Joyce Turner Hilkevitch, 97

Mostly Music founder who produced over 700 concerts

Joyce Turner Hilkevitch (Contributed photo)

Joyce Turner Hilkevitch, 97, the founder and executive director of Mostly Music, died of natural causes at Mercy Hospital on Friday, April 19, age 97. Coming to Hyde Park after World War II, she promoted urban renewal as a community activist, obtained a master’s degree in social work from the University of Chicago, became a social worker at Jane Addams Hull House and served on the Governor’s Commission for the Advancement of Women and the board of newly established Urban Gateways.

She was born October 19, 1921, and grew up in Washington Heights, Manhattan. The cultural ferment of the period influenced her: she drew on the creativity of Broadway theater, Carnegie Hall, modern dance, museums and galleries. She attended the Highlander Folk School in East Tennessee in the summertime and Hunter College, where she was drawn to Eleanor Roosevelt’s passionate commitment to improving life for the common man. Joyce embraced this message, even interviewing Roosevelt in the student newspaper.

After college, during World War II, she worked in San Francisco as a journalist for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Dispatch and the Chronicle. In 1943, she married Jonathan Turner, who was serving as an army engineer in the Pacific and later became vice president of Turner Manufacturing Company, then the largest producer of framed pictures and wall accessories in the world. They lived with their four children in Hyde Park until his death in 1971. She later married Aaron Hilkevitch, a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, who at the time of his death in 2008 was the last living Illinois survivor of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, the volunteer force of Americans that fought in the Spanish Civil War.

Joyce founded Mostly Music in 1973, conceiving it to meet the need for quality performance of chamber music at reasonable prices and to provide accessible venues for young and emerging artists. The concept proved successful: Mostly Music hosted evening and lunchtime concerts in Chicago parks, in homes throughout Hyde Park–Kenwood, in senior residences, in downtown performance spaces, in public schools and in Near North and North Shore homes. Mostly Music also offered nine years of summer music tours to the Aspen Music Festival.

Author Heather Refetoff described Joyce’s commitment to Mostly Music as a labor of love: “It involved an enormous amount of energy and unpaid work, the ability to co-opt others into working for the organization, and an excellent ear for music.” As a neighbor and one of those unpaid volunteers, Refetoff recognized Mostly Music’s pioneering presence: “Today we are used to music in all sorts of venues large and small, but in the ‘70s … there was nothing like it. She was a first.”

In the 28 years Hilkevitch ran Mostly Music, she produced more than 700 concerts, a vast range of musical and allied arts from the traditional to the cutting edge, from “The Brass Spectacular” to “Contemporary Women Composers” to music for the Chicago visit of Charles, Prince of Wales.

“Her model was subsequently copied by others and lives on today in organizations such as the Dame Myra Hesse Concerts. She was often among the first to recognize the promise of ensembles such as the Vermeer, the Orion, the Pacifica and the Tokyo quartets, and she presented them repeatedly in their early years. The last performance the Vermeer Quartet played before retiring was for Mostly Music; they always remembered Joyce and her faith in them at the start of their career as a quartet,” Refetoff said.

Hilkevitch was a fighter for social justice, a deep reader, an art collector and art donor, an avid supporter of folk and classical music, a crossword puzzler, a world traveler and a cheering and joyful presence in the lives of her friends and neighbors in Hyde Park–Kenwood and at Montgomery Place, where she lived since 2002. In her last decades, she wrote poetry for any and all occasions, could recite poetry and songs from memory, wrote for the newsletter and served on many committees at Montgomery Place. She was well known for her Scrabble skills and could triumph over her grandchildren well into old age.

She is survived by her children, David Turner (wife Janis Pretzlav) and Susan Turner Jones (husband David Jones), both of Los Angeles; grandchildren Julia Turner, Heather Jones, Alex Pretzlav, Veronica Turner, Sasha Jones, Noah Jones and Madeleine Turner; stepdaughters Margaret Stein, Victoria Hilkevitch Bedford and Bonnie Ida; six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Sons Peter and Carl Turner predeceased her.

Her funeral will be held at 3 p.m. on June 30 at KAM Isaiah Israel, 1100 E. Hyde Park Blvd.