In Memory of



Obituary for Donald Polzin


Feb. 12, 1930 - Sept. 14, 2022

THIENSVILLE - Donald E. Polzin, age 92, Thiensville/Sister Bay passed away on Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2022. He was born February 12, 1930 in Chicago Illinois at the Ravenswood Hospital to Elmer W. Polzin and Florence E. Thompson.

Raised in Chicago with his older sister Betty (Amador), he spent several summers in Bay City, Michigan during the depression when times were tough. His father had a photography store and his mother worked as an accountant. Early in life he became famous as newspapers all over the country ran a photo of him being held by Jack Oakie, a famous actor in the 1930’s who played Napoleon in Chaplin’s “Great Dictator”. The Polzin family emigrated from Germany before the turn of the century with Don’s grandfather joining the Spanish-American War in Cuba as the story goes. The Thompson family was Swedish and the North side of Chicago was the center of Swedish life. His grandmother on his mother’s side was 6 years old during the great Chicago Fire and made a recording of her experience. They could see the fire coming and buried the furniture in the back yard.

Donald’s life-long love of learning sent him on an adventurous path from Senn High School in Chicago where he played trombone and competed in forensics to Illinois College in Jacksonville, Illinois where he was initially interested in a career in science, but migrated to major in Speech and Dramatics. He graduated as a member of Phi Beta Kappa for academic excellence and was a member of the Debate Team and the IC Hilltoppers. He completed a masters in Speech at the University of Illinois while working football games. During the Korean War he was sent to Tokyo, Japan as a counterintelligence agent. He returned to Illinois to teach at Illinois College and then pursued a Ph.D at the University of Iowa. His dissertation was titled, “THE RELATIONSHIP OF ETHICS AND DRAMA AS SEEN IN SOME RECENT WRITINGS IN AESTHETICS” published in 1961 at the University of Iowa.

Donald met his first wife Nancy at Illinois College in Jacksonville. Nancy Jane Pierce and Donald were married in 1956. Two years later they had their first son Dierk Theodor (1958); their second son Mark Andrew was born two years later (1960). She was a devoted wife, elementary school teacher, and strong partner in raising the two sons.

After a few short teaching stints at community colleges, he moved to a tenured faculty position at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Illinois. He taught acting, play writing and speech. He directed over 50 theatrical productions over the years at NIU and Illinois College while occasionally acting in them himself. He also enlisted his sons to play roles in his productions. They remember chasing each other around behind the curtains and scenes. Professor Polzin became a publisher of a theatrical magazine “Player’s Magazine” in the 1960’s. Later he became the state President of the Association of University Professors (AAUP) and lobbied in Springfield for teachers’ rights. In 1980 Illinois College awarded him an honorary doctorate of Humane Letters. He was greatly loved as teacher by his students.

In the late 60’s he designed a house for his family in DeKalb on a wooded lot, wrapping the house around two large trees with magnificent two story south facing windows. The house had self-cleaning windows, green shag carpeting, and a lawn fertilized with soybeans. He was forever a tinkerer in his garage and shop. Once spending the entire Christmas break with his family soldering together their first color TV via a kit.

As his sons grew at the age 42 he took up sailing and it became a family activity. With his usual in-depth research, he picked out the new 15 foot Olympic “470” double-handed trapeze boat. Sailing became a big part of all their lives as they traveled to local regattas and competed against some of the best sailors in the country. He and his sons would continue to sail around the country winning and organizing events for others using his directorial spirit.

In the early 80’s his wife Nancy passed away from cancer. He was a devoted husband lovingly caring for her through her final illness. Several years later he met his second wife at Unitarian camp on Lake Geneva. Jacqueline Tingle and Donald Polzin married in 1985. They both had a love of sailing, adventure, spirited debate and reading. Soon after Don grew tired of commuting from Thiensville to DeKalb and retired early.

Jacquie and Donald found a perfect cabin in Sister Bay, Wisconsin to purchase and spent years designing improvements and additions. It is called “Foxtrot” as a family of foxes were found living under it when they first purchased it. They spent 31 summers at their cottage on Little Sister Bay. They were active members of the Unitarian Church community in Door County where Don delivered several sermons and Jacquie performed on the piano. During the other seasons they traveled to Europe and Central America for vacations. They kept a boat on the Ephraim Yacht Club dock. Don, his son Dierk, and his friend George Carey sailed in several regattas.

Donald was a lifelong Chicago Cubs and Bears fan. Growing up he sold hotdogs at Wrigley Field where both teams played. His tall height of 6 foot 5 inches gave him good advantage. He saw many greats on the field including Sid Luckman, Ernie Banks, Gale Sayers and Walter Payton. He got to see the Cubs win World Series in the 1940’s and 2010’s. During his last week of life both teams had spectacular success.

A voracious reader throughout his life, his favorite authors were Kurt Vonnegut, Bertolt Brecht and Eugene O’Neil. He explored Zen Buddhism and meditation. He avoided confrontation and took the long view. His calm thoughtful presence will be greatly missed by those who knew him.

Donald is survived by his wife Jacqueline, her daughter Julie, his half-brothers James and Robert, his two sons Dierk (Svetlana) Portland, Oregon, and Mark (Julie) Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin and two granddaughters Haley and Sydney.

A Celebration of Life is planned for July 2023 in Ephraim, Wisconsin.

In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to:
The Door County Land Trust PO Box 65 Sturgeon Bay, WI 54235