John L. Peakes ’52

peakes

“He was a man, take him for all in all, I shall not look upon his like again.” Hamlet

A very bright light in the regional theater world went out on January 26, 2017, when John Peakes slipped peacefully away at his home in Merchantville, NJ, surrounded by people who loved him, an undramatic ending to a wonderfully entertaining life.

John grew up in Weston, MA, son of the late Herman Lawrence Peakes and Marion Jenny Chinn Peakes, and rascally younger brother of Doris (Kendall). He graduated from Williston Academy in 1952 and from Wesleyan University in 1956 where he joined Alpha Tau Omega fraternity. ROTC in college led him to service in the US Navy and colorful travels and adventures while serving his country. On a leave in NYC, he attended a couple of plays and realized that theater without a doubt was what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. So he did it. After his discharge as a Lieutenant JG, John attended the Boston Conservatory while teaching at Plymouth Academy commuting in a car so tiny, his students were able to pick it up and leave it on a porch roof. He moved to NYC where he worked in a couple of off-off Broadway shows but returned east to get his MFA from Tufts University performing and directing in many productions there before moving again to Iowa City to work on getting a doctorate in theater at the University of Iowa. Along the way he acquired his first wife Connie and their two sons, Jonathan in 1967 and Ian in 1969, three Siamese cats and a beagle named Irma la Dog. In Iowa they met Richard and Barbara Thomsen and decided to hell with those PhDs and moved to Michigan in 1966 to run the old barn summer theatre, The Ledges Playhouse in Grand Ledge. In 1970, the somewhat foolhardy decision was made to go year round first in a small church in Grand Ledge and finally in 1976 to the newly built BoarsHead Theater in the Center for the Arts in downtown Lansing, MI. Somehow, miraculously, it all worked. Over 300 productions later, many in which John either performed or directed, the little theater-that-could had earned strong community support and was a well-respected star in regional theater. Thomsen left for NY in the early 80s and in 1987, John’s second wife Judith became the BoarsHead’s indomitable Managing Director leaving John free to be Artistic Director and avid golfer. The pair won many awards including the Detroit Free Press Award for Life Time Achievement and the Michigan Governor’s Award for Art and Culture. They retired from their BoarsHead roles in 2003 and moved to Merchantville NJ just across the bridge from Philadelphia where John continued performing in several Philly theaters. His final performance however was back in Chelsea, Michigan at Jeff Bridge’s Purple Rose Theater where he played the old curmudgeon Norman in On Golden Pond with grace, humor, and great distinction. John himself was a strong and confident man and he brought to vivid life hundreds of unforgettable characters including Shakespeare’s Falstaff, Prospero, Hamlet, and King Lear, Dylan Thomas’s Captain Cat, and leading roles in Death of a Salesman, Waiting for Godot, The Lion in Winter, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and many, many more.

John was predeceased by cherished son, Jonathan, who died in 1984.

He is survived by Judith, his loving wife of over twenty years, Connie; his former wife of over twenty years; his son, Ian Merrill Peakes, an extraordinary actor in his own right; Ian’s equally talented wife, Karen (Krastel); grandsons, Owen Peakes and Carson Hunn; stepchildren, Amanda Hunn and Matt Gentry; sister, Doris Kendall; and a passel of charming nieces and nephews.

3 thoughts on “John L. Peakes ’52”

  1. So sorry to hear of John’s passing. I’m sure he’s organizing the men and women in heaven to have fun and enjoy life. We were very close at Williston and remain good friends through college years – he at Wesleyan and several of us at Amherst. He was always fun to be with.

    1. Sorry to hear of John’s passing. I’m sure he’s organizing men and women in Heaven to have fun and enjoy life. We were very close at Williston and remained good friends through college years – he at Wesleyan and several of us at Amherst. He was always fun to be with.

  2. When I moved into Ford Hall for my senior year at Williston, I was fortunate enough to room about three doors down from John Peakes. He was so gracious and friendly to me as a “newbie” at school that he helped make what could have been tough year a whole lot easier. Always smiling and with a great outlook on life, he was a beam of sunshine to those around him. He will be missed and yet remain in the memories of those of us who knew him back “when”.

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