Gustave Stern, 89, Gratefully Gave Much Of His Life To Northwest Music

Gustave Stern, a well-known producer and conductor of outdoor concerts and Green Lake musicals in Seattle during the 1950s, died at his home Saturday. He was 89.

At his request, no services will be held.

He was born May 16, 1901, in Duisburg, Germany, and began his musical training at 3 years old. He was playing the piano by age 5. He eventually trained as a conductor at the Leipzig Conservatory.

In the early 20s, Mr. Stern became the assistant conductor of the Duisburg Opera Company and toured major German cities for years. He also served as choral director for many musical and religious groups.

It was while attending a choral rehearsal that he met his future wife, Gertrude Stern. They married in 1929. She died in 1984.

Stern and his family moved from Germany shortly after Adolph Hitler came to power in 1932. They lived in Paris for about 10 years before France was invaded by the Nazis.

The Sterns and their two children moved to New York, destitute, in 1942. They moved to Chicago where he sold shoes and worked in a defense plant, and then to Fargo, N.D., until 1945. He proudly said he had become ``Americanized'' there.

Mr. Stern then moved to Seattle, where he immediately became active in the Seattle musical community. In 1946 he became conductor of the Seattle Civic Light Opera Company with which he conducted several operettas. He became famous in Seattle for being a sometimes temperamental but brilliant musician.

``Everyone said the West was wonderful,'' he said sometime later. ``I saw Seattle and fell in love with it.''

His son Michael P. Stern said his father was once able to conduct an entire opera from memory.

Mr. Stern taught music at Seattle University for years. Students would call him ``Father Stern.''

In 1949, Mr. Stern began conducting Sunday concerts in Volunteer Park, which always drew large crowds. In 1953, Greater Seattle Inc., and the Seattle Parks Department asked him to produce and conduct musicals at the now defunct Green Lake Aqua Theater. The first was ``South Pacific'' and featured Broadway star Martha Wright.

The musicals, mixing local talent with stars from New York and Hollywood, continued until 1961. Bob Hope was among the guest stars.

Mr. Stern retired from active conducting in 1962 but continued coaching voice from his Seattle home.

In 1984, at age 83, Mr. Stern conducted a chorus and an ensemble for the Seattle Symphony in Handel's ``Judas Maccabee'' oratorio.

In the winter of 1989, he traveled to Germany where he was honored by the municipal government of Duisburg. He continued to practice the piano almost daily and claimed he was able to improve his technique and overcome bad habits he had learned as a child.

Mr. Stern never forgot what it was like to be broke, often donating to a variety of causes. And he was also grateful to the Northwest, saying shortly after retirement, ``I never forgot how good this country has been to me.''

Besides his son Michael of Mercer Island, he is survived by his son John H. Stern of Seattle and five grandchildren.

Remembrances should be made to a favorite charity or City of Hope Medical Center.