If you’ve ever enjoyed the sounds of the beautiful Heissler pipe organ at the St. Petersburg/Gibbs Music Center, you can thank retired music professor Robert D. Setzer. It will now serve as a memorial for Setzer, who passed away Wednesday, April 3 at 94 years of age.
Setzer earned degrees from Rollins College and Union Theological Seminary. He also served overseas in the military, and later wrote a book about his experiences.
“I always enjoyed conversations with him,” Humanities and Fine Arts Dean Jonathan Steele said. “He had a wealth of information to share from his life.”
Setzer was a prominent musician locally and in the state of Florida in the field of church music. He donated funds through the SPC Foundation that enabled the purchase of the Heissler pipe organ during Dr. Carl Kuttler’s tenure as college President, and had been a full-time member of the music faculty during Dr. Michael Bennett’s tenure. He was an adjunct faculty member until the 1990’s. During his time at SPC, he inspired many students. Marilyn Michael, who currently teaches in SPC’s music program, said he was her first organ professor.
“He gave me the foundations of organ playing so that I could serve in a position as organist/choirmaster in a church, which I am still doing today,” Michael said. “I owe so much to him.”
Music Professor Jeff Donovick remembers Setzer as the “elder statesman” of the music department.
“We all looked up to him as a leader, not only in his expertise as an educator and musician, but in his temperament,” Donovick said. “Those of us who worked with him were motivated to aspire to his example.”
Setzer’s career in music began in church, when he sang as a boy chorister at St. Andrews Men and Boys Choir, and finished in church, as Organist and Choirmaster at the Cathedral Church of St. Peter, a position he held for 35 years. Steele said that though his primary legacy is in how he touched the lives of the scores of students who studied with him over the years, his most visible legacy would have to be the pipe organ that was installed in the Music Center in 2000.
“He gave the initial gift that made this possible,” Steele said. “After its installation, he made regular donations to enable the Music Department to bring in internationally-known artists to perform there.”
Setzer is survived by his wife of nearly 69 years, Mary Lee; daughter, Mari Reive; and son, Robert Setzer, a Senior Tech Support Specialist at SPC.
A service will be held Friday, April 12 at 10:30 a.m. at The Cathedral Church of St. Peter, 140 4th St. N., in St. Petersburg.
Charitable donations may be made in his memory to the Friends of Music fund at the Cathedral.