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Karen V. DiChiera

June 24, 1941 October 9, 2021
Karen V. DiChiera
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Obituary for Karen V. DiChiera

Karen VanderKloot DiChiera passed away peacefully on Saturday, October 9th, with her daughters Cristina and Lisa DiChiera by her side. After years of complications from Alzheimer’s Disease, compounded by stroke and Covid, she is now at peace.

Karen was a gentle and kind soul whose greatest desire was to help people and share her love of the arts. She was known for her sense of humor and exuberant laugh, random acts of kindness, her passion for music, and her love of teaching. She was a loving and caring mother, grandmother of three, aunt, godmother, wife and dear friend and companion to so many.

Having survived a major car accident at the age of 22, which led to a lifetime of physical disability and pain, Karen became a fierce advocate for the rights of those with disabilities. People who knew her best were accustomed to seeing her climb stairs with two crutches tucked under one arm or hold a door open for a friend by wedging a crutch against it. Karen would envelop anyone and everyone in a warm embrace. If she didn’t know you, she would ask about every aspect of your life and then offer you tickets to an opera. She was a spiritual person, attending several churches of different denominations over her lifetime. She was a patron of farmers markets when you still had to drive an hour away to find one. She would drive to Mexican Town for orejas, Oak Park for rugelach, Hamtramck for puszkis, Greek Town for spanakopita, Dearborn for baklava - always buying enough to share with ten people or more. She loved antique stores, thrift shops, resale boutiques and garage sales, sure to pick up a quirky gift for someone she loved. A regular patron and visitor of museums and historic sites, she loved to talk about exhibits she saw at the Arab American National Museum, the Detroit History Museum or the Detroit Institute of Arts. She promoted the significance of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, treasuring her visits to the Calumet Theatre and Tehquamenon Falls. Her love of Detroit history stemmed in part from her pride in family heritage. She donated many historically significant records of her grandfather, William S. Knudsen, former President of General Motors and FDR-appointed head of War Production for World War II, to the National Automotive History Collection at the Detroit Public Library, where she also served as a library Commissioner. Her generosity was boundless, including support of charities such as the University of Michigan Kresge Hearing Institute, the Detroit Public Library and Preservation Detroit.

Alongside her former husband, David DiChiera, she was instrumental in helping to build the Michigan Opera Theatre into a major opera company and she served as the founding director of MOT’s Department of Education and Community Programs from 1979-2015. She was an avid reader and researcher, presenting lectures on opera, folklore and fairy tales, and women classical composers at libraries, schools and community centers across the state. She taught music, composition and improvisation in dozens of school districts stretching from Detroit to the Upper Peninsula. She composed music for several children’s operas with librettist and friend Joan Hill, which are still performed today. Karen received many awards and recognitions, including the Variety Club of Detroit Heart Award, the Humanitarian Award from the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the Michigan Governor’s Award for Arts Education, and from the Keewenaw Bay Tribal Council. To read about her illustrious career visit Michigan Opera Theatre’s 80th birthday tribute to her work as a composer, music teacher, and so much more.

Close family are laying Karen to rest in private. A public memorial will take place in her honor at a future time. Donations in Karen’s name are welcome in support of Michigan Opera Theatre’s Department of Education and Community Programs.


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