James N. Chapman, a food service executive who was the backstage and front-office force behind the Westgate Dinner Theater, died Monday in Heartland of Waterville. He was 85.
The cause of death was unknown, but he may have had a stroke, his daughter Debbie said. He had Parkinson’s disease and in 2008 had a benign brain tumor removed.
Mr. Chapman retired in 1992 as a vice president after 30 years with what became V/Gladieux Enterprises, founded by catering and food service mogul Virgil Gladieux, whom Mr. Chapman idolized.
“Anything Mr. Gladieux said was the word,” Mr. Chapman’s daughter said, adding, “Mr. Gladieux had a lot of faith in my father.”
Mr. Gladieux’s companies at one time had food service contracts with airlines and airports nationwide. Mr. Chapman quickly became an assistant director for the airport division and, in 1968, was named vice president for airport services.
In 1974, theatrical producer Ken Shaw started a dinner theater with Mr. Gladieux in the Westgate Village Shopping Center. Mr. Chapman was put in charge — and remained when Mr. Shaw two years later sold his interest to Mr. Gladieux. Mr. Chapman, who liked to sing at home, was thrilled.
“He used to tell me that he missed his calling, that he always wanted to be in show business,” his daughter said. “So when that opportunity came, it was like a dream come true for Dad.”
He selected which shows the theater staged and then helped cast the shows. He oversaw every other detail required for the smooth operation of a theater that fed and then entertained 300-plus people for every performance.
He worked many evenings. He stopped in for Sunday matinees. Occasionally he sang in the wait staff’s preshow revues. He was especially fond of the theater’s productions of The Sound of Music.
“He just loved that atmosphere, and he really enjoyed his employees and the people in the cast,” his daughter said. “It became like a family over there. He always said show people were the best."
In 1980, he was named vice president of the Gladieux restaurant/theater division. The theater was sold to Mr. Shaw in 1987, who closed it in 1988. New owners reopened it in 1989, but it closed for good in 1991.
Mr. Chapman closed his career as manager of the 2,500-seat Masonic Auditorium and Great Hall, now known as the Stranahan Theater, for which V/Gladieux held the management contract.
He and his first wife, Mary Louise, lived for years in the Old Orchard neighborhood of West Toledo. She was seriously injured in a 1989 car crash, and he was her caregiver. The couple spent winters in Lake Wales, Fla.
He was born Oct. 13, 1927, in Akron to Irene and Warner Chapman. He served stateside in the Army and attended Ohio State University.
He and his first wife, Mary Louise Chapman, married in 1950. She died in January, 1999.
His marriage to the former Patricia Tighe ended in divorce.
Surviving are his daughters, Debbie Dey, Rebecca Carnes, and Jacqueline Kelly; nine grandchildren; seven great-grandchildren, and a great-great-grandson.
Memorial services will be at 1 p.m. today in the Neville Funeral Home, Southwest Chapel, where the family will greet friends after 11 a.m.
The family suggests tributes to the National Parkinson’s Foundation.
Contact Mark Zaborney at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6182.
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