recalled to the army due to a shortage of officers and posted to Crimea to slow the German advance. By the spring of 1942, my mother's entire family was sent off to Siberia never to be heard from again. The last trainload of "undesirables" was doused with gasoline and burned because the German army was too close. My mother and we boys were spared because she was married to a Russian army officer.
The blitzkrieg overwhelmed the Russian defenders, driving them into the Black Sea and total annihilation. The Germans occupied our city by summer 1942 and it was not possible to get official information about my father's fate. We heard by word of mouth that he had been killed. He was only 32.
When the Germans lost the battle of Stalingrad [now Volgagrad], they were forced to retreat. Since my mother had worked for the Germans as an interpreter, she would be branded as a collaborator if we had stayed. Therefore, we had to leave Russia. We traveled with the Germans in a convoy as far as the Ukraine. After that we were pretty much on our own and traveled in boxcars, oxcarts, open trucks, anything we could find, to get away from the battlefront, traveling through the Ukraine, Poland, and into what is now the Czech Republic.
Along the way we stayed in a refugee camp in Poland that was about thirty miles from Auschwitz. In the late fall and winter when the wind was coming from the northeast, we could smell the stench of burning flesh since the camp was closer to us than it was to the city. My brother and I witnessed public executions. The Germans were desperate. They couldn't hang onto the large number of prisoners so they would line them up against a wall and shoot them.
We were actually in Czechoslovakia during the time when Schindler was able to get some of the Jews safely into that country, as related in the movie, Schindler's List. We also saw the first American soldiers arrive in that country in 1945. And that was how the ordeal ended for us. We traveled first class (by boxcar!) into Germany, arriving there in June of 1945.
This wartime experience became an important part of my development. It was the "worst of times," to quote a phrase from Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities. Donna and I went to see Schindler's List and bought the video. I have not been able to watch it again. The circumstances surrounding those efforts by Schindler are more than just a story to me. I witnessed the dying and the killing. Those remain as painful memories for me.
My mom had it in her mind from the time we arrived in Germany that we should emigrate to America. She applied for a visa four years before we actually got it. We departed from the port of Bremerhaven in Northern Germany on December 12, 1951, and arrived in the New York City harbor on Christmas Eve.
Although a family in North Dakota had sponsored us, we were on our own when we arrived there in the middle of a brutal winter as bad as any in Siberia. We moved to Harvey, where Sheyenne River Academy was located, and Robert and I worked on the farm and attended school while mother worked at the hospital in town.
When I graduated from there the following spring at age sixteen, we moved to Lincoln, Nebraska, where we lived for four years before my brother joined the navy in 1956 and mother and I moved to Wisconsin. Mother passed away in 1977 and my brother, Bob, in 1996.