Honoring Tradition.
Celebrating Life.

Dr. Roger Ellis

May 18, 1943 - April 13, 2024
Grand Rapids, MI


Life Story / Obituary


Dr. Roger Barry Ellis passed away peacefully at his home in Grand Rapids, MI on April 13, 2024 with his family lovingly by his side. He was 80 years old.


Born May 18, 1943, to Mary & Daniel Ellis in Chicago, Illinois, Roger spent his early years on the shores of Lake Michigan before moving to San Jose, California at the age of 8 following the untimely death of his father.


As a young boy, Roger’s mother needed his help running several boarding houses for college-aged girls attending San Jose State University in the 1950s, which seemed to be the genesis of his lifelong passion of caring for others and making everyone feel welcome. During this time, Roger lived a typical, mischievous teen life in California spending time with a close pack of friends who camped and adventured together. Urban legend has it that a masked avocado-chucking teenager would appear after sunset, pranking officers driving by in their cruisers. The identity of the avocado avenger was never revealed.


Roger’s mother soon married her second husband, George Grimm, who owned a walnut orchard that he tended himself. Roger worked various odd jobs to earn money, including fruit canneries which began his lifelong love of canned fruit cocktail in syrup.

As a young man, Roger loved classic literature, from the dramatic flare of kingly soliloquies to the wailing tragedies of Greek heroes. This inspired his pursuit of performing arts, earning a Bachelor and a Master of Arts degrees from the University of California system where he met his lifelong best friend, Stu Halliday, who also joined him for a year abroad studying in Italy. It was through this friendship that Roger met his first love, Stu’s sister Ann Halliday, who he married in August 1967. While working on his PhD, Roger was drafted into Vietnam in 1969 and, despite being a conscientious objector, he dutifully served in the 101st Airborne Army division where he earned several medals and citations before being honorably discharged in 1974.


Following his service in Vietnam, Roger and Ann lived for a time in Lake Tahoe, Truckee, Berkeley, and San Francisco, California where they could often be found hanging around Golden Gate Park with the likes of Jerry Garcia and Grace Slick. Their character set expanded in April 1973 with the arrival of their first child, a daughter named Alexandra. A few years later, Roger accepted a position as a communications & dramatic arts Professor at Grand Valley State University, relocating the family to West Michigan. It was here that their second cast member, a son named Jeremy, arrived on stage in June 1977. Soon afterward, Roger completed his doctorate program and earned a PhD from UC Berkeley before his marriage to Ann ended in divorce a few years later. This, however, proved not to be an ending but merely an intermission while the stage was reset to tell the second half of Roger’s life story.


While managing a theater production in 1990, Roger met Rosemary Reister and it was love at first sight. No, really! Within six months they were married, bought a boat and adventured the world together before being joined by Roger’s final cast member in November 1995, a son named Joshua. Married for over 33 years before his passing, Roger’s imprint on the world of performance art expanded significantly when he founded the largest- and longest-lasting Shakespeare Theatre Festival in Michigan, served on several boards and festival committees across five continents, and continued appearing in performances himself. Through his work, Roger inspired an entirely new generation of performance artists who are now making their mark all over the world. As if that wasn’t enough, Roger made it his personal mission to help grow Rose’s own burgeoning fine arts business, elevating her work to international acclaim. Roger believed that all art serves to tell a story and he loved to debate the meaning of art with anyone who had a point of view.

An avid outdoorsman, Josh and Roger could often be found fishing, kayaking, camping, and spending time outdoors together as he also did with Alexandra and Jeremy in their childhood years. He was very passionate about Boy Scouts of America, serving as an adult leader who proudly watched his son move up the ladder, eventually earning the rank of Eagle Scout.


Roger remained strong-willed and stubborn through his final act and will be remembered for his big heart, endless monologues, terrible driving, obsession with honking the car horn, quirky sense of humor, affinity for crazy music, and making super weird comments on our Facebook pages. But, most of all, Roger will be remembered for the way he empowered everyone in his family to be a better version of themselves by virtue of his unconditional love. Thank you, Dad, and may the curtain never close on your amazing show wherever it may be playing next.


Roger is survived by a large and blended family of love that includes his wife, Rosemary Ellis, his three children - Alexandra Ellis, Jeremy Ellis-Hallama (Jonathan), and Joshua (Emily) Ellis - as well as his brother, David Ellis (Dona). Roger also held great affection for Rose’s daughter, Staci Mande (John), and their two children.

The family will hold a celebration of life for Roger on May 4, 2024 - please contact Allie Ellis (Allisa12@gmail.com) for additional details.

Roger was not only loved by family, friends, and everyone whose life he touched, he was also a top-respected and sought-after professional in the arts. His work and accomplishments spanned several decades, and five continents. Everywhere Roger went, he made a lasting mark, especially in our hearts.

To view Roger’s complete Curriculum Vitae on his professional website, please visit www.ellisart.net.

Selected Accomplishments:

Active Duty in the U.S. Army 101st Airborne Division achieving rank of Specialist E5

Awarded a Purple Heart and The Army Commendation Medal

BA and MA from University of California, Santa Clara

PhD in Dramatic Arts from University of California, Berkeley

Granted Professor Emeritus of Music, Theatre and Dance from GVSU