Nelda K. Balch, 1916-2011
NELDA K. BALCH
Nelda K. Balch died peacefully of natural causes May 5, 2011 in Englewood, Florida. Born Nelda Carolyn on July 13, 1916 in Kelly’s Island, Ohio, she moved at age 10 to Alpena, MI with her family, Robert & Lydia Kurtz & five siblings. After graduating from Alpena H.S., she earned a BA in Arts from Albion College & an MA in Theatre from U of MN. She was a member of Phi Beta Kappa & did post grad work at U of MI, U of MN, Northwestern and Yale. She taught speech & drama for six years before enlisting & serving as Director for three Aero-Clubs in England & France from 1943-45. After the War, she taught at Linfield College where she met & married Donald A. Balch in 1948. He was a great supporter of her theatre work for 21 years until his death in 1969.
They moved to Kalamazoo, MI in 1954 where she joined Kala. College for the next 27 years, becoming the Chair and then Full Professor of the Theatre Arts Dept. in 1969. She retired in 1981, at which time the Nelda K. Balch Playhouse was renamed in her honor. She continued her relationship with K as Professor Emerita & taught classes for the next four years. By 1985 she had directed & performed in over 200 productions. During her tenure she was instrumental in building the Dept. of Theatre & Communication Arts to its own individual & highly respected area of studies complete with a fine arts center, Dalton Theatre, Balch Playhouse, & the Dorothy Dalton Endowment for Theatre. She was known for undertaking challenging & avant-garde plays, including the first college presentation of Waiting for Godot in 1958. She was Founder & Managing Director for 25 years of the K College Festival Playhouse where she was honored in 1999 when the Playhouse premiered her play Return Engagement, a Dorothy Dalton tribute. She was Director & Reader for the Faculty Readers from 1960-92, skillfully taking fiction, biography or other bits & pieces & creating readers’ theatre from them. She also assisted the US State Dept. with visits from theatre professionals from the Middle East.
While in Kala., Ms. Balch contributed articles to Notable Women in American Theatre, wrote & directed several plays for the Art Institute where she was a member, & was featured in Emancipated Spirits – Portraits of Kalamazoo College Women. She was a Director & Reader of Noontide Tales in 1985 & for several years thereafter, in addition to serving twice as guest Prof. & Dir. at Berea College. She was a member of the Kalamazoo Arts Council & recipient of its Community Arts Medal in 1985, as well as being honored with the 1990 Albion College Distinguished Alumni Award. She served on the play-choosing comm. for Civic Theatre, was active with AAUW (Milwood Methodist Church) & the Amer. Assn. of Univ. Women, and volunteered at senior services.
After moving to Venice, FL in the early 1990’s, she was active in the Friends of Art Center & directed & participated in Public Library’s Readers’ Theatre, in addition to presenting several plays. She enjoyed painting, walking, playing the organ, swimming, writing & traveling (which she did every year with her sister Marian), as well as serving as a volunteer at the Green Butterfly Thrift Shop.
Nelda is survived by her loving sister & two brothers, Marian Wilcox of Rio Rancho, NM, Donald Kurtz of Alpena, MI, & Robert Kurtz & his wife Bridget of Fairfield Glade, Tennessee. She is also survived and fondly remembered by several nieces & nephews & many former students, colleagues, friends, & others whose lives she touched. In addition to her parents & her husband, she was preceded in death by her brother & wife, Melvin & Elaine Kurtz of Venice, FL; her sister & husband, Florence & Cass Shalla, her sisters-in-law, Eleanor Kurtz & Margaret “Peg” Kurtz, all of Alpena, MI; & her brother-in-law, Raymond Wilcox of Fairview, OK.
Memorial contributions may be made to Albion College for the Lydia A. Kurtz Theatre Enrichment Series Endowment Fund with the Farley Funeral Home acting as custodians of the funds, or forwarded directly to Albion College, Institutional Advancement, 611 Porter Street, Albion, MI 49224 – Attn. S. Duvall. Condolences may be made online at www.farleyfuneralhome.com or sent to the family c/o Marian Wilcox, 5724 Cibola Dr. NE, Rio Rancho, NM 87144. A private inurnment will be held at Mount Ever-Rest Cemetery in Kalamazoo, Michigan.