Letitia S. Bernhardt, 95, Baltimore Opera founder

May 20, 2004

Letitia S. Bernhardt, a former soloist and founder of the Baltimore Opera Company, died of heart failure May 13 at the Homewood Retirement Center in Williamsport. The former University Parkway resident was 95.

She was born and raised Letitia Shenk in Hagerstown. After graduating from Hagerstown High School in 1927, she studied voice at the Peabody Conservatory.

A soprano, Mrs. Bernhardt was a soloist and served as musical director for several Baltimore churches for many years.

In 1939, she married Elmer F. Bernhardt, who had been head of the city's Central Payroll Bureau and a founder of the Classified Municipal Employees Association. He died in 1964.

Mrs. Bernhardt and her husband, who was known as the city's "singing paymaster," shared an interest in music and were founders of the Baltimore Civic Opera Company -- now the Baltimore Opera Company -- in 1950. She worked in various capacities with the opera until retiring in 1989.

"I would do anything, wherever they needed me. I worked on auditions. They asked me to reorganize things backstage, and I did that. I remember working in the box office and having to make sure that Mrs. X didn't sit in the same box as Mrs. Y," Mrs. Bernhardt told The Sun on the opera's 50th anniversary.

"The only department I never worked in was makeup. It didn't make any difference to me what department I worked in as long as we kept this company alive."

She returned to Hagerstown in 1993, and had lived at the retirement community since 1999.

Plans for a memorial service were incomplete.

She is survived by several nieces and nephews.

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