CM – A tribute to those we lost in 2021: Review of the year 2021


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The 2021 theater season had some yang, but mostly it was a lot of yin.

Olivia Letts

Olivia Letts, who died on February 1 at the age of 93, was the first black teacher in the Lansing School District where she worked for integration. She was married to Richard « Dick » Letts, a Lansing civil rights icon who died in 1997. They helped lead the fight against racial discrimination on the ground. Letts has served on many different community boards. She has been promoted to various senior positions in the school district, including director of Post Oak Elementary School in Lansing. She also earned two postgraduate degrees from Michigan State University in Administration and Curriculum. Her death has been recognized by the school district, the Lansing Branch of the NAACP, and three different churches. Mayor Andy Schor also honored Letts by declaring February 8 in her honor. Letts also helped found the LINKS organization for African American women in leadership positions.

Kelly Rossman-McKinney

Kelly Rossman-McKinney died of cancer on November 9, aged 67. She helped found the leading public relations firm Truscott Rossman with John Truscott, former spokesman for former Governor John Engler. When she died, she was director of communications for the Michigan Attorney General. She was also a force to be reckoned with, and involved with leaders from all parties – including former State Sen. and Eaton County Sheriff Rick Jones. She publicly challenged Jones’ policies in 2012, and Jones then responded by calling her a « whore ». Together with Nessel, she tried unsuccessfully in 2016 to start a petition to amend Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to explicitly include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes. Rossman McKinney ran unsuccessfully as a Democrat against Republican Tom Barrett for Eaton County’s 24th Senate District in 2018. She was a professional comic book artist in her early days and referred to herself as an « Ovarian Rotarian » when she was one of the first women to join the Lansing Club.

Carmen Decker,

Carmen Decker, who died January 30 at the age of 97, was a powerful force on Lansing’s stages, particularly at the old BoarsHead Theater. She holds a degree from Knox College and a Masters from the University of Iowa. Decker made stops off Broadway and elsewhere; in Lansing she was a secretary at the State Capitol. She won awards for her work on location and on the stages of Chicago.

F. Paul Rathbun

Richard Halik died on December 11th at the age of 78. He was Superintendent of the Lansing School District from 1985 to 2000 after serving as a teacher, principal and administrator. Halik attended Lansing Community College and Western Michigan University with bachelor’s degrees, and earned masters and doctorates from Michigan State University. He was the first to receive a Distinguished Alumni Award from the LCC. And after leaving the school district, he advised schools nationwide on politics and administration. Halik has also served on the boards of the Lansing Boys and Girls Club, Woldumar Nature Center, and several other local nonprofit groups.

E. Paul Rathbun

E. Paul Rathbun died on August 21 at the age of 60. Rathbun was a leading voice in the city’s business and philanthropy communities. After graduating from Ferris State University, he ran his family business, Rathbun Insurance. Under his leadership, the company sponsored numerous festivals and events in the Lansing region. He has also served on the boards of a number of civic organizations including President of the Lansing Jaycees and a board member of Ele’s Place.

Daniel Southwell,

Daniel Southwell, who died on September 27 at the age of 66, retired as chief of the Grand Ledge Police Department after working his way up. He was also a prosecutor’s investigator. In 2005, Southwell helped found the Blue Light Players, an achievement group that raises money for the families of fallen and seriously injured police officers.

Susan Pigg

Susan Pigg died on February 21 at the age of 62. Pigg was the former executive director of the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission. She also worked for the State Department of Transportation, Eaton County, and MSU Extension in Ingham County. In her spare time, Pigg spent her hours supporting her children’s activities at Okemos High School and volunteering at St. Martha’s Church. She was also an active member of a support group for breast cancer survivors.

Dail « Doc » Patterson

, who died on October 21 at the age of 84, founded the Patterson Veterinary Clinic in Mason. He graduated from MSU’s School of Veterinary Medicine in 1963.

Rev. Ilona Sabo Shuler

Rev. Ilona Sabo Shuler died on September 28th at the age of 72. Shuler was a leading voice for reconciliation between LGBTQ people and people of faith. During her 12 years of service at Williamston Methodist Church, the ward became Michigan’s first reconciling church – meaning LGBTQ is validated. In 1994 she left the ministry and became a real estate agent.

Rajiv Ranjan Das

Rajiv Ranjan Das died on July 6th at the age of 62. This was an immigrant from India studying business administration at Michigan State University. He was the chairman of the Board of Trustees of Lansing Bharatiya Temple. That was also a cyber security expert for Plante Moran.

Vidyahdar S. « Atma » Mandrekar

Vidyahdar S. « Atma » Mandrekar died on June 23 at the age of 82. An accomplished mathematician, he was a professor at MSU with hundreds of specialist publications – and six books. Mandrekar was also the department chair and head of the MSU campus.

Angelo James Vlahakis

Angelo James Vlahakis, who died April 1st at the age of 93, owned the fabled Jim’s Tiffany Restaurant. Just two blocks from the Capitol on Michigan Avenue, the eatery served as a weighing station for politicians, lobbyists, and journalists for 40 years. Vlahakis was a U.S. Air Force and Michigan National Guard veteran. He also founded Lansings R.E. Olds Museum.

James Swindlehurst

James Swindlehurst died of COVID complications on Thursday (December 24th). He was a paramedic and worked for the Mercy Ambulance Service, which covers Clinton County. His wife said in interviews that he was infected with the virus at work. He was hospitalized on December 10th. Mercy announced his death on Facebook on Christmas Eve, noting that he was passionate about the DeWitt and Bath parishes.

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