Jack Stokes

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Dr. Jack Tilden Stokes, 94, of Belleville, IL., died January 8, 2018, at St Paul’s Senior Community in Belleville with family at his side.  Jack was a well-known playwright, director, actor, and teacher.  A man of many talents, Jack was a unique personality and gifted wordsmith who loved to play with words and incorporated his love of rhythm, rhyme, and music into his stories, plays, and performances.

The son of a coal miner and homemaker, Jack was born August 26, 1923, in Sullivan, IN., to Sherman Hayes Stokes and Elizabeth Jane Robbins.  The oldest of three sons, Jack was raised in Sullivan and graduated from Sullivan High School in 1941.

Drafted by the United States Army in 1943, Jack served across the globe during World War II, including North Africa (with a long stint in Casablanca); Naples, Italy; and Salzburg, Austria, the birthplace of Mozart.  He was present when the famous Salzburg Festival was re-born after having been shut down during the war.  While in the service, he enjoyed memorable furloughs in Paris and London, which included a visit to Hyde Park, where (Jack said) you could always find someone standing on a soap box drawing an audience for his or her ideas. “Real democracy and freedom of speech,” he wrote in a remembrance to his family.

After being honorably discharged in January 1946 as a Technical Sergeant, 4th Grade, Jack took advantage of the GI Bill of Rights and started his studies at Indiana State Teachers College in Terre Haute, IN., where he earned degrees in English and Social Studies.  It was during this time that Jack met his future bride and life-mate, Bettie Mae Johnson, the young girl who lived across the street from him in Sullivan.  They attended college together, married on May 1, 1948, and graduated together in 1950.  Jack later earned a Master’s in English from the University of Illinois and a PhD in Speech and Theater from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.  He was awarded the William C. Ball English Prize at Indiana State and a fellowship at SIUC.

Jack was a veteran high school teacher and college professor, teaching English, literature, speech, and theater.  Jack taught high school for one year at Basin, WY, and nine years at Oblong, IL.  In 1961, Jack and Bettie moved to Belleville.  He initially taught at both Belleville Township High School and Belleville Junior College (subsequently known as Belleville Area College and, now, Southwestern Illinois College), since at the time both were in the same school system.  When the college separated from the high school, he taught exclusively for the college.  Jack retired from Belleville Area College in 1989.

Jack is the author of numerous award-winning plays and pieces for both Readers Theater and Dramachoir.  His work has been produced across the world–from St Louis to South Africa to Japan.  As the founder of Southwestern Illinois College’s Children’s Theater Touring Company, his plays are well-known to a generation of local children and audiences.  His works include Wiley and the Hairy Man, anthologized in the collection Plays Children Love; The Incredible Jungle Journey of Fenda Maria, anthologized in two collections – Contemporary Children’s Theatre and Eight Plays for Youth; and Mama Medea, a one-act play which won first place honors at a national junior college contest in 1974 and is the basis of the movie Mama Medea, produced and directed by Dennis Vaughan.  More recently, Jack was awarded the Illinois Theatre Association’s Children’s Theatre Award in 2001; and in 2011, a production of Wiley and the Hairy Man, performed by the County Seat Theater Company in Cloquet, MN., was selected to perform at the World Festival of Children’s Performing Arts in Toyama, Japan, the United States’ sole entry in the quadrennial, international event.

Following his retirement, Jack continued to create and perform volunteer work.  He was active as a playwright, a performer in local theatrical productions, a volunteer with Retired Senior Volunteer Program, and (with his wife) a volunteer for the local chapter of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill.  In his spare time, Jack loved to attend the theater and symphony, watch movies, and read.  He was a loving husband, father, grandfather, and son.  He was our hero and will be missed forever.

Jack was preceded in death by his wife Bettie Mae (nee Johnson) Stokes in 2010; daughter Tamara Gaye Stokes in 1997; grandson John Scott Johnson in 1984; his father Sherman Hayes Stokes in 1954; his mother Elizabeth Jane (nee Robbins) Stokes in 2003; his brother William (Jackie) Joseph Stokes in 1994; and his brother Charles Robert (Josephine) Stokes in 1987.

Surviving are his daughter Deirdre Jan Stokes of Carbondale, IL.,
his son Shaun Sherman Stokes of Belleville, IL., and his son Jay T (Michelle) Stokes of Belleville, IL.;
four grandchildren, Aislinn Elizabeth Johnson of Carbondale, IL., Alexander Tilden (Tara Morton) Stokes of St Louis, MO., Jack Theophil Stokes of Belleville, IL., and Emily Mae Stokes of Belleville, IL.;
and several nieces and nephews across the country.

Memorials may be made to the Southwestern Illinois College Foundation in support of the Jack Stokes Legacy Scholarship.  Gifts can be made to the scholarship online at thankyou.swic.edu. Condolences may be expressed to the family online at www.rennerfh.com.

Visitation: Friends may visit with the family from 4 to 8 p.m. Friday, January 12, 2018, at George Renner & Sons Funeral Home, Belleville, IL.

Funeral: Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, January 13, 2018, at George Renner & Sons Funeral Home, Belleville, IL.

Burial will be at Walnut Hill Cemetery, Belleville, IL.




10 Comments on Jack Stokes

Andrew Scribner said : Guest Report Jan 17, 2018 at 8:31 PM

Few will ever come close to touching and influencing as many lives as Jack Stokes has. He is a beacon in my life and the life's of hundreds if not thousands of others . My thoughts and prayers are with his family and his many friends.

  • Vremillion
  • South Dakota
Michelle Stange said : Guest Report Jan 12, 2018 at 7:03 PM

I am so sincerely sorry for your loss. What a wonderful way to remember your father with a scholarship fund. Donation made and I have no doubt he would be happy to leave this legacy. Much love my dear friends. May you find love in family and friends during this difficult time.

  • Santa Monica
  • CA
JUDY POLETTI said : Guest Report Jan 12, 2018 at 4:46 PM

I am so sorry for your loss. I had the pleasure of hearing The Hairy Man when I was in 7th or 8th grade at High Mount school and was so impressed by it. I then had the pleasure many years later of finding out that it was Dr.Stokes who was responsible for it and that he resided here in Belleville. I knew of both Dr.and Mrs. Stokes through the grade school and their neighborhood. Both very nice people. I will forever hear the voices of "hairy,hairy hairy man". God bless you all during this time.

  • Illinois
Mary Sprague Langsdorf said : Guest Report Jan 11, 2018 at 6:27 PM

Dear Deirdre and Stokes family, I am so sorry for your loss. It made me very sad when my cousin Mac Chamblin informed me about Dr. Stokes passing. I was fortunate enough to perform in his very special children's plays at Belleville Area College in 1972 and 1973. I was just reciting some of my lines he had written to my grandchildren this past Christmas, 46 years later. Dr. Stokes was so full of life, creative and wonderful to work with. He touched so many lives including mine. he will always be remembered fondly.

  • Wake Forest
  • North Carolina
Pserah said : Guest Report Jan 11, 2018 at 4:30 PM

I'm truly sorry to hear about your father's passing Mr. Stokes. It's difficult to lose a parent at any age, especially someone who was so accomplished and lead such a full an interesting life. I never had the opportunity to meet him, but I am sure he lives on through you and your family.

  • Belleville
  • IL
Ed Saunders said : Guest Report Jan 11, 2018 at 4:08 PM

Shaun and Jay you have Joanie and my deepest sympathy on the loss of your. dad . Sorry we can't be there to give you guys a hug.

  • Lillian
  • AL
Debra Schneider said : Guest Report Jan 11, 2018 at 1:28 AM

So sorry for your loss Jay and Shaun

  • Fairview Heights
  • Il
Jennifer Jacknewitz said : Guest Report Jan 10, 2018 at 11:41 PM

My deepest sympathy to Jack's family. I had the opportunity to act with him in college, and he was a truly talented man.

  • Belleville
  • IL
Karen Killingsworth Potter said : Guest Report Jan 10, 2018 at 6:03 PM

So sad to hear about Jack. He was a dear man. He will always be in my heart.

  • Columbia
  • Missouri
joseph henderson said : Guest Report Jan 10, 2018 at 12:55 AM

sorry to hear about your dad jay

  • mason
  • illinois

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