ashland.news
April 14, 2024

Noted arts patron James Collier, 85, dies

James “Jim” M. Collier
August 25, 2023

Longtime cultural philanthropist supported dozens of causes; passed away Thursday

By Damian Mann for Ashland.news

Philanthropist James “Jim” M. Collier, who was laser-focused on supporting and promoting the performing arts in Jackson County, died Thursday, Aug. 24, at the age of 85.

Over the years, Collier’s patronage has helped support a variety of dance and theatrical performing groups as well as the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the Craterian Theater at The Collier Center for the Performing Arts in Medford and Camelot Theatre in Talent, which also bears his name.

“He will be missed,” said Kamilah Long, Interim Director of Advancement Strategy and Cultivation at OSF.

She remembers Collier having a flair for theatricality, holding his own memorial in Medford several years before his death.

“He had it mapped out,” Long said.

Besides supporting the arts in the Rogue Valley, Collier, a longtime resident of the Rogue Valley Manor, sponsored orchestras and opera companies in his hometown of Des Moines, Iowa, as well as in Bakersfield, California.

He was nominated as Outstanding Individual Philanthropist of Central Iowa in 2006.

He was sometimes called “The Piano Man” after donating three concert grand and four upright pianos to various organizations in the Rogue Valley.

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s ticket sales center is called the James M. Collier Box Office to recognize Collier’s decades-long support and attendance.

Collier, who had received an inheritance, retired to Medford after teaching high school English in Delano, California.

James Collier in a playful photo posted with an Southern Oregon University article about his receiving the inaugural Oregon Arts Medallion in 2017.

Friends introduced him to the opera, and he made frequent trips to Los Angeles to see performances of world-class singers. He often went to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, a passion he had shared with his students in California.

Long remembers her son, Navon Encarnacion, was an usher at the Shakespeare Festival and helped Collier with his mobility issues during a performance. Afterwards, Collier called the Festival to say how helpful Encarnacion was in getting him in and out of his seat. At the time, Collier didn’t realize Encarnacion was Long’s son.

Al Densmore, former Medford mayor and Manor resident, said he’d known Collier for about four years.

“He was a larger-than-life figure,” he said. “He was laser focused on donations — as long as it was for the arts.”

Densmore remember Collier’s room had lots of sugary treats available for anyone who would stop by.

“I can’t think of Jim Collier without a sugar high,” he said. “He was a treat all of the time.”

Densmore’s wife, Sally Densmore, said she remembers Collier giving money to almost every theater company in the area.

“He always had a smile on his face,” she said. “He was a jolly, jolly guy.”

Ashland resident Doreen O’Skea, who has helped local organizations including OSF with their philanthropic efforts, said, “Jim had the ability to bring people into his life who had deep platonic friendships with them.”

She said he will be missed by so many people who knew him in the valley and were inspired by his gregarious and welcoming nature.

“It just breaks my heart,” O’Skea said.

The James Morrison Collier Theatre Building, home to Camelot Theatre in Talent, is one of several arts-oriented buildings named in his honor in the Rogue Valley. Cornelius Matteo photo

Local performing arts centers throughout the valley have honored him by bearing his name on various buildings.

She remembers The Craterian flew in Bernadette Peters for the grand renaming of the theater in Collier’s honor.

O’Skea said Collier enjoyed sharing his love of language and Shakespeare.

“He loved good succulent dialog,” she said.

He also enjoyed his wide-ranging support of the arts in the valley.

“He was just tickled at using his good fortune to help other people,” she said.

Neva Hastings, a close friend who also lives at the Manor, said they met about 14 years ago and became fast friends, both enjoying a penchant for “clowning around.”

“We didn’t want to be lovers, but we liked to be friends with each other,” she said. “Sometimes I called him ‘hun,’ or sometimes I called him Jim. He made the perfect brother.”

They met while they were both volunteering at the health center at the Manor and found out that they both belonged to different Masonic orders.

Hastings lost a son to diabetes, and Collier also had diabetes, so she was particularly concerned about his health.

“I didn’t want him to do things that would make his life shorter,” she said.

On his 80th birthday, a busload of friends went to Las Vegas with Collier to have a rousing celebration.

Hastings remembers a casket being rolled out, and a woman jumped out of it doing a Hawaiian dance.

She said Collier was very social at the Manor and was fond of greeting newcomers.

“Everybody here is helping everybody live one more day,” said Hastings, who is 94. “He stood out for being kind and welcoming, and making everybody feel like they did the right thing being here.”

Hastings said she sat at his bedside the day before he died.

“I said goodbye to him the day before,” she said. “I held his hand.”

Reach freelance writer Damian Mann at dmannnews@gmail.com.

The Craterian Theater marquee went dark for 24 hours in memory of James Collier.
Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.

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