Juniata music teacher gave to students, community

Longtime Altoona piano and voice teacher Kathryne Karraker Hitchen often talked about having what she called an “educated heart, thinking about what the other person wanted,” said her daughter, Lisa Karraker of Pittsburgh, on Tuesday.

And, from all accounts, she lived that belief.

The Juniata woman, who delivered Meals on Wheels for nearly 35 years, and was honored with a proclamation from the city on her 90th birthday for her dedication to the Altoona community, passed away Friday at the age of 94. She was laid to rest Wednesday at Grandview Cemetery.

Karraker Hitchen, who had married the late Melvin E. Karraker and the late Harry S. Hitchen, also left behind a son, Greg Karraker, who lives in California, and two stepchildren.

“The most important thing I remember about her, other than her incredible talent, was her generosity, and not just financial generosity but generosity of her time. Anybody who needed anything, if it was a neighbor three blocks away who had a hang nail and wanted to complain about it for an hour, she’d listen for an hour. The conversation with my mother was never over until the other person said, ‘It’s time for me to go,'” Greg Karraker said. “She had infinite patience and just an incredible gift of caring.”

The 1937 Altoona High School graduate earned her bachelor’s degree in music from Sherwood Music School, and during the last years of WWII taught high school music in Illinois and Kentucky, her obituary said. For a brief time, she sang with Peter Duchin’s orchestra.

She sang in the choir of the Trinity Lutheran Church, Juniata, for about 40 years, and was also its choir director for a time. She retired from serving as music director of Asbury Presbyterian Church in 2011.

Karraker Hitchen came to settle in Juniata in 1945. She taught piano and voice students at home for nearly 70 years.

Grammy-winning songwriter and Altoona native Mike Reid, who now lives in Nashville, Tenn., was her student in the early 1960s for about five years when he was about 12 or 13 years old, he said Monday.

Reid remembered how at one point he had wanted to quit his lessons.

His father, who didn’t let him or his brothers drop an activity willy-nilly, said he could quit after a certain amount of time had passed, but he would have to tell his teacher himself.

“Well, at the time … I had an absolute crush on her and I couldn’t bear the thought of telling her that. So the fact that I had this crush on her got me through that rough patch and I continued to take lessons because I just was a little bit in love with her.”

Years later, Reid shared that story and a laugh with his one-time teacher.

“She was the loveliest, sweetest, most patient woman you could ever imagine,” he said. “It’s the passing of an absolutely lovely lady, a lovely woman, who lived a deeply meaningful quiet life. the culture is so noisy and the people who live these very meaningful beautiful quiet lives go unnoticed so this [article] is a nice thing.”

Reid said when he heard of her passing he was glad “she had such a long wonderful life,” he said.

Greg Karraker said his mom balanced home, family, career and her community service.

“The community service part of her life was huge. Not too many people delivered Meals on Wheels when they were 85 years old and she did, including in the snow and up and down icy hills and all the challenges that Altoona can throw at you in the winter. She didn’t drive but she was the one who would walk up to the door and deliver them with a smile.”

Karraker Hitchen continued teaching until about a month ago, and in those nearly 70 years she never raised her rates for lessons because she was thinking about how times were hard and the affordability for others, her son said.

“She wanted everybody to share that gift of music,” he said. “She thought it was enough for her, and she was quite content having her students learn and get that gift.”

Mirror Staff Writer Amanda Gabeletto is at 949-7030.