Bitten by the acting bug in high school, Bill Kimes devoted his career to educating young theater enthusiasts.
A professor at Hamline University for 38 years, Kimes taught theater arts and communications, directed many student productions and served as longtime department chairman, retiring in 2002.
“It was very demanding, but he thrived on it,” said Janice Kimes, his wife of 60 years.
In his spare time Kimes continued to act, first in summer stock and later at Park Square Theatre in St. Paul, co-founded by one of his former students. He landed starring roles as Shylock and King Lear.
“He had stage presence,” said Janice Kimes. “He played everything, from very dramatic to lighter roles. He liked an audience, that connection and response.” Even when not performing, Kimes was entertaining. “He was a great conversationalist — a raconteur.”
Kimes, 82, of Blaine, died Christmas Day of organ failure after a yearlong illness.
He grew up in the Chicago area, where he formed a lifelong devotion to the Cubs. “He loved baseball,” said Janice Kimes. “He was thrilled — and speechless — when they won the World Series [in 2016]. He used to say, ‘Every team can have a bad century.’ ”
After graduating from high school in Freeport, Ill., Kimes enlisted in the Navy Reserve, serving for two summer sessions while a student at Beloit College, where he met his wife, a musician, during a theater production. The couple moved to Madison so Kimes could pursue graduate studies at the University of Wisconsin.
The following year, a teaching fellowship brought them back to Beloit. Kimes then spent a year managing a Junior Achievement program but decided he missed the classroom and soon landed a full-time faculty position at Lakeland College near Sheboygan, Wis. He eventually earned his master’s and Ph.D. degrees.
In 1964, Kimes was recruited by Hamline to join its theater department, bringing the family, which included two young daughters, to Minnesota. As department chairman, he supervised the design and building of a new 289-seat proscenium theater in 1983 to replace the wartime Quonset buildings that had housed the theater program.
“That was an enormous project,” said Bill Wallace, a Hamline theater professor who succeeded Kimes as head of the department. “As department chair, he solved a lot of problems. He was a fabulous colleague with a great sense of humor.”
Working on shows with Kimes was fun, Wallace said, even when time was short and budgets tight. “He was really committed to the students.”
Kimes was also a skilled actor. “He paid attention to the text and what was happening on stage,” Wallace said. “He was so invested in the part that you followed along. [Yet] he was always focused on the work, never on ‘me.’ Even as King Lear, a very demanding part, it was about the whole, the company, not his need to be recognized.”
After retiring in 2002, Kimes continued to exercise his rich baritone, presenting staged readings of “The Wind in the Willows,” “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” and “Under Milkwood” at various facilities and events.
He also enjoyed relaxing at the family cabin. “After so many intense years, he welcomed the change of pace,” said Janice. “He loved having the family there.”
In addition to his wife, Kimes is survived by daughters Leslie and Alison, four grandchildren and a brother, Donald. A celebration of life will be held at 11 a.m. Feb. 2 at Hamline Church United Methodist, 1514 Englewood Av., St. Paul, followed by lunch at Anderson Student Center.
Kim Palmer • 612-673-4784