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Former area teacher now with New Christy Minstrels

Staff writer

Dave Deutschendorf and his wife, Arva, of Newton, visited Marion Friday. It was almost like coming home. They lived in Marion for six years when Dave was teaching in Marion and Florence public school systems in the 1960s and 70s.

The couple said they loved living in Marion; they loved the setting and the people.

“When we left Marion, Arva cried,” Dave said.

“I think I could have stayed here (in Marion) and never moved again,” Arva said.

The retired schoolteacher now is a member of The New Christy Minstrels led by Randy Sparks.

The eight-member instrumental and vocal ensemble is celebrating its 50th anniversary and will perform at 7 p.m. Feb. 22 in Memorial Hall on the Bethel College campus in North Newton.

The performance is a benefit concert for the New Christy Minstrels Foundation, a nonprofit which was established to keep folk music alive by providing free sheet music and concerts in public and parochial schools.

Three members — Sparks, Dolan Ellis, and Pete Henderson — were in the original group founded by Sparks in 1961. Every member of the group — six men and two women — sings a solo, and several play a variety of instruments such as violin, banjo, guitar, mandolin, and accordion. The music is interspersed with humorous dialogue and bantering.

Tickets will be available at the door for a donation of $25 each. They may be purchased in a package of five for $100. The donations are tax deductible.

While eating lunch in Marion Friday, Deutschendorf was pleasantly surprised when several individuals approached him and introduced themselves as former students.

Deutschendorf credits his love for teaching from the start he got in Marion. After graduating from Tabor College in Hillsboro in the spring of 1965, he was hired to teach at Marion Junior High School. He taught social studies and physical education and coached boys’ basketball.

“People say the first year of teaching is bad,” he said, “but my first year was a great year. I had great kids.”

When he was drafted after one year of teaching, some of his students wrote letters to him and he sent letters in reply.

“I think that first year in Marion cemented Dave’s decision to remain in education,” Arva said. “He enjoyed working with the kids.”

Arva taught kindergarten in the Peabody school district before taking a similar position in Marion. She received an early termination of her contract to move to Arlington, Va., to be with Dave.

After his discharge in 1968, the couple moved back to Marion. Deutschendorf taught at Florence Junior/Senior High School and was the head coach of the high school boys basketball team.

During his three years at Florence, Deutschendorf earned a master’s degree in counseling from Emporia State University.

When Florence and Marion schools consolidated in the fall of 1971, Deutschendorf was hired as counselor and head boys basketball coach. He taught in Marion for two years before moving on to further his career.

The couple moved to Newton, and Dave spent the next 30 years teaching in the central Kansas area, including two years, 1977-78 and 1978-79, at Peabody.

Deutschendorf retired in 1998, after which the couple spent 14 months traveling and living in an RV. They returned to Newton in 2007 after living in Colorado Springs for more than two years.

Deutschendorf had been active for some time in two singing groups — Hearts for Him and Riders for the Cross — when Randy Sparks of the New Christy Minstrels contacted him. Sparks was looking for a good bass singer.

Sparks signed him on as a new member of the group, and he sang in his first concert in October 2009 at Sedalia, Mo. Since then, he has become an integral part of the group, providing “a dramatic basso profundo vocal sound,” according to Sparks.

Deutschendorf is the late John Denver’s uncle. Sparks was John’s mentor and coached him when he was just beginning his musical career in Los Angeles in the mid-1960s. Sparks also is credited with changing John’s last name to Denver from Deutschendorf.

“This group is incredibly talented,” Deutschendorf said. “It’s amazing to be singing with them and with a man who had John living with him for a year and worked with him. I dreamed a lot of things and never thought they would happen, but this one did.”

The Deutschendorfs have two married children and four grandchildren.

To learn more about the New Christy Minstrels, visit their website at http://www.thenewchristyminstrels.com.

Last modified Feb. 10, 2011

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