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December 17, 2003

In Memoriam: Jack Ragotzy (1921-2003), Founder of Michigan's oldest summer stock company The Barn Theatre

Jack Ragotzy, founder of the landmark summer stock company, The Barn Theatre in Augusta, Michigan, died December 15, 2003 of a heart attack in his home on the grounds of the theatre, one day shy of his 82nd birthday. Ragotzy was a NY Director both Broadway (ANGELA with Geraldine Page in 1969 and Off-Broadway (1959 Obie Award for Direction of the Arthur Laurents series). He was also a television actor, director and movie actor for over 20 years with roles in "Forever Young" with Mel Gibson, "Memoirs of An Invisible Man" with Chevy Chase, and appearances on "Dragnet," "Get Smart," "The Defenders," "Remington Steele," and "China Beach."

Born Jack Peyton Ragotzy on December 16, 1921, he was reared in Kalamazoo. A World War II Army Air Force veteran and a 1948 BA graduate of Kalamazoo College, he also worked at the Kalamazoo Civic Theatre where he met his future wife Betty Ebert (1923-1995). They were married in 1946 and that summer they founded the Village Players in nearby Richland. Jack and Betty soon found that there little theatre was growing at a tremendous rate and soon began renting a former dairy barn in Augusta. They were incorporated as The Barn Theatre in 1949 and began converting it into an esteemed Equity resident summer stock theatre and one of the only remaining structures of its kind in the United States. Ragotzy served as its Executive Producer for 57 consecutive summer seasons, where he has written, acted, produced and directed.

Barnies, the affectionate nickname for those who got their professional start or have worked at the reputable summer stock include Broadway, Television and Film Actors the likes of Jennifer Garner, Tom Wopat, Marin Mazzie, Melissa Gilbert, Adrienne Barbeau, Dana Delany, Barbara Marineau, Patricia Wettig, Jonathan Larson, Becky Ann Baker, Robert Newman, Kim Zimmer, James B. Sikking, John Newton, Jon Cypher, Eric Riley, Darius de Haas and Edwina Lewis.

Ragotzy was the first Theatre Arts Master Degree recipient from UCLA. He was also the recipient of honorary doctorates from Western Michigan University and Nazareth College. He was an active member of AEA, SSD&C, AFTRA, SAG, and DGA.

Ragotzy is survived by his son Brendan, daughter-in-law Penelope and 4 grandchildren (Luke, Calli, Jake, and Melina). He was married to Betty Ebert for over 49 years until her untimely death in 1995.

In lieu of flowers, the Ragotzy family has asked donations be made to The Barn Theatre School for Professional Training, Highway M-96, Augusta, MI, 49012. Service will be held at the Gull Lake Community Church in Richland, MI on Friday, December 19.

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