WMU News

Theatre patriarch Zack York to receive honorary degree

April 1, 2003

KALAMAZOO -- Dr. Zack L. York, former chairperson of the Western Michigan University Department of Theatre and a legend in WMU theatre history, will be granted an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree at commencement ceremonies April 26.

Acting at its March 28 meeting, the WMU Board of Trustees approved the awarding of the degree to honor York, who retired in 1978 with emeritus status, for his many years of service to WMU's theatre program, both before and after it became a department in its own right. A faculty member from 1940 to 1978, York served in nearly every phase of theatre work and in 1976, was named the first chairperson of the newly formed Department of Theatre, which joined the four-year-old College of Fine Arts. Founded in 1906, the theatre program until then had been operated as part of the Department of Communication Arts and Sciences and the Department of Speech.

A 1937 graduate of what was then Western Michigan College, York earned both master of arts and doctoral degrees from the University of Wisconsin. He also attended Yale Drama School in 1939-40, after teaching junior high school English in Hastings, Mich., for two years.

In 1940, Laura V. Shaw hired York to join what was then the Department of Speech. In 1942, York left for World War II military service and joined the U.S. Army infantry, where he spent four years, rising in rank from private to major and serving in the Philippines. After the war, he returned to WMU and spent the rest of his teaching career at the University, except for one academic year during which he taught stage design at Michigan State University.

York was named head of the speech department in 1953, after Shaw's retirement. Over more than three decades, he directed numerous student productions. When the University's new Laura V. Shaw Theatre, named in his mentor's honor, opened in 1968, the first production was York's adaptation for the stage of Alan Paton's novel "Cry, the Beloved Country."

York has received numerous honors and awards over the years for his many efforts to promote theatre, both at the University and in the community at large. Shortly after his retirement, the board of trustees named the University's arena theatre after him, while in 1988, he was named one of three recipients of Kalamazoo's Community Medal of Arts award.

Media contact: Mark Schwerin, 269 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

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