NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Although she grew up in the relative obscurity of rural Montana, that fact didn’t stop Kathryn Dick Kasper from beginning her public performance career early.
Kasper was in a Tonette (a plastic recorder-like instrument once popular with elementary school children) choir that traveled all the way to North Dakota to perform on the radio, said her niece Hannah Neufeld, Inman, a voice instructor at Bethany College.
Neufeld was one of several friends and family members to honor Kasper at a dinner and program on May 12. Kasper is retiring from teaching voice at Bethel College, which she has done at least part-time since 1973.
Kasper came to Bethel College from Bloomfield, Mont., and earned a B.A. in 1962. At Bethel, she met Arlo Kasper, who taught communication arts, particularly theater, at Bethel from 1965-2001, when he retired.
The Kaspers spent their first five years as Bethel employees, 1965-70, living in Haury Hall as resident directors, which included overseeing the antics of several younger Dick siblings—Kathryn is the second of eight children of George and Helene Dick.
Kasper earned her master’s degree in music from Wichita State University in 1971 and has completed work toward a D.M.A. in voice from the University of Kansas. She has also taught voice at Hesston College, WSU and Union College in Lincoln, Neb. She has directed choirs at First Mennonite Church and First United Methodist Church in Newton and Eden Mennonite Church in rural Moundridge.
A mezzo soprano, Kasper is known throughout the south central Kansas area as a soloist, with numerous Messiah performances to her credit, as well as works by Bach, Britten, Mendelssohn, Menotti and Moyer, not to mention operatic roles written by Puccini, Verdi and Gilbert & Sullivan.
Kasper is a longtime member of the Wichita Chamber Chorale and has also performed with Music Theater of Wichita. She served on the Newton Community Theatre Board from 1994-2005. She has been associated with the Kansas chapter of the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) since 1973, serving terms as treasurer (1983-87) and governor (1987-90).
One of Kasper’s most lasting legacies at Bethel College is likely to be her promotion of musical theater, both opera and popular musicals. She has directed everything from West Side Story (1992) to The Fantasticks (2005), Amahl and the Night Visitors (1993) to Faust (2005). She has been the driving force and guiding light behind Broadway at Bethel, a popular summer camp for high school students since the mid-1980s. Before that, it was a January interterm class that included several days in New York City seeing Broadway shows.
Now her own daughter, Rachel deBenedet (a 1988 Bethel graduate), is in one of those shows, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. DeBenedet made a quick trip to Newton to be part of the festivities for her mother.
DeBenedet said Kasper has been an important influence in three areas of her performing career. “I’ve had incomparable vocal training, a foundation that allows me to sing all over the map and not hurt myself,” she said.
Kasper has given her an example of “putting energy and faith behind an idea and accomplishing amazing things at Bethel and in life,” deBenedet added. Finally, “my mother has an incredible flair for the dramatic. I have learned from her how to tell a story.”