| Last fall, Johanna Meier and Guido Della Vecchia were awarded the Black Hills State University Special Service Award. In 2003, BHSU awarded the two with honorary doctorates of humane letters. Last week, Guido died from complications from pneumonia. He was 82.
Although a native New Yorker, Guido Della Vecchia spent nearly 30 years in Spearfish creating a life with his wife Johanna Meier and becoming an integral part of Black Hills State University and the local arts community. Guido died Wednesday at the age of 82 from complications from pneumonia.
Guido was a prominent figure in Spearfish and throughout the Black Hills area. He and Johanna moved to Spearfish permanently in 1984, and in 1991, the couple took over the Black Hills Passion Play, the internationally famous production brought over from Germany by Johanna’s parents Clare and Josef Meier.
From 1991 until 2008, he acted in and functioned as co-producer of the Black Hills Passion Play. During the 1960s and early 1970s, he and his wife appeared several times in concert at Black Hills State University and arranged for opera performances by a touring company to be held there. They also organized numerous benefits and fund raisers for the Matthews Opera House, and the High Plains Heritage Center, with performances by members of the Black Hills Passion Play company. For three years Guido served on the boards of directors of the Spearfish Arts Center and Matthews Opera House, and since its inception, for the Spirit of the Hills Wildlife Sanctuary in Spearfish. He was active in the creation and promotion of the annual Johanna Meier Opera Theatre Institute held each spring at BHSU.
“Guido was an ardent supporter of the arts. He was a driving force in guiding the Matthews Opera House and Arts Center to its current status as an important cultural asset to the Spearfish community,” said Sandra Addy, a member of the board of directors for the Matthew’s Opera House & Arts Center.
Well known for his beautiful tenor voice, Guido began vocal studies at the age of 18. In 1951, during the Korean War, he was inducted into the army where he was trained as a radio technician. He was then selected as one of six to go to Germany where he sang as an entertainer in special services throughout the country for the remainder of his tour of duty. Upon his discharge, he lived in Italy where he refined his musical art by studying with several of Italy’s foremost maestri at the Cherubini Conservatory in Florence. He also attended the University of Perugia, and taught English through the Berlitz schools. Returning to the United States in 1958, he met his wife Johanna, and they continued their vocal careers both jointly and individually. During this time he performed at both Carnegie Hall and Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center in New York, and sang a number of leading Italian opera roles and concerts throughout the United States. His last professional appearances were in 1980, singing with the Seattle Opera Company.
In 2003, BHSU awarded Guido and Johanna with honorary doctorates of humane letters. BHSU has awarded only 11 honorary degrees in its history. Johanna’s father received an honorary doctorate of humane letters from BHSU in 1972.
Last fall, the couple was honored with BHSU Special Service Award during the annual Swarm Day festivities. The award honors alumni or other persons who have contributed long-term service or exceptional efforts in a single program or project to the University.
"Guido was a strong pillar of the community and was loved and respected by a lot of people in the Spearfish Community and other surrounding communities,” said Steve Meeker, BHSU vice president of University Advancement. “Both he and Johanna have been very supportive of BHSU over the years and he is someone that I will always remember."
Della Vecchia was also an avid hunter and outdoorsman and a collector of fossils and mushrooms. He loved reading, talking politics, cooking lavish Italian meals for his friends and caring for his many animals.
A public Memorial Concert will be presented at BHSU in the near future.
Arrangements are under the care of Fidler-Isburg Funeral Chapels and Crematory Service of Spearfish.