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In Memoriam: Harlan Haimes, 69, Chicago theater enthusiast

Dr. Harlan W. Haimes was the audience member every actor dreams of having at a show. He didn’t just love the theater; he understood what was involved in the art of performing and he admired actors for their talent and dedication. He shared this appreciation with his wife of 44 years, Susan Haimes: a former drama teacher and director, and past chair of the Jeff Committee, the award organization for Chicago theater, with whom he attended as many openings as most theater critics in this city.

Harlan Haimes died Saturday morning in his Highland Park home after a long battle with cancer that only at the very end kept him from taking his seat at a play or musical. In addition to his wife, he is survived by daughters Shara (Matthew) Lieberman and Deborah Haimes, his granddaughters Hannah and Marissa Lieberman, and a sister, Joyce Fidell.

Soft-spoken and engaging, Haimes was never one to seek the spotlight, but he was accomplished on many fronts. A 1972 graduate of the Northwestern University Dental School, he worked as a periodontist in Northbrook for 40 years and was past president of the Illinois Society of Periodontists.

His involvement with the Jewish Community Centers of Chicago spanned four decades, and in addition to serving as its president, he was honorary director of the organization and named to its Hall of Fame. He also was a co-founder of Rebecca’s Dream, a foundation to promote awareness and compassionate understanding of depression and bipolar disorder as real diseases.

But aside from his devotion to his family, it was Haimes’ passion for the theater that distinguished him. He was drawn to music and theater at a young age and had leads in musicals at New Trier High School in Glencoe and played principal roles in Northwestern University’s Waa-Mu show for three years.

A supporter of the Jeff Awards Committee for 21 years and development chair of Jeff Awards Affiliates, Haimes celebrated excellence in Chicago theater not only as a patron, but through extensive personal relationships with both young and experienced talent, and was always the consummate cheerleader. Along with his wife, Haimes was a founding board member of Highland Park Players in 1988, a community theater at which he performed, and for which he served as producer and treasurer of shows for 13 years.

“My dad had an amazing singing voice,” said his daughter, Deborah. “He started a community theater, and then he supported Chicago theater through the Jeff Awards and his amazing relationships with everyone. He was so loved and trusted by so many in the community.”

Marc Robin, the multiple Jeff Award-winning director and choreographer, noted: “I am honored to have known Harlan and to have called him a friend. His passion for the arts was inspiring, but his passion for the artists themselves is what was truly special. He always made me feel like I could accomplish anything.”

Haimes also was selected as a 2009 grant panelist (for musical theater) for the National Endowment for the Arts in Washington.

“Harlan was the warmest of people, and in all our years of friendship I never saw him lose his cool,” said Alan Bresloff, a fellow theater enthusiast, reviewer and businessman. “He was the most devoted family man, and talking about our grandkids and theater always gave us great pleasure. He joined me at a Cubs opener one year, and while we were freezing, and tears of ice were on his cheeks, he refused to leave before the last out. He said the athletes deserved to have the audience stay till the final curtain. He will be missed, but he will be remembered.”

A funeral service is set for 10 a.m. Monday, Nov. 9, at North Shore Congregation Israel, 1185 Sheridan Rd., Glencoe. Memorial contributions to Rebecca’s Dream, 600 N. Lake Shore, Suite 512, Chicago 60611, www.rebeccasdream.org or JCC of Chicago, 30 S. Wells, Suite 4000, Chicago 60606, www.gojcc.org.