TRAVERSE CITY — Jennifer "Jenn" Jamison Miles, 42, died Jan. 3, 2013, at Munson Medical Center with her family at her side.
With a wonderful and rare combination of drill sergeant and good shepherd, Jenn was born in Holland, Mich., on May 25, 1970. That same year, William Miles and Barbara Fisher in Mt. Pleasant adopted her. Despite the divorce of her parents, Jenn developed a strong loving bond with her dad that was never broken in 42 years.
Jenn lived in Bay City, Mich., with her mother and sister, where she was involved in local theatre. At age 14, Jenn relocated to Mt. Pleasant to live permanently with her father and his wife, Susan, and an ever-growing family of adopted sisters.
While in high school, Jenn actively participated in the music program playing the flute in the marching band and in several ensembles, including playing at Mass at St. Mary's University Parish. She was equally active in numerous productions of the school drama department and had no problems in rising to the occasion when cast as the Captain of the Wicked Witch's winged monkeys brigade in "The Wizard of Oz." Jenn was a 1988 graduate of Mt. Pleasant High School and also attended Central Michigan University. When Jenn got older, she requested that Susan legally adopt her. Susan and the entire family joyously concurred and the adoption was finalized in 1990.
In the early 1990s, Jenn relocated to Traverse City, an event that was to play a pivotal and major role in her life. Initially, she worked in several medical offices and at a construction company until a work-related disability prevented her from continuing. While new to Traverse City, her love for theater and especially musical theater fully blossomed and she became an active member of the Old Town Playhouse. Eventually she became involved in stage managing musical productions at one public high school, then another, then both. Her involvement in the drama productions at St. Francis High School ultimately led to her also directing the musical plays for the last five years. In 2004, she also began her own theatrical company, Playin' Around Productions, which produced several plays focusing on the talents of children as young as 4 years old. She also stage managed for Leland Public Schools, the summer musical at the Northport Community Arts Center, and Cherry Capitol Chorus. For all eight years of its existence, Jenn also lovingly stage managed the professional musical summer performances produced by Miracle Productions.
The accolades, tributes, and expressions of love from past and present students, their families, and anyone who had ever met Jenn in her musical theater career are overwhelming and could fill many volumes. A few samples may at least give an idea: "Whether she was throwing herself in front of a moving barricade, running scene changes again and again and again, corralling orphans, peasants, sharks, jets, dishes, Von Trapps, Nazis, or pulling scrim, Jenn Miles made sure that things ran quickly and safely for kids. She will be missed by so many" and "Jenn's zest for life, booming laugh, 'don't-need-a-mic' voice and caring heart shone brightly every time..."
Then directly from young people: "You pushed me even when I was terribly hesitant. You believed in me when I didn't believe in myself. You made every situation contain some element of joy when none was thought to be found."; "You made six years of my life into a constantly stimulating and glorious experience."; "Thank you for seeing potential in such a nervous, unsure sophomore, and thank you for all the work you have done. You are such a funny, amazing, fun beautiful person to be around."; "Man could she run a great backstage!!"
And a few more: "I first met Jenn at my first audition. It went horrible but Jenn still believed in me and gave me a part in the show. We are in the middle of 'Anything Goes' and it will be hard without the amazing director."; "Amazing people like you are the reason I do what I do today. You lit a fire in me at such a young age, and it still burns each and every day I wake up to teach my own students."
These are but a few of the thousands of messages Jenn and her family received.
Jenn is survived by her parents, Bill and Susan, of Traverse City; brothers, Tevin and Sean; sisters, Whitney (Nathan) Richardson (and their children Cody, Andrew, Kayla and Natalee). Jasmine, Julia, and Lindsay, all of Traverse City; and by sisters, Morgan (Stephen) Dix of Rapid City, Courtney (Jon) Rader of Corvallis, Ore., Emily (and son Nathaniel) of Austin, Texas, Amy of Eaton Rapids, Mich., Kelsey (Charles) Hyslop (and daughter Cheyenne) of Bessemer City, N.C.; and by choice, sister Becky Garland and her partner Marge Phillips. She is also survived by her grandparents, Shirley Goodrich and Robert (Karen) Goodrich, all of Traverse City; and many wonderful aunts, uncles, and cousins.
Jenn was preceded in death by her grandparents, William and Kathleen (Jamison) Miles.
Cremation has taken place. A Mass of Christian Burial will be held at St. Francis Catholic Church in Traverse City at 6 p.m., Friday, Jan. 11, with Father Ken Stachnik and Father Bill Lipscomb officiating. Visitation with the family will be one hour prior to the service. Interment will be at Oakwood Catholic Diocesan Cemetery in Traverse City.
In lieu of flowers, the family is asking that you seriously consider becoming an organ donor like Jenn to help save lives when you can no longer live your own, and that you take the time to complete and submit a "Five Wishes" advance directive so that your families know how to fulfill your medical wishes if and when you are not able to do so.
Traditional memorial contributions may also be directed to the just-created "Jenn Miles Memorial Arts Fund" at St. Francis High School.
Kindly share your memories with the family on their online guest book at www.reynolds-jonkhoff.com.
The family is being served by Reynolds-Jonkhoff Funeral Home and Cremation Services.