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E. Mike Dobbins

       E. Mike Dobbins, 68, of East Peoria, IL, formerly of Normal, IL, passed away peacefully on Wednesday, July 10, 2013, at OSF Saint Francis Hospital in Peoria, IL, after suffering a cerebral aneurysm.

     A memorial service will be 4:00 p.m., Saturday – August 3, 2013 at Calvert & Metzler Memorial Home 1115 E. Washington St., Bloomington, IL 61701, with Rev. Scott Carnes officiating. Visitation will be 2 – 4 p.m., Saturday August 3, at the memorial home. Inurnment will be private at Evergreen Memorial Cemetery Columbarium, Bloomington. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that memorial contributions be made to Heartland Theatre Company, P.O. Box 1833, Bloomington, IL, 61702-1833 (


     His memory will be honored by the many, many hearts he touched as a longtime educator.

Mike was the Managing Artistic Director at Heartland Theatre Company of Normal, IL, where he had served since 1998. Recently, he was an instructor at Heartland Community College in Normal, IL and a Trainer and Facilitator at Project Oz in Bloomington, IL. Mike earned his MFA in Directing from the University of Illinois in 1987, and his MA and BS in Music and Theatre from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 1968 and 1969.

     Mike was born on March 5, 1945, in Durango, CO, the son of the late Lemuel and Rena "Rusty" Newby Dobbins. He married Gail Donna Van Dyke on December 31, 1975, in Lincoln, Neb. Surviving are his wife, three children, Stephen Michael (Gina) Dobbins of Louisville, KY, Jason Michael (Lisa) Dobbins of Tampa, FL, and Melissa (Mark) Buchmann of Wilmette, IL; and seven grandchildren, Kristen and Carmel Dobbins, Denton and Liam Dobbins, and Devonne, Sarah, and Michael Buchmann. He was preceded in death by his brother, Larry Dobbins.

     Prior to his tenures at Heartland Theatre Company and Project Oz, Mike was the Artistic Director of the Lincoln Community Playhouse (Lincoln, Neb.), Associate Professor of Speech and Theatre at Millikin University (Decatur, IL), Director of Theatre at Highland Community College (Freeport, IL), a Theatre instructor at Lincoln East High School (Lincoln, Neb.), and managed his own dinner theatres. Mike staged over 400 plays and musicals in his lifetime during his academic and professional career, and also as Sabbatical Replacement at Nebraska Wesleyan University (Lincoln, Neb.), Doane College (Crete, Neb.) and during Guest Director positions, at Kohler Fine Arts Center (Sheboygan, WI) and Northampton Community College (Northampton, PA).

     Mike was the honored recipient of the National Endowment for Humanities Summer Fellowship to study Shakespeare at Princeton, NJ, in 1978, and was named Speech and Theatre Teacher of the Year for the State of Nebraska in 1973. A veteran member of the Illinois Theatre Association, he served on the Executive Committee of ITA for four years and was instrumental in originating the Playwriting interest wing from 1978-1982. Mike was respected for his work and accomplishments during his 21 years with Project Oz. Some of his achievements during that time include the development of several acknowledged training programs and participation in presentations on drug abuse and prevention for conferences in Chicago, IL, Elgin, IL, and Oakhurst, NJ, and service as Chair for the Illinois Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Association Prevention Steering Committee (1997-1999) and as Chair for the Persons with Disabilities Subcommittee for the State of Illinois IAADA (1993-1997).


Memorial Tribute Video:



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  • Kathryn Gillespie
  • Saturday, July 13, 2013

I will forever see a twinkle in his eye when I say "2 for Lipschitz on the aisle". He had a gift for helping people who struggle to find a niche in this world and that world is a sadder place without him.

The notion of heaven that I have created in my mind shows Mike and Michael having the deepest conversation about their shared art peppered with raunchy and inappropriate humor.

All the world's a stage....................

Peace in the days ahead,
  • Deanna Frautschi
  • Saturday, July 13, 2013
Mike and Gail Dobbins have been the forces behind keeping that wonderful gem of a theatre --Heartland -- going. Mike will be great missed by all of we Heartland regulars. His famous "store bought water and cookies" lead in made us laugh as did his 10 minute play intro that "If you don't like one, it will be over in 10 minutes."

Prayers go to Gail and their families. As for Mike, I have no doubt he is already directing some other fabulous out-of-this- world production.
  • Saturday, July 13, 2013
Dear Gail,
Bill and I were in Freeport when we heard the sad news. I just found the information about his memorial service, and am so sorry we have missed it. I regret we haven't seen more of the two of you in recent years, but we feel your loss very deeply. Accept my virtual hug for now, until we see each other again.
Love from Bill and Chris Thomas
  • Nancy Komlanc
  • Saturday, July 13, 2013
My deepest sympathies to Gail, the children, and grandchildren.
  • Carol Baker
  • Saturday, July 13, 2013
Dearest Gail and family,

I am so saddened to hear Mike is gone from us. Please know my thoughts and prayers are with you at this time of loss and grief. I will always remember Mike with high regard and much fondness.
  • Kevin Yale Vernon
  • Saturday, July 13, 2013
I also took it as one of my great honors that Mike respected my work as a theatre teacher, and allowed me to direct at Heartland. He will be deeply missed.
  • Rachel
  • Sunday, July 14, 2013
What a loss to our community!

Prayers to the family, friends and Mike's wide circle of acquaintances and supporters.
  • Sunday, July 14, 2013
Mike was a mentor, confident and extraordinary teacher. I had planned to visit him twice last year and am sorry to say it never happened. If not for him and hid belief in me my life would have turned out considerably different. A truly giving man and a great soul. Thanks for everything Mike.
  • chrys moore
  • Sunday, July 14, 2013
Dobbins got me thru High School (East- class of '71). Without his encouragement & interest those yr.s would have been much more difficult. He cast me in several productions during that time & we became friends outside the classroom as well. I was not lucky enough to be able to go to Europe with him, but he helped me the following summer. He came to my house for dinner & charmed my parents into allowing me to go anyway. When I expressed reservations about attending the drama studies in Southampton, England without him, he said, "You'll be fine, You're a gutsy broad."; a compliment I hold dear to this day. Altho' It has been many yr.s since we fell out of touch, he is one of the very few teachers whose name & instruction I've not forgotten. My own beloved husband passed away a few yr.s ago, so I understand the loss his wife, children, family, friends & students are enduring, but I've NO doubt he left them with lessons that will cont. to influence generations to come. He's holding auditions in heaven right now if I miss my guess, & having discussions with Shakespear over wording - as well as casting women in his latest avant-guard production!! The world is a less colorful place without his presence.
  • Richard Terrell
  • Sunday, July 14, 2013
Rest in peace, Mike.
And thanks for giving me two very memorable experiences in theatre while you were in Nebraska—"Hamlet" at Doane College, and "Child's Play" at Lincoln Community Playhouse.
  • Ms. Charly D. Miller
  • Sunday, July 14, 2013
I am an OLD-TYME friend of Mike Dobbins.
He was my theater instructor and director when I attended Jr and Sr High School at East High in Lincoln, Nebraska -- circa '68 to '74.
He and his first wife, Sandy, were the chaperones of a Summer Foreign Study Tour that I went on with them to London and Europe, in the summer of '73.
I will miss Mike soooooo very much!
He was an amaZing educator and director, as well as being a truly fine human being.

My heartfelt sympathies to Sandy and Gail, and their kidz, and all of his grandkidz.

Sincerely Yours, Ms. Charly D. Miller
  • Karen kissel
  • Sunday, July 14, 2013
My prayers and wishes to the Dobbins family. He will always be Mr. Dobbins to me. Having been a theatre student with Mr. Dobbins at Lincoln East High School. What an ironic surprise when I ran into Mr. Dobbins at the Heartland Theatre after a few years of moving to Bloomington myself. He was a creative and talented soul, Thank you Mr. Dobbins!
  • Carolyn Treadway
  • Sunday, July 14, 2013
Dear Gail and family:

You, and we, have lost a great light. He did so much for Heartland and for the world.
He will be deeply missed. You will be in my thoughts and prayers as you go through the hard, hard transition to life without Mike.

Carolyn Treadway
  • Bernadette Stocking
  • Monday, July 15, 2013
Dear Gail, I am so sorry for you and your family's loss. You are in my prayers as you remember and honor Mike. Love, Bernadette
  • Doug Osterloo
  • Monday, July 15, 2013
So sorry to hear of Mike's passing. I had him (and also Gail) as a teacher when he taught at Highland Community College in the late 70s and remember him as a caring and fun person.
  • Galen Kleinwolterink
  • Monday, July 15, 2013
Gail what a nice obituary of Mike. Gail continue to know you are in my prayers. Love Galen
  • Jeff Davies
  • Monday, July 15, 2013
Gail - Sorry to learn of Mike's death. He did so much good with the 68 years God gave him.
Blessings for you and your family.

Jeff Davies
  • Edwin Sargent
  • Monday, July 15, 2013
My thoughts and prayers are with the Dobbins family during this difficult time. My "Twin" as we commonly called one another will be deeply missed! May you find comfort in knowing that he is resting peacefully!
  • Linda & Bob Goodall
  • Monday, July 15, 2013
Gail and family: We were so shocked and saddened to hear of Mike's death. It's im-possible to fathom how you and your family are coping with his sudden (and, I suspect) unex-pected passing. While we know that all of us will face death of a loved one at some time, it doesn't make things easier to accept. We hope that your sadness at this time will soon be re-placed with the happy memories of your life to-gether. Time will help you get past the sadness even though you will never get over it. Mike was a good and talented man who will be missed by many theatre patrons and by what the two of you did to build a viable program to Heartland Theatre and our community. Bob and Linda
  • Ruth Wantling
  • Monday, July 15, 2013
Gail & family; I am so saddened that Mike has left his family, friends, projects, his community and all that his big heart held precious. This community has lost a good giving man who gave to & enriched his community and all who had any contact with Mike. I can not imagine your loss - the huge hole his passing leaves in your life. Please know that I have so appreciated you both. Whenever he talked w/me I felt like the only person around, as he was focused on who he was engaged with. His gentle intensity always left me feeling special. Please know that I hold you in my heart, Gail. I wish you find what peace you can in your grief. I wish that your life stories with Mike will help you through this sad time. Gentle Love, Ruth Wantling
  • John Guinty
  • Monday, July 15, 2013
I was honoured to know Mike while attending the University of Nebraska from 1962 to 1966. Throughout my time there, I remember him dearly as a friend, a great listener, and pillar of strength in times of need. I am grieved that I never saw him again after I left Nebraska to teach in Sioux City, Iowa, and ultimately Montreal; I was heartened to learn of all he accomplished in his succeeding years. His family cannot know how much I honoured his memory all these years. I pray now for the progress of his soul in the Next World, and for his family's continued success in this world.
  • Sandra Lindberg, Samuel Galewsky
  • Monday, July 15, 2013
Dear Gail and family,

We just heard that Mike has passed away! Sam and I feel very sad and offer our condolences to you. We thank you for holding the August 3rd memorial gathering.
  • Marykay Verzatt
  • Monday, July 15, 2013
What a wonderful man! I feel very fortuate to have known him. My love to his family.
  • Sally Bailey
  • Wednesday, July 17, 2013
Those of us associated with Heartland Theater will miss Mike a lot and we are here for Gail in any way possible, I am sure. I will miss his smiling face and his cheerfulness when introducing a play or just greeting me as a Heartland Volunteer!
  • Michael Burgan
  • Wednesday, July 17, 2013
My condolences to Gail and the Dobbins family. Like many others, I'm sure, I had the good fortune to meet Mike when two of my plays were selected for production/reading at Heartland. His dedication to theater--and especially new works--was palpable and much appreciated by the playwrights who got to work with him. He will be missed, and I'm sure for much more than his theatrical talents.
  • Anica Brown
  • Thursday, July 18, 2013
I am saddened to hear of Mr. Dobbins death recently in the Lincoln, NE paper. I was a student of his in the early 70's, having been part of a pantomime troupe he formed, in his theatre classes, and participated in many of his plays at East High School where I attended. Mr. Dobbins was so upbeat, energetic, crazy, fun, and full of life. He really stretched our souls to become artists on stage, and it was exciting to watch him work as we rehearsed. My taste for theatre was definitely inspired by his enthusiasm. Later, in 1988 I believe, he was a visiting director for the Community Playhouse and I auditioned for a part in "My Fair Lady" and was chosen as one of the maids in Prof. Higgins household. I felt so fortunate to work under him again during that time. His love of theatre was always paramount and he exceled in bringing out the best in every actor. No doubt he is on the biggest stage of his career and directing to thousands with his big smile and zest for life! My condolences to his family, friends, and co-workers.
  • Loraine Ferrara
  • Thursday, July 18, 2013
Mike was a teacher and mentor. The knowledge he passed on to me have enhanced my life for over 40 years. Condolences to his family, theater family and students. We know you are "pounding the boards" up there, Mike.
  • The Hoover Family - Allen, Kari, Susanne and Britt
  • Friday, July 19, 2013
Melissa, Mark and the entire Dobbins family - We are so sorry for your loss. Our prayers are with you all during this very difficult time. Melissa - your father was an amazing man who shared his talents with so many. His memory will live on and he will be part of all the many people he has touched. With all our love - Susanne, Allen, Kari and Britt Hoover
  • Susan Pierce
  • Friday, July 19, 2013
I was shocked and saddened when I saw this in Lincoln's newspaper. In 1970 I was a student at Lincoln East High School who went with Mr. Dobbins and other students to Europe for 6 weeks. He was a lot of fun always and I cherish the kind comments he wrote in my high school yearbook. I also remember him coming into the Dairy Queen near the school when I worked there, usually with his good friend Dick McGowan, another East High teacher. Unfortunately I hadn't seen Mr. Dobbins since the 1970s but often wished that I could see him again. A few years ago I did manage to "find him" through the Heartland Theatre Company website and we sent a couple email messages to each other. I AM SO SORRY for your loss. He was still so young.
  • Matt Streitmatter
  • Monday, July 22, 2013
Gail - Kim and I were so sorry to hear about Mike. We both have great memories of him and always enjoyed watching plays at the Heartland Theatre. I can't imagine how many lives he touched, but I know that he will be missed by many! You and your family are in our thoughts and prayers and you have our deepest sympathy. Even though we can't see a reason for what has happened, we can have faith that there is a reason in His plan.

God bless... Love, Matt & Kim
  • Ann Sandin
  • Saturday, July 27, 2013
Mr. Dobbins transformed my high school experience from zzzzzz to !!!!! His approach to teaching and directing had a profound influence on my teen self, especially in terms of learning to face challenges - on and off stage.

Over the years, I've thought of him often. I've stolen lines from him to use with my own students (that one about boredom being a sign of laziness never fails to impress)...On August 3, I'll be thinking of him again and sending loving grateful energy to Gail and everyone at his memorial.
  • johnmulvaney
  • Monday, July 29, 2013
as an early disciple of the mike dobbins school of reality and fun at lincoln east high school'iwill always appreciate the always present good humor and wit he brought with him every single day. mike was a defacto older brother figure for many of us, and he helped keep us reasonably sane and focused during some difficult high school days'may each tribute mike receives reflect the awareness he had in each positive interaction with his students and his friends.....
john mulvaney class of 1971 lincoln east high school
  • Diane Mather
  • Monday, July 29, 2013
Gail, not a day has gone by that Merlin and I haven't thought about Mike, you and the kids. He was such a special person and I only wish we had taken the time to know him better. Our hearts are heavy for you. I know what a difference he made in your life. He was a special husband and father and did so much to make our community a better one. Gail, we send our love. Let us know if there is anything we can do. Diane & Merlin Mather
  • Mary Jean Blumenstock
  • Saturday, August 03, 2013
My deepest sympathy to the entire family at the loss of Mike. I have wonderful memories of time spent with Him. I teased him that I was taking credit for getting him into theater. I needed another male for a one act play competition and dragged him off the coach in University High commons area into rehearsal. Years later he called me when I was teaching speech at Pius High School and asked me if I would arrange for him to do a project at school for his Masters program. Well, the rest is history-we put on the schools first musical production "Li’l Abner". The school has had a musical every year since then. I also remember sending him a rose and attending opening night of his first production as Director of Lincoln Community Playhouse. I had hoped to attend the memorial to share these thoughts and many more, but because of my husband's health I will not be able to attend. May your warm memories of Mike help you now and in the future by keeping him close.
  • Vicki Dobbins Costi
  • Saturday, August 03, 2013
I have loved reading all the tributes. Regretably, I had not seen my 1st cousin in many years, but remember the times we were together with such joy. When the Dobbins men got together it was always a party.

I can't quite wrap the Mr. Dobbins title on Mike,that was his Dad and mine. Oh, and I remember that he had to call his brother Larry "Mr. Dobbins" when he was his teacher in high school.

What a life well lived, so many people he influenced, so many loved him.

My heartfelt sympathys to Gail, and his children and grancchildren. Your loss is enormous. May God give you some peace and comfort.
  • Donna
  • Saturday, August 03, 2013
What a great guy, that Mike Dobbins. I will miss him so....

Love and wonderful memories to you Gail, and your family.
  • erin barnard
  • Sunday, July 20, 2014
I just heard of Mike's passing....he was a wonderful man.
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