All About Multiple Sclerosis

More MS news articles for July 2003

Ex-opera singer Carufel, who gallantly battled MS, dies at 69

Tuesday, July 22, 2003
By Angel Gonzalez
Seattle Times

When John Bradfield Carufel wanted to make opera singers out of his son and two daughters, he preached by example.

"He used to roll up the curtains and sing to get us up," said Mr. Carufel's daughter Michelle, who took up piano.

"He had a beautiful baritone voice. Hearing it, we were almost always surprised," said his son, Brad.

Mr. Carufel died July 12 at the age of 69 after a long battle with multiple sclerosis.

His son, of Seattle, grew up to do marketing for an information-technology company. Michelle, of Bellevue, works as a program coordinator at Kelsey Creek Park in Bellevue, and his other daughter, Suzie DeKerlegand, is a Seattle nursing student. But Mr. Carufel, a former singer with the San Francisco Opera chorus, succeeded in transmitting a love for music and the arts a love the family hopes will bloom in some of Mr. Carufel's five grandchildren.

Mr. Carufel was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1954.

"He was one of the leads in a musical," said Mr. Carufel's ex-wife Joan. "He was very sick when the diagnosis came back. It was multiple sclerosis, a disease we hadn't heard of."

The disease, which progressively affects the nervous system, ultimately kept him from doing what he loved most, singing.

"He was able to keep singing until 1977," said Joan. Nevertheless, he continued directing the choir at the Holy Family Catholic Church in Kirkland for several years.

John Carufel and Joan Hatchell met at Seattle University in 1954.

"I was a freshman, he was a junior," said Joan, who was enrolled in a golf class and happened to borrow one of Mr. Carufel's clubs. "It all started from there."

They married in 1959 and moved to San Francisco in 1960 for Mr. Carufel to pursue singing lessons. He was inspired to become an opera singer by his father, a music lover, who died when Mr. Carufel was 5.

"San Francisco was exciting," said Joan. "John would be out practicing in this old-fashioned apartment with a grand piano in an elegant building at the corner of Van Ness and Geary."

After completing his studies, Mr. Carufel took a job with the San Francisco Opera chorus. He also worked in electronics purchasing for Sunstrand and Tally.

Besides opera, his passions were golf which he passed on to his son and astronomy.

"He had a telescope, calendars and even had the ceiling painted with the stars of the sky," said Michelle.

The couple moved back to the Seattle area in 1966.

Mr. Carufel took a desk job with the King County Road Division after 1982, when multiple sclerosis made his purchasing job too difficult. After 1986, he was unable to work at all.

He had been in and out of nursing homes since then and spent his last four years at Mission Health Care in Bellevue. He and his wife divorced in 1993.

According to his children, Mr. Carufel's curiosity held on to the very end.

"In the nursing home, he was still learning Mandarin and Spanish from TV," said Suzie.

Mr. Carufel also remained optimistic about science finding a cure for his disease.

"He had tremendous will to live," said Joan. "Lots of people become very bitter. Multiple sclerosis is like a thief in the night; he just comes and takes."

A funeral Mass was held Friday at Holy Family Catholic Church in Bellevue.

Copyright © 2003, The Seattle Times Company