A Tribute to John Tolch, CTFA Trustee - CTFA President’s Tribute

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A Tribute to JT
It usually began with a smile so wide and bright you could see it across a crowded room, followed by a warm enveloping hug. Then, if you were really lucky, you would sit down together for a deep, cogent insightful conversation, over a libation, about a play, speech, conference panel of presentation about TYA (Theatre for Young Audiences) in the United States or in any of a dozen countries throughout the world. You would leave that conversation with a brighter smile than his, brimming with enthusiasm and positive energy.

On June 12th, Charles John Tolch, (JT to so many who loved him) passed away peacefully in the company of “his girls”, beloved daughters Jennifer and Johna. JT was an esteemed professor of Theatre at the University of Wisconsin for almost 60 years. He was an accomplished director who took Snoopy to Yugoslavia, and planted Dandelions at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. He was an active participant in service of the major professional and academic theatre organizations nationally and internationally; as a long-time Board member of CTA (Children’s Theatre Association) and Editor of CTR (Children’s Theatre Review) shepherding that publication from a modest newsletter to a serious scholarly publication. For many years he did yeoman’s service for the Board of Trustees of the Childrens Theatre Foundation of America-CTFA, the only US foundation to exclusively support theatre artists and organizations devoted to children and youth. He was also a devoted family man, blessed with a 72-year marriage to his wife Barbara, and a steadfast friend to the legion of friends and colleagues who mourn his passing.

While we mourn the loss of our colleague, teacher, mentor, friend, we celebrate all he gave to the field of TYA. We are all better for having known him.

He is remembered:
By Jo Beth Gonzalez for his humor, dignity and intelligent insights.
By Xan Johnson for offering feedback to and cheering on his youth ensemble in Portage, WI.
By Sandy Asher for his unfailing warmth and kindness.
By Kat Matassarin for dancing at conference receptions and cheerful conversations.
By Mary Hall Surface as a gift to the field.
By Carol North for his generosity and for being so doggone funny.
By Roger Bedard as a passionate cheerleader, morale booster, and advocate for the field, for his students and for his fellow artists and educators.

Please honor John’s legacy with a gift:
John Tolch and his daughters have designated the Childrens Theatre Foundation of America-CTFA as their desired recipient for memorial contributions in his honor. The past several months have dealt a savage blow to TYA artists and organizations. This kind gesture is absolutely in keeping with JT’s legendary generosity and compassion and could not come at a more crucial time for the field that John so loved.

Suzan Zeder, President

(Photo of John Tolch at CTFA's 2010 Orlin Corey Medallion Awards Event)

Charles John Tolch, Ph. D. of Madison, Wisconsin, and Naples, Florida, passed away peacefully on June 12, 2020, in the company of ‘his girls' in Naples, Fl. He lived a wonderful and rewarding life.

John was born July 28, 1925, in Sigel, Illinois, the youngest of 3 children of Charles William Tolch and Lulo Bell (Plummer) Tolch. John and Barbara Ruth Taylor were married May 31, 1945. They met at a USO dance while John was stationed in San Angelo, Texas, as a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Air Corps and celebrated 72 years of a loving marriage filled with many adventures traveling the world.

Professor Tolch received his Bachelor of Science degree from Eastern Illinois University in 1949, majoring in Speech. He was awarded the Distinguished Alumni Award from EIU in 1985. In 1950, he completed his Master of Arts degree in Theatre from Michigan State University. After teaching in Minot, North Dakota, and Lincoln, Nebraska, he completed a Ph. D. degree at Ohio State University in 1959 and joined the Theatre Arts and Drama Department at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

He reached the rank of Professor and served as Assistant Dean of the College of Letters and Science, chair of the Faculty Advising Service, and head of the Student Orientation, Advising, and Registration (SOAR) program. He also was Faculty in Residence in Coventry, England during 1980.

John was an active participant in the work of several national and international theatre organizations. He was a Trustee of the Children’s Theatre Foundation of America; supervisor of the University of Wisconsin Theatre Drama Teachers’ Education Program, editor of the journal “The Children’s Review”, and a Board Member of the Children’s Theatre Association of America for many years. During a sabbatical leave in 1979, he studied children’s’ theatre in Russia and Eastern Europe.

Throughout his long career, he was affectionately known amongst his students and colleagues as JT. He directed many plays and musicals and was a prominent member of the International Association of Theatre For Children And Young People. In 1983, he directed the play, “Snoopy”, which was the only US representative at the International Theatre Festival in Schibnk, Yugoslavia. His production of the play “Dandelion” won high acclaim and was selected for performance at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.
John was a devoted family man and a loyal and steadfast friend. His numerous interests and hobbies included gardening, wine making, picture framing, bee keeping, motor cycle riding, and being a Badger fan. John and Barbara lived in Madison, WI. for 59 years and enjoyed the many riches the city offered. In retirement years they were ‘snowbirds’ in their winter home in Naples, FL.

John is survived by his two daughters, Jennifer (Tolch) Knight, Naples, FL and Johna Tolch and wife Susan Kitchin of Scotts Valley, CA; a grand-daughter, Natalie Taylor, Knight, Naples, FL; many loving nieces, nephews, and cousins; and a wealth of friends and colleagues. He was predeceased by his wife Barbara, an infant daughter Janet Lou; two sisters, Vera (Tolch) Queen and Beulah (Tolch) Walker; and Jennifer’s husband, Malcolm Knight.

A celebration of life will be held at a later date.

Donations in honor of Professor Tolch may be made to The Childrens Theatre Foundation of America (www.childrenstheatrefoundation.org).
(Biographical information provided by John Tolch's family.)