Lawrence James Hill (Larry), former professor and chair of theatre arts, of Bloomington, Minn., died May 13, 2020 of dementia. He was 78, and had been a resident of Nine Mile Creek Senior Living for the past year.
Lawrence was born in Detroit, Michigan to James Cupit Hill and Lucy Norene (nee Sherman) Hill. He is survived by his wife, Carol (nee Schnaidt); daughters Stephanie Hill Simione and Deb Hill (Andrew) Unglaube of Bloomington; and four grandchildren, Zachary and Isabella Simione and Eli and Maxwell Unglaube. He is also survived by his brother, David (Alice) of Sterling Heights, Michigan; and sister, Beth (Ron) Chockley of Shelby Township. Predeceased by his brother, Tom.
Lawrence obtained a bachelor’s degree in European history in 1964, and a MA in Design and Technical Theatre in 1968 from Eastern Michigan University followed by a Ph.D. in Theatre History at the University of Minnesota in 1979.
He served as a professor of theatre arts at the University of North Dakota from 1969-1989 and from 1989-2002 at Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, North Carolina, including terms as a department head in both institutions. He directed over 20 theatre productions, was technical director for over 120 productions and shared scenic and lighting design duties during his career. He was a scholar of theatre design and aesthetics.
As theatre chair at the University of North Dakota, he spearheaded an exhibit of seminal Broadway designers that supported the career of playwright Maxwell Anderson–a former student at UND. In the 1980s, he joined with other scholars from around the country to document historic and extant theatres in Iowa, North and South Dakota and Minnesota. This was followed by two unique exhibits: The Twin City Scenic Co. and of theatre accoutrements used in the initiation of the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry titled Theatre of the Fraternity. Both were supported by funding from the National Endowment of the Humanities and were exhibited nationally.
Demanding but supportive of students, he provided opportunities and facilitated their research as well as introducing many to their professional organizations. He encouraged the study of history and literature for what it could bring to a student’s ability to work in the theatre. Believing that life skills were as important as theatre courses, he developed a course for seniors on personal finances and budgeting.
As a member of the United States Institute of Theatre Technology, he served for six years on the Board of Directors, five years as chair of the finance committee as well as treasurer for four years, and chair of programming for one of the Institute’s national conferences.
After retirement he and Carol moved to Athens, Georgia, returning to Minneapolis in late 2013. While in Athens, he served as an adjunct professor in the theatre department, reviewing portfolios of graduating seniors. He was treasurer for the Athens Area Habitat for Humanity. For the Jeannette Rankin Foundation, he was a member of the finance committee and read scholarship applications. After moving back to Minneapolis, he and Carol continued to read applications for the Jeannette Rankin Foundation.
While serving as a Lieutenant in the US Army in France from 1964-1966 he met his wife, Carol. They were married in Chinon, France. He and Carol enjoyed traveling particularly in Europe and the UK and they introduced their daughters to travel at a young age.
He played the trombone through high school and then picked it up again when in his 40s and played with several groups while living in North Dakota and North Carolina. He often said he had climbed out of the orchestra pit onto the stage. From Wagner and Mahler to Brubeck and Sondheim, he enjoyed a variety of music. He was president of the North Dakota Ballet Company for 5 years as well as designing the lighting for their performances.
We will miss his intellect and insights, his integrity, his sharp wit and his banter, and his loving embrace of his sons-in-law and grandchildren in addition to the love he shared with his wife and daughters.
Memorials may be directed to Volunteers Enlisted to Assist People (veap.org); the Jeannette Rankin Foundation Women’s Scholarship Foundation (rankinfoundation.org); or the Edward F. Kook Fund to support research, United States Institute for Theatre Technology (usitt.org).
Private interment at Fort Snelling National Cemetery with a celebration of his life to follow at a later date.