Janet E. Stillwell obituary

contact: Wendy Cornish and Jeanne Baron
| WMU News
Photo of Dr. Janet E. Stillwell.

Dr. Janet E. Stillwell

Dr. Janet E. Stillwell, professor emerita of dance and a former associate dean of the College of Fine Arts at Western Michigan University, died March 29. She was 79.

Stillwell came to WMU in 1967 after teaching in the Kalamazoo Public Schools for two years and retired in 2004 after 37 years of service to the University.

She is credited with promoting and building arts programs at WMU as well as in Kalamazoo, while also working on behalf of the arts, education and professional organizations at the local, state and national levels.

Major WMU administrator

Stillwell initially joined WMU's Department of Physical Education for Women as an assistant professor. After the University separated out dance programs in 1972, she moved to the newly created Department of Dance.

Over the ensuing years, Stillwell took on an increasing number of administrative responsibilities.

She chaired the dance department during three summers from 1972 through 1974 and served as acting chair in 1975-76. The College of Fine Arts appointed her assistant dean of the college in 1982 and associate dean in 1986. In addition, she served as the college's interim dean in 1999-2000, and returned to chairing the dance department in 2002.

While serving in the dean's office, Stillwell successfully raised and administered funds for the dance department in its early years as well as oversaw many collegewide projects, which resulted in the Society of Fund Raising Executives certifying her as a fundraising executive in 1988.

She also was deeply involved in the development of several interdisciplinary academic programs, including the bachelor's degree in music theatre performance. Stillwell served as advisor for this program from its inception in the 1980s until 1996 and, as an emerita professor, established a scholarship for students majoring in the program.

Her efforts also helped create the master's degree in performing arts administration, Graduate Certificate Program in Nonprofit Leadership and Administration, and minor in integrated creative arts.

Multitalented scholar, artist

Although a specialist in creative dance for children, Stillwell also taught courses in dance and related arts, dance production and dance management, plus a course on the Alexander Technique for music students concentrating on voice and conducting.

She wrote many scholarly articles on the arts, arts education and the Alexander Technique, which is a method for releasing unnecessary tension that can improve ease and freedom of movement, balance, support and coordination.

For her concert dance choreography, she drew on her background in all the arts. Stillwell was particularly interested in collaborative work, a theme that would be integral to her continued work as both a faculty member and an administrator.

She served WMU in such performance-related roles as choreographer, director, costumer, artistic director and producer, often working on Department of Theatre productions.

Specific activities included taking on the role of artistic director for major College of Fine Arts performance events, such as the combined Miller Auditorium 25th Anniversary/College of Fine Arts 20th Anniversary Gala in 1993, and the role of co-producer as well as artistic director of "Showcase Kalamazoo" in Miller Auditorium from 1986 to 1990.

Stillwell earned four degrees from the University of Michigan, a bachelor's and master's degree in education, a master's degree in speech and oral interpretation, and a doctoral degree in theatre history.

Longtime volunteer

The College of Fine Arts presented its Outstanding Service Award to Stillwell for the countless hours of work she did on behalf of her department and college as well as WMU.

Among her varied service activities were chairing the University's Permanent Art Collection Committee and Cultural Events Committee for many years, and serving on the Bicentennial Committee along with an array of other committees and councils. She also was a member of the American College Dance Festival Association's board during its formative years and coordinated its first Midwest festival, which was held at WMU in 1977.

Members of the local community recognized Stillwell for the breadth and generosity of her contributions to the arts when in 1993, the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo presented her with its Community Medal of the Arts Award.

Stillwell presided over the Arts Council for two terms, from 1983 to 1987, as well as served as executive director of the Plaza Arts Circle for more than 15 years. She participated in community theatre, especially the Kalamazoo Civic Theatre and Junior Civic Theatre; made numerous arts presentations to area groups; and reviewed touring dance companies for the Kalamazoo Gazette for eight years.

Many also remember Stillwell for being instrumental in bringing such renowned artists as Alwin Nikolais, Murray Louis and the Ririe-Woodbury Company to WMU's Miller Auditorium and bringing master teachers of the Alexander Technique to the campus and Kalamazoo community for several residencies.


A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. Saturday, April 23, in the Dalton Center lobby. The relatively short tribute will include music, speakers and a champagne toast.

It will be followed by an informal gathering, during which family, friends and colleagues may mingle and share memories.