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Lake Michigan College renames Mainstage as Jenkins Theatre

On Thursday, April 4, Lake Michigan College leaders revealed the new name of the LMC Mendel Center Mainstage during a dedication ceremony. The 1,500-seat performing arts venue is now known as the Lake Michigan College Mendel Center Jenkins Theatre in honor of long-time Mendel Center patron and College benefactor Rolfe Jenkins. 

The building that houses Jenkins Theatre, Hanson Theatre, and Grand Upton Hall continues to be called the Lake Michigan College Mendel Center.

Jenkins, who resided in St. Joseph, was an avid supporter of the performing arts in Southwest Michigan and was a familiar face at the Mendel Center as a Mainstage season series ticket subscriber for many years. Upon his passing in 2022, he left a significant bequest to the College.

“Rolfe Jenkins’ legacy-making gift to Lake Michigan College demonstrates his commitment to the performing arts and to the betterment of our community,” LMC President Dr. Trevor A. Kubatzke said. “It’s a testament to the enjoyment he experienced attending events that elevated his quality of life in a meaningful way. By naming the theatre in his honor, that passion for the arts will live on and positively impact residents from all walks of life for years to come.”

Jenkins was born on March 30, 1945, in Omaha, Nebraska. His family moved to Michigan in 1949. Jenkins attended St. Philip Catholic Central High School in Battle Creek, Michigan, and after graduating in 1963, accepted an appointment to the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York.

After receiving an honorable discharge from the U.S. Army, Jenkins attended Michigan State University, earning a master’s degree and a doctorate. He spent his career in the nuclear power field, starting with Consumers Energy in Jackson, Michigan, and retired after many years at Palisades Nuclear Plant in Covert. Jenkins was also a tax preparer for H&R Block from 1999 to 2013. A resident of St. Joseph, he attended Catholic churches in Benton Harbor and St. Joseph until his death on Sept. 8, 2022.

Throughout his life, Jenkins showed unwavering support for live theater, from high school and community productions to professional touring and Broadway plays. He was a frequent patron of Barn Theatre, Twin City Players, and the Lake Michigan College Mendel Center, in particular.

Jenkins’ family and friends, Mendel Center supporters, and College leaders attended the pre-show ceremony and reception. The lobby plaque unveiling was shared via a live stream feed to the audience gathered in Jenkins Theatre for Journeyman: A Tribute to Eric Clapton. This performance was specifically chosen to honor Jenkins. He often noted that he was born on the same day and in the same year as one of his favorite artists, Eric Clapton.

Jenkins Theatre History

The newly renamed Lake Michigan College Mendel Center Jenkins Theatre first opened its doors as the Mainstage in the fall of 1992. Its origins, however, date back to 1976 when the community challenged Lake Michigan College to sponsor the construction of a community center to meet the educational and cultural needs of residents.

By securing a $5 million federal grant, the College responded in 1979 when it opened the Lake Michigan College Community Center. However, the portion originally designed as a 2,050-seat theater was unfinished due to a lack of funding.

The area now known as the Jenkins Theatre sat as an empty shell – nothing more than a dirt floor and pallets of bricks – for over a decade.

In 1990, under the leadership of then-LMC President Anne Mulder, the community rallied around the vision of completing the Mendel Center. Through a $5 million grant from the State of Michigan, a $1 million gift from private donors Herbert and Audre Mendel, a $1 million gift from Whirlpool Corp. through its foundation, and more than $2 million in support from community members and businesses, the Mendel Center as we know it today was completed.

The first season performance to take the spotlight in the completed 1,500-seat Mainstage theater was Chubby Checker and the Wildcats on Oct. 4, 1992. Since then, more than 700 Mendel Center Mainstage season events have entertained, enlightened, and educated nearly 600,000 patrons.

Among the nationally and internationally known names who have come to Southwest Michigan through the Mendel Center are Blue Man Group, William Shatner, Mannheim Steamroller, Itzhak Perlman, The Beach Boys, STOMP, the Broadway musical Jersey Boys, Vicki Lawrence, Jack Hanna, Peter Frampton, LeAnn Rimes, B.B. King, Henry Winkler, the Russian National Ballet, Smokey Robinson, and many more.

For more than thirty years, the Mendel Center has operated as the largest non-profit performing arts venue in the region. Through the arts, it has promoted understanding, diversity, and greater empathy for the human experience. It has been and remains a window to the world for thousands of residents each year through programming for all ages and walks of life, enhancing the quality of life for all throughout our region.

Jenkins Theatre Sign

Media Contact

Jeremy D. Bonfiglio
Marketing & Communications Specialist
Lake Michigan College
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