Obituary: Philip Knautz, 86, Emeritus Professor of Music

Posted on April 28th, 2010 by

Philip Knautz '48

Longtime Gustavus Adolphus College concert choir director and Professor Emeritus of Music Philip F. Knautz ’48 – known to a generation of student singers as “Mr. K” – died April 26 in Colby, Wis., at the age of 86.

Knautz was born in Finshafen, New Guinea, in 1923 to missionaries Fred and Margaret Knautz. He attended public schools in Fargo, N.D., graduating from Central High School in 1941. He attended Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn., until the middle of his sophomore year, when he entered military service in World War II. He served with the 45th Infantry Division in Italy and was wounded and captured briefly in action between the Anzio beachhead and Rome. He later served with the 508th Battalion Military Police. Knautz was the recipient of the Combat Infantryman badge, the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star, and African-Mideast-European campaign medals.

Following his discharge, Knautz enrolled at Gustavus, graduating with a B.A. degree in 1948. He undertook graduate study at the University of Colorado and later earned a master of music degree from the University of Texas. He directed the concert choir and taught in the music department at Texas Lutheran College in Seguin, Texas, for six years before accepting a similar position at Gustavus in 1954. Knautz directed the concert choir and taught music courses at the College until 1980, when he became director of fine arts programs until his retirement in 1985.

Knautz was also active as chorus director and dean of the American Legion’s Minnesota Boys State, as director of St. Peter- and Mankato-area barbershop harmony choruses as well as several church choirs, as a participant in community theaters in both Seguin and St. Peter, and as a part-time radio broadcaster. In retirement he was employed part-time with the St. Peter Heartland Express transit. He was a member of the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Phil Knautz is survived by his daughter, Cheri Roberts ’72; his two sons, Paul ’77 and Timothy; and five grandchildren. A memorial service has been scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Saturday, May 1, at First Lutheran Church in St. Peter, Minn., with visitation beginning at 12 p.m.


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  1. The Rev. Mark Sallmen says:

    My prayers go with the Knautz family. Mr. K had such profound influence in my life for which I am so grateful. My favorite memory of him was during a concert in Mankato. As he was directing us he looked up at the lighted cross behind us and I saw faith and music combined. I will never forget the look in his eyes. Thank you Mr. K May Jesus in his unfailing love and grace comfort and support his loving family.

  2. Paul knautz says:

    The Maestro

    The maestro they called him at his last residence.
    Easily understood as you scanned the walls,
    Pictures, clippings and programs of past events.
    Texas choirs, Gustavus choirs and more,
    Pictures of the G-Flats, Extremists, and barbershop choruses galore.

    But there was more…

    Photographs of family dispersed everywhere.
    A family calendar given as a gift long ago,
    Carefully and lovingly dismantled and displayed
    On the door of his commode.

    Grandkids, golf buddies, clippings of past news
    Painstakingly posted for view.
    Where they would be on your next call
    One never knew, one never new at all.

    Everyone who entered couldn’t help be impressed
    At the active, wonderful life this abode did caress.
    But don’t forget the flag full size above his bed,
    A proud veteran there did lay his head.

    All of these things so carefully on display,
    Were affixed lovingly with nails, stick pins and scotch tape.
    The holes in the walls are now all that’s left
    But what a life those holes represent.

    Another love, sports, especially golf.
    Shoreland, the Foursome whose names he later could not recall,
    But fear not, he loved and remembered you,
    and missed you all!

    The voice of Gustavus football and basketball
    Annoucing who was who,
    A spectator of baseball and a hockey game or two,
    “Good evening ladies and gentlemen and welcome to…”

    Up to the end, ball games and music concerts he would attend
    His grandsons to see, the time was well spent.
    To church he would go most Sundays at ten
    A man of faith right to the end.

    Phil’s life was good, unquestionably
    And now what we have is his legacy,
    love of music, family, friends, Gustavus too.
    On Monday the heavenly p.a. announced,
    “Good day Phil and welcome too…”

  3. Naomi Karstad says:

    I will never forget Mr. K.

    As fate would have it, his last year directing the Gustavus Choir was my first year of college! To come from a small high school where there was no choir and be a part of the amazing ensemble which was and still is the G Choir, I felt I’d died and gone to heaven. I also felt I’d been thrown to the lions! But what a lion he was! He was demanding!! I will never forget the blaze in his eyes when he was directing a particularly emotional and powerful musical moment (especially “Wake Awake”). Your lungs would be bursting and you thought you were giving everything you could and then he’d give you that look and you knew you HAD to give more – and you could!! (All of you who sang with me that wonderful year of 1979-80 know what I mean!!)

    Thanks Mr. K. You gave me more than you’ll ever know.

  4. Beth (Onkka) Stuckey GAC '81 says:

    Little did I know that PFK would be one of the most influential people in my college career! Beautiful Savior! Being in the women’s barbershop quartet and knowing we had done well when we could make his eyebrows raise and eyes twinkle. Afterglows, bus rides, cards and drinking with Cec – these are the foundation for my formative years of college! But I will never forget the influence of others – Nystedt, Christianson, Thompson and all the different ways you can sing Alleluia/Hallelujah – thanks to this man firmly rooted in his faith. RIPFK!

  5. Thoughts and prayers go out to Phil’s family and all who came in contact with him, either as a professor (“ONLY an octave???”), choir director, colleague and/or friend. I feel honored to be counted in that final category and will always treasure the time spent with his lively, unique personality. What a musician, what a lover of life, what a person of faith and hope! Thanks, PK, for sharing your wonderful self with us at GAC.