From his love for corny jokes to the initials he incorporated into the call letters of the radio station he founded at Kalamazoo College — WJMD — John M. Dentler ’48 always left a big impression.
He went out with a literal bang, ensuring his many friends got an email after he died July 5, 2018, at age 91, of him kicking a bucket.
The accompanying message said, “I kicked the bucket.” And in a reference to his wife, Jean (Klein) Dentler ’48, whom he met at the College, it added, “Jeanie and my family gave me a wonderful life! Thank you for being my friend. Jack.”
It was a perfect reflection of what his friends and family say was his one-of-a-kind personality and unquenchable zest for life. He had a circle of friends too numerous to count and was constantly doing them favors, giving them small gifts and photographing them—one of his hobbies.
He was especially fond of police and firefighters. Officers from the police department in his hometown of Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he volunteered for 14 years, escorted his family to his funeral, and the police chief delivered a eulogy.
According to the Ann Arbor News, a volunteer award that Dentler received in 2017, which hangs in the department’s office, is now marked with a thin blue line of tape—an honor usually reserved for officers. Dentler’s memory will also endure at K, where WJMD remains an active student organization.
He started the station in 1946 in Hoben Hall, with two turntables and a microphone. In 1947, WJMD moved to Dentler’s dorm room in the then-new Harmon Hall. The station also acquired a wire recorder, among other equipment, which allowed it to broadcast accounts of events that included Hornet basketball games.
The station grew after Dentler’s graduation, and he remained an avid supporter, even founding a WJMD alumni group. In 2009, after the now online-only station moved to its current studio in Hicks Student Center, Dentler visited and posed for photos with the station’s staff, commenting, “This is a far cry from my room in Hoben where I used to broadcast.”
In 2014, he was honored with the Kalamazoo College Emeriti Club Citation of Merit.
Dentler spent his career as a salesman with Pfizer Inc. in New York and Ann Arbor. He began volunteering for the Willingboro, New Jersey, police and fire departments in the 1960s, and continued to do so at the police and fire departments in Ann Arbor.
He spent many summers as a campground host at Charles Mears State Park in Pentwater, Michigan. He also assisted with the badminton program at an Ann Arbor recreation center.
He was preceded in death by a sister, Ruth (Dentler) Boehm ’43. In addition to his wife, survivors include a son Scott; daughter Sandy; five grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.
Virginia (Dye) Martin ’39, 101, of Kalamazoo, died May 15, 2018. Born in Rochester, New York, she was the granddaughter of Kalamazoo College President Arthur G. Slocum, who served from 1892 to 1912. She was preceded in death by her husband, Reuben William Martin. Survivors include daughters Patricia A. Wilson and Phyllis A. Zimmerman and three grandchildren.
Joan Marie (Beard) Bailey ’48, 91, formerly of Chicago and Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, died June 16, 2018. She was raised in Iowa and attended both Drake University and Kalamazoo College, where she pursued her passion for the liberal arts. She took time off from her studies to serve her country during World War II as a civilian contractor at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico. When the war ended, she completed her undergraduate degree and began work for the American Baptist Assembly in Green Lake, Wisconsin. While there, she met husband James. Together, they traveled the world, then settled down in Urbana, Illinois, and, as faculty members at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, pursued their shared passion for education, teaching thousands of students over the next 40 years. While her husband continued his music career and eventually became the chairman of the voice division at the university’s school of music, she earned master’s degrees in English, speech and education, teaching in all three areas, and frequently received “Best Instructor on Campus” accolades from her students. She also spent several years teaching middle school in the Iowa and Illinois public school systems and taught speech courses at Parkland College. An accomplished violinist, she performed her entire life and played for years with the Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra. In addition, she was a talented artist who showcased her skills in local theater and was also known for her ability to render high-quality drawings. A lifelong Christian, she was highly active at the First Presbyterian Church of Urbana. Her passion for teaching was second only to her dedication to and love for her family. In 2012, she and her husband moved to Chicago to be nearer to their children and grandchildren. She was preceded in death by her husband of 61 years. Survivors include daughters Gwen and Jeanne, and three grandchildren.
James Miyagawa ’52, 88, of Kalamazoo, died May 15, 2018. He was born on his grandparents’ farm near Lakeview, Michigan, and graduated from Kalamazoo Central High School in 1948 before studying at Kalamazoo College. He spent a lifetime at his family’s business, George’s Appliance Co., and became company president in 1959 when his father passed away. He served one term as president of the Kalamazoo TV & Appliance Dealers Association. While raising their sons, he and wife Betty worked for many years with the Boy Scouts in district, council and regional positions. Miyagawa was honored with the Scoutmaster’s Key, the District Award of Merit and the Silver Beaver Award and was a Wood Badge course director. He was also a member of the Oshtemo and Portage, Michigan, Rotary clubs and took part in 15 missions to Nicaragua and three to Peru, where he worked to provide eye surgery and build a medical clinic. He was president of the Portage Rotary Club in 1971 and 1972. He enjoyed attending Saint Andrew Community Church in Kalamazoo for as long as he was physically able and later enjoyed visits from Pastor Jim Dyke. He was preceded in death by son James Robert Miyagawa in 2015 and a brother, Navy Capt. George Robert “Bob” Miyagawa ’54. In addition to his wife of 65 years, survivors include sons David and Thomas.
Jeraldine M. (Feiner) Suits ’53, 86, died July 8, 2018. A native of Ann Arbor, Michigan, she graduated in 1949 from Ann Arbor High School. It was there she met her future husband, Jim, who took her flying in an airplane on their first date, and with whom she had recently celebrated their 68th anniversary. She continued with her education, attending Kalamazoo College and the University of Michigan, where she earned her master’s degree in early childhood development. She worked for many years and retired from the lab preschool at the University of Michigan’s psychiatric hospital. She loved sports, lettering in volleyball in high school, and was an avid Wolverine football and basketball fan, regularly attending games. She taught Sunday school for many years at First Baptist Church, where she served in the vespers program for the homeless and was a member of several Bible study groups. She survived ovarian cancer in 1988 and volunteered to drive patients to cancer treatment for many years afterward. In addition to her husband, survivors include daughters Lynn Lamkin and Kathy Keeping; son Charles M. Suits; seven grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.
Julia (Dean) Kellar ’54, 85, of West Lafayette, Indiana, died May 19, 2018. After graduating from Kalamazoo College, she received her master’s degree from the University of Michigan and taught school in Dowagiac, Michigan. After raising her five children, she returned to teaching at Indiana University Northwest. Her lifelong passions were art and nature and she was an amateur ornithologist and botanist. She was preceded in death by her brother, Maurice Dean. Survivors include children Dr. Daniel Kellar ’81 of Terre Haute, Indiana, Randy Kellar of Snohomish, Washington, Jennifer Knowles of West Lafayette, Douglas Kellar ’90 of Rogers, Minnesota, and Laura Mull of York Springs, Pennsylvania; 25 grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren. Contributions may be made to the Diebold Fellowship Fund c/o Kalamazoo College, 1200 Academy Street, Kalamazoo, Michigan 49006.
Retired U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Harold W. Rudolph ’54, 87, of Novi, Michigan, died Jan. 2, 2018. Rudolph was a fighter pilot for 35 years and was known as the “People’s General” for his people skills. He enjoyed golf and trains and was an avid solver of crossword puzzles. He loved being a dad, woodworking and building things. Survivors include his wife of 30 years, Ramona Cloutier-Rudolph; children Sheryl, Lori, Steven, Sandra and Jennifer Rudolph and Courtney Cloutier; sisters Susan Hill and Linda Hicks; four grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.
James L. Amidon ’58, 82, of Tallahassee, Florida, died May 11, 2018. Born in Greenville, Michigan, he attended Kalamazoo College and served two years with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Germany. He spent his 40-year working career in a variety of safety, engineering and environmental positions in Georgia, Indiana and Arkansas with Central Soya and Tyson Foods. His work took him to at least 35 states and several foreign countries. At various times, he was an active member of the Moose and Elks lodges. He was preceded in death by his wife, Jo Ann Clark. Survivors include sons William of Chugiak, Alaska, Steven of Big Lake, Alaska, James Jr. of Crawfordsville, Indiana, and Frank of Tallahassee; and six grandchildren.
Virginia Christinia (Phillips) Vincent ’60, 80, died May 9, 2018. Born in London, she was sent away to boarding school at the age of 2 to avoid the bombing of the city during World War II. When she was 14, she and her sister accompanied their mother to America to join their father, who had emigrated some years earlier. Her mother soon returned to England and Vincent stayed with her father, who promised to pay for her education. They settled in Grand Rapids, Michigan, but when her father decided during her junior year in high school to move to California, she remained, living on her own and finishing high school. Awarded a scholarship to Kalamazoo College, she majored in English and was active in the theater. It was in Drama Club that she met her future husband, Bill ’60. They married in 1961, a year after graduating, and she supported him as a lab assistant while he pursued a Ph.D. in history at Yale University. He joined the humanities department at Michigan State University in 1965, and the two made their home first in East Lansing, Michigan, and then on a farm in Holt, Michigan, for 53 years. Highly talented at handicrafts, Vincent worked as a professional knitter for many years. She loved chocolate, travel, gardening, classical music, talking books, “Masterpiece Theatre” and her dogs and horses. For more than 30 years, she suffered through a number of debilitating ailments, including breast cancer, arthritis, ruptured tendons, continual internal bleeding from an unidentifiable source and the loss of first one leg and then the other due to blood clots. Through it all, she remained strong, optimistic and cheerful—a model to all who knew her. She is survived by her husband of 57 years; a son, Jolyon; daughters Valerie Rolsma and Michele Monahan; sister Francis Miller; and four grandchildren.
Ronald F. Lucas ’65, 76, died March 14, 2018, in Detroit. Born in Kalamazoo, he served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. He retired after working as a golf course superintendent for Sauganash Country Club, Island Hills Golf Course and the St. Clair Shores Country Club. He enjoyed golfing, skiing, walking and being in the forest. He was preceded in death by a daughter, Lauren Elizabeth Lucas. Survivors include his wife, P.J.; children Justin Lucas of St. Clair Shores, Michigan, Lindsey Lucas of Hamtramck, Michigan, and Doug Stone of Kalamazoo; brothers David Lucas of Jackson, Wyoming, and Randy Lucas of Saline, Michigan; and four grandchildren.
Dennis E. Steele ’67, 73, of Kalamazoo, died May 21, 2018. He spent his childhood in Linden, Michigan, before attending Kalamazoo College, where he played football and studied economics. He started his career as a teacher and semi-pro football player before becoming a stockbroker and avid golfer. He retired from Morgan-Stanley in 2014. Survivors include his wife of 20 years, Fonda K. Steele; son Derek Steele; mother Isabelle Steele; sisters Deborah Ciotti, Valarie Soldan and Bethany Wolfram; brother Christopher Steele ’69; and a granddaughter.
Alan J. Schreuder ’70, 69, of Pella, Iowa, died July 31, 2018. He served for more than 40 years as an ordained pastor and missionary in the Reformed Church in America. Survivors include his wife, Sue; children Rebecca Gomez of Pella, Jennifer Dykstra of Fort Worth, Texas, Angela Van Gorp of Pella, and Michael Schreuder of Anderson, S.C.; seven grandchildren; and three sisters, Lois Strong of Naperville, Ill., Mary Disselkoen of Hudsonsville, Michigan, and Rea Schreuder of Kalamazoo.
David C. Russell ’72 of Houston died Sept. 14, 2017, his 67th birthday, while in Michigan to attend the funeral of an aunt. As a consultant, Russell, who received a history degree at Kalamazoo College, wrote and defended patent applications and held a dozen patents for products he created and dozens of others he helped devise. He was also known for his feats of memory, such as memorizing an entire city bus schedule. Graduating at age 16 from Bloomfield Hills (Michigan) High School, he enrolled at K. After graduation, he served in the U.S. Navy, then was a technology expert for companies including Grumman Corp. before becoming an entrepreneur. He was preceded in death by his parents, Robert I. and Mary A. Russell. Survivors include his wife, Donna Donathan, and siblings Renée, Gregory, Pat, Keith and Michelle.
Kathleen Elizabeth (Phelan) Vollmer ’77, 61, of Pleasant Ridge, Michigan, died June 15, 2018. Born in San Pedro, California, she grew up in Portuguese Bend and Rancho Palos Verdes, California. The four Phelan children attended Marymount School of Palos Verdes. Vollmer then earned a degree in psychology at Kalamazoo College. While on study abroad in Spain, she met Thomas Vollmer ’77 and the two were married in 1979. In the early years of their marriage, they lived in New Jersey, Pittsburgh and San Diego. Kathleen Vollmer spent several years as a special education teacher. While living in San Diego, she began working as a paralegal. In 1995, she and her husband moved to the Detroit area so she could join Roura Iron Works, a family-owned business founded by her grandfather. She served as office manager, vice president and member of the board of directors before the company was sold in 2008. In 2010, she resigned her position at Roura and began working as a teacher’s aide in special education for the Ferndale, Michigan, public schools, where she continued to be employed until shortly before her death. In 2001, the Vollmers traveled to Minsk, Belarus, where they adopted their daughter, Anna Christine. Kathleen Vollmer devoted herself to raising Anna, and on June 4, 2018, she proudly watched her graduate from Ferndale High School. In addition to her husband and daughter, survivors include brother James Phelan and sisters Frances Roach and Angelina Woolley.
Former Kalamazoo College English professor Ellen M. Caldwell, 67, died Aug. 10, 2018, in Los Angeles after a long battle with cancer. The daughter of movie star Joan Leslie and Dr. William G. Caldwell, she earned degrees in English literature at both the University of Southern California and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). She was a member of the faculty at K from 1987 to 2001 and is remembered as a favorite professor by numerous alumni from that era, including Deanne Bartkowiak ’94 and Alisha Rohde ’90, who sent BeLight tributes to Caldwell. Bartkowiak wrote that “Dr. Ellen was my advisor, my professor and my friend. She counseled me through school and life dilemmas. And the coolest part is that she really was there from the very start since I met her during my freshmen orientation week. She saw me from beginning to end…to beginning again. Thank you, Dr Ellen, for being such an incredibly selfless and caring person.” Rohde wrote that Caldwell’s influence on her “extended far beyond the confines of my K College experience. When I began teaching at the college level … I found myself remembering the way she structured course material and themes very clearly—not to make them easy for students, but to give students a solid base for the challenging ideas she would explore in lively discussions. Although I studied theory and pedagogy with grad school faculty, Ellen provided the functional, practical template I used so often.” In a 42-year career, Caldwell also taught at UCLA, Vanderbilt University and California State University, Fullerton. She was preceded in death by her parents. Survivors include her twin sister, Patrice.
Richard “Dick” Carpenter, 80, died July 20, 2018, in Dayton, Ohio. Born in Battle Creek, Michigan, he grew up in Battle Creek, Cincinnati and Canton, Ohio. He earned a bachelor’s in chemistry at Albion College, where he met his first wife, Marsha Carle, then moved to Cleveland to study chemistry at Case Western Reserve University. Before completing his Ph.D. dissertation, he joined the faculty at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, in 1962. When Antioch experienced financial hard times in 1969, students’ supportive protests and petitions helped him avoid layoff, and he enrolled at the University of California, Los Angeles, to broaden his expertise by studying computer science. While in California, he married his second wife, Carolina, then returned to Antioch in 1971 to launch the college’s first computer science department. When Antioch struggled again in 1979, he took a position teaching computer science at Kalamazoo College and earned a master’s degree in computer science at Western Michigan University. He also coached and officiated youth soccer, played tennis and handball, hosted international students and volunteered for the Democratic Party in Kalamazoo. He retired at 60 to help care for his wife’s father in the Netherlands and became a world traveler, visiting more than 47 countries in 20 years. He and his wife had recently returned to Yellow Springs. In addition to his wife of 47 years, survivors include children Kathy Adams and Lynn Hardman of Yellow Springs, David Carpenter of Brandywine, Maryland, Brian Libby of Noblesville, Indiana, and Mark Libby of Groton, Massachusetts; 16 grandchildren; a great-grandson; and a brother, Charles “Chuck” Carpenter of Lakewood, Ohio.
Omer Robbins Jr. died Aug. 27, 2018, of complications from a seizure he suffered in mid-July. Throughout his life Omer was a man of religion, duty, family, steadiness, moderation in all things and generosity to others, especially his family.
Two especially happy periods during his boyhood guided some of his choices throughout the rest of his life. After the death of his mother, when Omer was 7, he and his younger brother Jim were sent to live with their grandmother Robbins in his father’s hometown, Milan, Indiana.
Those two small-town years, including two summers spent on his aunt’s farm, were, he said, very happy. Secondly, during the Great Depression of the mid-30s, Omer’s father built a house in Concord, Michigan. The family lived there for about two years, along with a relative’s family, which included three boys near Omer’s age. Omer has spoken very fondly of life in a small town with a household of five boys.
In 1942, Omer graduated from the University of Michigan with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. He and his wife, Elsie Wikle, were married on graduation day, May 30, at the First Baptist Church of Ann Arbor. Omer received a military deferment because he was working as a research chemist for Dow Chemical in a laboratory on State Street.
Much of the next 39 years was spent studying, researching or teaching chemistry. After World War II, Omer returned to the University of Michigan and received a Ph.D. in chemistry in 1950. Then, the family, which now included two young sons, Steven and David, moved to the St. Louis, Missouri, where Omer had a job with Shell Oil as a research chemist.
In 1958, Omer earned his first university professorship in chemistry. He first taught for three years at Heidelberg University in Tiffin, OH. He then taught for about 13 years at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, Michigan. It was while he was at EMU in 1967 that his well-received college chemistry textbook, Ionic Reactions and Equilibria, was published. It was also during the EMU years that he explained that he liked chemistry because of its clarity. “In chemistry, there is a right answer, a wrong answer and nothing else.”
During the 70s, also at EMU, Omer held the positions of interim dean, and then dean of the graduate school for about seven years. Omer retired in 1981.
Also in 1981, Omer and Elsie built a house near Manchester, Michigan. The two made a deal that Elsie could design the house and Omer could choose where to build. The house sits on a beautiful hillside on 40 acres. Omer was a dedicated and active American Baptist throughout his life, mostly at First Baptist Church in Ann Arbor. Except for a 15-year absence while living elsewhere (1950-1965), Omer attended FBCAA from 1938 until his death.
He held many important lay-leadership positions and was an avid collector of church financial information and disseminator of resulting statistics.
For a 20-year period (1969-1989), Omer investigated his Robbins family history. He did this in pre-internet days, so he and Elsie traveled to county court houses, traveled to the homes of “new cousins” for interviews, and wrote innumerable letters to destinations across the country. This effort eventually resulted in an 800-page book, “A Robbins Family History,” which was typed by Elsie.
Omer was a lifelong reader, and a nearly lifelong bridge player. At various times he was a member of a couples’ bridge group, a lunch-time bridge group at EMU, and a men’s bridge group during retirement in Manchester. Also at Manchester, Omer enjoyed working outside cutting fallen trees into firewood.
Omer’s wife Elsie passed in 2002 and his brother Jim in 2003. Omer is survived by two sons, Steven (Eleanor) of Mason, Michigan, and David (Joyce) of Manchester, Michigan; one granddaughter, Sarah (Jason) Harwood of Adrian, Michigan; and two great-grandsons, Preston and Bradley Harwood of Adrian, Michigan.
A memorial service celebrating Omer’s life was Sunday, Sept. 16, at First Baptist Church, 517 E. Washington St., Ann Arbor, Michigan with the Revs. Paul and Stacey Simpson Duke presiding. A reception followed the service at the church’s Fellowship Hall. Memorial contributions may be made to the First Baptist Church Vespers Program.