Beloved father, devoted husband, lauded stage director, accomplished producer and lifelong teacher Michael Francis Kelly passed away on Wednesday, June 30th, surrounded by his loving family. A lifelong journey that was filled with exploration, inquiry and artistry began on July 23, 1932 in Chicago as the eldest son of Laurence and Virginia Kelly. From the earliest age, Mike was keenly aware of his parents’ love of and participation in the theatre arts, and his love of music saw Mike spend many evenings playing the string bass in one of the many student-led Big Bands that dotted the landscape of his hometown of Elmhurst, IL in the 1940’s. Initially, Mike’s career aspirations leaned toward joining his father as a newspaper writer for one of Chicago’s many dailies, first working as a copy boy and ultimately enrolling in the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. The challenges of the Great Depression saw Mike complete his studies in the English department at Elmhurst College, where his interest in the theatre was rekindled by a professor who engaged Mike on short notice to direct a mainstage production. Following his graduation, he volunteered for the draft into the U.S. Army, where he was stationed at Madigan Army Hospital near Tacoma WA as a clerk. While still enlisted, Mike was accepted as a graduate student in Theatre at the University of Iowa, at which he enrolled in the fall of 1955. While at Iowa, he was married to Verne Borse, together raising five children over the ensuing decades. Mike received his MA and PhD in Theatre from Iowa, teaching initially at what became the University of Central Missouri, before relocating in 1961 to New Jersey, chairing the brand-new Department of Speech and Theatre at Glassboro State College, later renamed Rowan University. During this time, he also founded Glassboro Summer Theatre, a nationally-respected summer stock company of professional actors, which thrived under his leadership as Producer and frequent Director for over 25 years. During this time, Mike also founded and led an annual theatre tour in London, later expanding to other areas in continental Europe. He was married to Barbara Rainear in 1994, and their mutual love of both theatre and travel resulted in memorable adventures around the globe, from the Great Pyramids and a Tanzanian safari, to the Great Wall of China, to whale-watching in Alaska and a rail journey across the Canadian Rockies. When not traveling, Mike was a fervent supporter of the arts in Philadelphia as a donor and subscriber to the Philadelphia Orchestra, 1812 Productions, Philadelphia Theatre Company and Arden Theater, among others. He took great care to pass his love of the arts on to his children, which continues to flourish among his extended family. Until the very end, Mike rarely missed an opportunity to attend or view a performance by any of his children or grandchildren, and his profound pride in all of his family’s endeavors, artistic or otherwise, will endure as his greatest legacy.
Mike is survived by his wife of nearly 27 years, Barbara Rainear; his first wife Verne Kelly; his daughter Shawn Biner; his sons Kevin, Patrick (Amy), Terence (Jana) and Darin (Michele); his stepson Rus Rainear; 11 grandchildren (Ryan Biner, Liam Biner, Megan Biner McPartlan, Dana Suchecki, Ariel Kelly, Shannon Kelly, Shane Kelly, Keira Kelly, Eamon Kelly, Eoin Kelly and Maureen Kelly); two great-grandchildren (Cliff Biner and Jack Biner); his sister Molly Martin; his brother Tim Kelly; many close friends, and six decades’ worth of students, actors and theatre professionals lucky enough to have been influenced by his love of teaching and of the arts.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made in Mike’s name to as many local theatre companies as can be helped, including especially 1812 Productions in Philadelphia. A memorial service is planned in the fall at Rowan University at a date to be determined.