Stephen Paul Karo

May 19, 1943 to June 14, 2018

Steve was born in Paterson, New Jersey on May 19, 1943 to Steve Sr. and Evelyn Karo; his brother, Robert and sister, Joan, live in San Diego. In 1959 his family moved to San Diego where he spent his senior year at Lincoln High School.

He attended San Diego State as a music major and joined Phi Mu Alpha, the music fraternity. Many of the young men stay in touch and get together at least once a year.

I enrolled in a chamber music class at SDSU in the summer of 1965 and Steve said he decided right then that he was going to marry me. That became reality in January 1969.

Steve began his career as a drummer but studied marimba and eventually played everything he could hit! He practiced for hours with our Bassett Hound singing under the instrument and our cockatiel mimicking everything he played. Felix even learned the xylophone solo to “Porgy and Bess.” Steve played multiple percussion for Starlight Opera (San Diego Civic Light Opera) from the 60’s to the mid 80’s and for years it seemed that wherever one went to see a musical, Steve was in the pit. I was working for the San Diego Gilbert & Sullivan Co. which became San Diego Lyric Opera and he became a member of the orchestra.

His love for the marimba became a passion for antique percussion instruments; I urged him to write a book with photos and details of each one and he’d say, “sure, one of these days…”

I think his greatest accomplishment was starting the movement to save the Balboa Theatre from becoming another retail space in Horton Plaza. During the early 70’s he played the musicals at the “OLD” Lyceum Theatre (previously the Hollywood Burlesque) and watched as the city tore it down to make room for a parking lot for Horton Plaza. In 1984, the “Union Tribune” published an article by Welton Jones about the Balboa Theatre in Horton Plaza and it peaked his curiosity; he took a flashlight and went to a movie! He wandered through the building and saw the large orchestra pit and fly loft. When he came home he told me, “the city probably doesn’t realize what a gem this is so I’m going to make some calls.” It turned into a 25-year battle against some of the most wealthy and powerful entities in San Diego but Steve was determined to save this theatre. He spent countless hours on the phone with theatre owners and managers all over the country, he appeared at City Council meetings, did a debate on the radio, wrote articles, cleaned debris from the basement and swept pigeon droppings off the stage. After a few years, he saw the need to put the building on the National Register of Historic Places so he founded the Balboa Theatre Foundation and made it happen. Finally, the city’s interest in destroying the theatre waned, it paid for the restoration and now the Balboa Theatre is the jewel of San Diego. He was honored by the San Diego Theatre Critics Circle at the Craig Noel Awards Ceremony in 2008 as the “Champion of the Balboa Theatre.”

Recently Steve was elected Chairperson of Save Starlight’s board of directors, dedicated to the restoration of Starlight Bowl in Balboa Park.

Steve will be remembered most for his sense of humor, his love of music, his compassion for people less fortunate than he, his love of animals and his sense of justice.

Steve died of complications from multiple myeloma.

In lieu of flowers please consider a donation in his name to The Elizabeth Hospice or Save Starlight.
Tax ID 95-3275679
Tax ID 81-3430648
9590 Chesapeake Dr.
San Diego, CA 92123

So sorry to hear about Steve. The two of you have done amazing work in saving cultural sites in this city. I know how much time and effort that has taken. I hope you'll find peace and solace to help in your time of grief. Sending good thoughts and prayers. Becky and Glen Campbell

Glen and Becky Campbell on July 03, 2018

Dear Mary, We were very saddened to learn of Steve's death, and want you to know we are thinking of you during this time of sorrow. We admired Steve and his activism so much. He made such a difference, beginning way back with Granger Hall in National City. Your friends at SOHO

Save Our Heritage Organisation on July 02, 2018

I am sorry for your loss. Steve sounds like a talented man of integrity. No words will ease the pain of your loss. May God, whose name is Jehovah, sustain you at this time of such great loss. The Bible promises that there is going to be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous. Until then, please take good care of yourself.

L Boy on July 01, 2018

Dear Mary, It was quite a shock to hear about Steve's passing. I have many fond memories of Steve back in San Diego State days and in Phi Mu Alpha. He was always fun be to around (usually because you never knew what to expect from him!), had a great sense of humor and a fine drummer. We played many jazz and Dixie gigs together back then and later. He will be missed! Be well... Larry Okmin

Larry Okmin on June 29, 2018

Mary, although I hadn't seen Steve in many years, I am saddened to find him gone. Years ago, in the early 1960s, I was fortunate enough to work with him in the San Diego State Opera Workshop performance of Offenbach's LA PERICHOLE. Steve's great comedic sense and joy of performing, made a lasting impression upon me. His saving the Balboa Theater was a labor of love. Steve will be greatly missed. My heartfelt condolences to you, Mary.

Neil Gilbert Oehl on June 27, 2018

Mary, I'm so sorry and shocked to get this news. I was new to the Starlight orchestra in 1985. He and you both were very encouraging. I always loved his sense of humor. One night he hit a timp note that was not what he expected. He ducked and covered under the drums. It was incredibly funny! I have many memories of this sort and I am grateful for them. Best of luck going forward, and my sincerest condolences. Beezie

Beezie Gerber on June 23, 2018

Mary, we are all so grateful for the dedication Steve exhibited in his efforts to save our history. His legacy will live on in his accomplishments.

Patrick McArron on June 22, 2018

Mary I am so saddened to hear of Steve's passing. My heart goes out to you. I know San Diego has lost a great man but his memory will be cherished by the theatre goers of the future.

Kathie Raymond (Henderson) on June 21, 2018

Finest Show Drummer/Percussionist I've ever worked with...Steve could play it all and drive any ensemble-any size. May his legacy and many friends and colleagues bring comfort to his perfect match, Mary.

Joe Dyke on June 20, 2018

Dear Mary, heartfelt condolences to you. I was now shocked and saddened to learn of Steve’s passing. Great man. We all are less because he is gone. Hugs and tears. Steve and you have both have given me and many great memories. Greg Lawrence

Gregory Lawrence on June 20, 2018

What a true Sinfonian, and what a great friend and wonderful Big Brother. May your legacy and memory will live forever.

Tom Laffey on June 18, 2018

What a wonderful and talented man! You will be surely missed by all!

Ramsey on June 17, 2018

Mary, The words you wrote for the obituary were beautifully written. What an honor given to a wonderful man. I emailed you earlier this morning with my sadness at Steve‘s passing and, as you requested, my hopes of being able to remember some of the amusing stories involving Steve and I. Carol and I send our very best wishes to you. Always your good friend, Sal

Sal Ferrantelli on June 17, 2018

Thoughts and prayers are with you always. Take care.

Anita La Guardia on June 17, 2018