INTERLOCHEN — Jim Bob Stephenson, Ph.D., died peacefully on March 26, 2013. Jim Bob was born on July 18, 1921, to Orlando Worth and Evelyn (Baird) Stephenson in Ann Arbor.
Growing up in Ann Arbor, Jim Bob was fortunate to find his passions early in life. He met his wife of nearly 66 years, Lucy Chase (Wright), at her sixth birthday party. They were married in Ann Arbor on Aug. 18, 1945. Lucy Chase preceded him in death in 2011.
At 11 years old he found his professional calling when he was cast in an Ann Arbor Children’s Theater production. That was followed by innumerable productions, including professional radio and TV acting on WWJ Detroit.
At the University of Michigan he received his BA and MA, followed by his Ph.D. in speech/theater in 1958.
Jim Bob was instructor of theater at U of M for 10 years, associate professor of theater at Kansas State University for three years, visiting professor at Southern Illinois University for two years, and professor of theater at Kent State University for 23 years. During the summer he was on the faculty of the National Music Camp at Interlochen for 11 years, and on the staff working with his brother, Clarence (Dude) Stephenson, producing the high school operettas and intermediate musicals and revues for over 20 years. At 90 years old he taught a seminar on Shakespeare for the Commission on Aging. Over the course of his career, Jim Bob directed over 200 stage productions and performed in over 150.
Jim Bob and Lucy Chase collaborated on many theatrical projects. They developed the Play Package Company at KSU in Kent, performing at elementary schools all over northeast Ohio for 17 years. Together they authored 18 children’s plays and one adult play, all of which were produced. They were two of the founders of the Traverse City Children’s Theater and directed three plays for Pathfinder School. It was always most important to them that all children feel loved, respected and worthwhile as unique, valuable people.
Jim Bob discovered early in life that he loved music. He played the cornet and guitar and sang in multiple productions. He loved the Metropolitan Opera and followed the opera scores during their weekly broadcast performances. His home was always filled with music, with multiple radios and speakers throughout the house always turned on.
He and Lucy Chase bought their Interlochen home on Duck Lake in 1955 and retired there to the home of their hearts in 1988. His boyhood summers on Gull Lake had fed his lifelong love of being on the water. He got his first sailboat when he was 12, eventually achieving his dream of owning Star sailboats. He enjoyed water skiing until he was 70.
Jim Bob served in the Signal Corps in the U.S. Army from 1942 to ‘45 training cryptographic teams. Proficient in French, he taught cryptography to the French Army in French. A highlight of his Army years was playing George in Our Town in Italy, working with author Thornton Wilder.
Jim Bob and Lucy Chase were members of the Suttons Bay Congregational Church, where they served as interim ministers for several months. They were members of the United Church of Christ in Kent.
Jim Bob was a voracious reader, especially favoring historical fiction. He loved crossword puzzles, completing the NY Times Sunday puzzle each week in ink. He was artistic and enjoyed carving “windicators” and building driftwood mobiles, always perfectly balanced. He was a wonderful cook and loved to prepare meals for everyone. He wrote stories of the family and his life, which are online at www.Stephensontales.com.
Jim Bob is survived by sons, John (Claire), of Interlochen, and Robert (Jamie) of Okemos; daughters, Lucky (Dan) McKeen, of Fife Lake, Evelyn Loftin, of Ravenna Ohio, Robin Preston, of Tallahassee, Fla., and Toni (Gary) Manning, of Suttons Bay; 13 grandchildren; seven great-grandchildren; brother, Clarence E. (Dude) Stephenson, of San Diego, Calif.; many nieces and nephews; extended family; and by Regan Evans, his special granddaughter who made his wish to die at home a thoroughly loving, joyous and compassionate reality.
In addition to his wife, he was preceded in death by his parents; brother, Orlando W. Jr.; and granddaughter, Jennifer Bennett.
A celebration of Jim Bob’s life will be held 2 p.m. Thursday, July 18, 2013, on the family’s boathouse roof (4423 Lake Ave., Interlochen) overlooking his beloved Duck Lake, as he wished. The family will greet friends starting at 1:30 p.m.
Jim Bob requested that memorial contributions be made to the Metropolitan Opera, either online at www.metopera.org (click on Support the Met) or by mail at The Office of Planned Giving, The Metropolitan Opera, 30 Lincoln Center, New York NY 10023.
Please visit Jim Bob’s webpage at www.lifestorynet.com to sign the online guestbook or share a message with his family.
The family is being served by Life Story Funeral Home, Traverse City.