Communication Builds Our Community

Community Mourns Former Bok Carillonneur William DeTurk

Former Bok Tower Gardens carillonneur William N. De Turk Jr. passed away on Thursday, March 14 after a fall at his home in Lake Wales. The 78-year-old worked for the National Historic Landmark for 18 years, including seven years as director of Carillon Services.

Cassie Jacoby

Bill DeTurk worked at Bok Tower Gardens for 18 years, becoming the master carillonneur and serving for seven years after the retirement of the Garden's second carillonneur, Milford Myhre.

Only the third carillonneur since the opening dedication in 1929, De Turk succeeded Milford Myhre before resigning on Oct. 31, 2011. Myhre was the Singing Tower's second carillonneur who played the bells for 36 years before retiring in 2004.

"We remained close friends the rest of his life," said the 92-year-old Myhre. "We often dined together, enjoyed events at the Lake Wales Arts Council and, most recently, spent Saturdays watching the live streaming performance of the Metropolitan Opera at the Grand Cinema in Winter Haven." The friends even traveled to Russia on a Gardens' tour led by Pirjo Restina, retired curator of Education.

"Bill was a class act," said Restina, who worked with him from the beginning of his tenure. "As serious as he was about music, his lifelong passion, Bill had a playful side and charmed fellow travelers with his wisecracks about a huge bell in Moscow's Red Square that was cracked."

From traveling the world to traveling off-the-beaten-track day trips, De Turk was always ready to roll with former Tower volunteers, Matt and Betty Thul. "We had great adventures exploring Florida," said Matt Thul, "and ventured further when we traveled to Asheville twice to tour the Biltmore Estate during Christmas and spring. We also spent a long weekend in Savannah, along with many local dinners and events. Brilliant and witty, Bill was a joy to be with."

De Turk, a native of Hatfield, Penn., obtained a bachelor of music from Ohio's Heidelberg College (1967), and his masters of music (1969) in organ performance at the University of Michigan, where he was the carillonneur (1969-1977). He went on to serve 17 years as carillonneur, organist and choirmaster (1977-1993) at Grosse Pointe Memorial Church near Detroit before relocating to Lake Wales to escape the cold weather.

Cassie Jacoby

DeTurk was fond of travel and enjoyed time in the famous Olmsted gardens. He built many long-time friendships during his years in Lake Wales.

Although his hands (and feet) were full with daily performances on the carillon, played with closed fists and feet, De Turk's deep faith led him to devote much of his free time as organist and choirmaster for 20 years at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Winter Haven. He directed many "standing-room-only" choir performances during the Christmas and Easter holidays.

The internationally renowned musician performed concerts throughout the U.S., Canada and Europe. De Turk authored 11 published articles on carillons and, in 1983, was awarded the Berkeley Medal (University of California Berkeley) for "Distinguished Service to the Carillon."

De Turk is survived by his sister, Beverly Wentz, her husband, Edward, and their son, Eddie (Oak Ridge, N.C.); her daughter, Beth Freed (Perkasie, Penn.); along with numerous great nieces and nephews.

"Bill loved nature and lived on a wooded property where he enjoyed watching squirrels gobble up the huge bags of peanuts he bought weekly," said Freed. "But dogs were his favorite animals and he considered his Golden Retrievers, Sasha and Cy, who preceded him in death, to be his only children."

Another sister, Mary Louise, died in 1956 at age 14. His father, for whom he was named, died in 1964, and his mother, Mildred Markley De Turk, died in 1997.

"Bill's dry sense of humor runs in the family," Freed added. "He got a kick out of surprising people when he arrived in his beloved sporty Hummer, a vehicle many did not expect him to drive."

Humble about all his accomplishments, De Turk shared his contentment about his life with his sister. "It's amazing how a young man from a small town in the middle of nowhere had so many opportunities to travel far and wide, meet fascinating and talented friends, and achieve so much," Wentz recalled. "He seemed at peace when he said, 'I've had a truly great and blessed life.'"

A celebration of life will be at the Lake Wales Arts Center from 2 to 4 p.m. on Monday, August 19. Mezzo-soprano Kimberly Milton Hernandez, De Turk's former choir member, will sing; Victoria De Lissovoy will perform on the baby grand piano; and Charlie Topp Hines will play his trumpet. Space is limited. Email [email protected] for more details and to RSVP.


Reader Comments(0)