PITTSFIELD — Robert M. Boland, revered within the cultural community in Berkshire County, was remembered Monday after his death at home at 90.
"He was a beloved figure in this community," said Melanie Rivers, a longtime friend and a former student of Boland's when he taught art in city schools during the late 1950s.
Boland went on to teach theater, art and music at Berkshire Community College over 27 years, before his retirement in 1988 — shortly before the theater at Koussevitzky Arts Center on the campus was named in his honor.
"I think the lights have dimmed in Berkshire County. This is sad news," said BCC President Ellen Kennedy. "He was an icon of the culture of the county."
Active in many aspects of the community, Boland was one of the leaders in the long-term effort to restore the historic Colonial Theatre, which reopened in 2006 after a $21.6 million project.
Kate Maguire, artistic director and CEO of Berkshire Theatre Group, which operates the Colonial Theatre, recalled Boland as "a wonderful theater professional and teacher."
"I came to understand his passion for all things theatrical, and all things Pittsfield," Maguire said. "He was an extraordinary inspiration."
After his retirement from the college, Boland continued to direct or otherwise participate in local theater productions, including with the Town Players of Pittsfield and the BCC Players.
"You can't go far in the world of theater without finding someone impacted by Bob Boland," Kennedy said. "He knew so much."
Boland also "was instrumental in how we came to have the Koussevitzky Arts Center and strong arts programs at the college," she said, advocating for an emphasis on the arts as essential in the Berkshires.
The arts center, which Boland had a role in designing while consulting with the architect, opened on the school's new West Street campus in 1973.
Rivers said she learned that Boland died shortly before noon Monday at his East Housatonic Street home. He had been at Berkshire Place in failing health for a time before returning home about six weeks ago, she said, adding, "He really wanted to go back to his home."
In recent years, Boland remained quite active, attending theatrical productions, she said, although his hearing had begun to fail, making that more difficult.
"He was a dear friend, a great teacher, and a heck of a good gardener," Rivers said.
Ellen Shanahan, chairwoman of the Fine and Performing Arts Department and a music professor at BCC, worked with Boland for several years at the college and also on numerous local theater productions.
"He had a sense of humor and was incredibly creative in music, the arts and theater," she said. "He had a vision of how any show should be going and could find a way to get there."
Shanahan said that when news of Boland's death was posted on a BCC Players' Facebook page, "we were inundated with messages" from former students and others. "He left a legacy that was just tremendous."
Monica Bliss, president of the Town Players, said she and the board of directors, which met Monday evening, prepared a statement following Boland's death:
"Bob Boland was an integral member of Town Players of Pittsfield since the 1940s. He was a mentor to countless students, including myself, and was considered a great authority in the field of theater as well as being an artist, art restorer and historian. In addition to serving as Town Players' president, he was our liaison to BCC for many years and was a fine director, costume and set designer/builder. He was a true renaissance man. He's leaving an unparalleled legacy. Town Players plans to participate in his memorial service. We will deeply mourn the loss of his spirit and hope to honor him in all we do."
Ralph Hammann, retired drama program director at Pittsfield High School, said he considered Boland "my chief mentor" and someone possessing a depth of knowledge about all aspects of theater and generous with his time.
"Bob really was the first in this blue and white collar town [to promote quality theater and develop an audience locally]," Hammann said. He added, "If there had not been a Bob Boland, theater in Pittsfield might be a lot different today."
Rivers said a memorial service will be scheduled at St. Stephen's Church in Pittsfield.
Boland was born in 1925 and moved to Pittsfield as a youth with his family. He graduated from PHS in 1944 and later obtained a bachelor's degree from the University of Massachusetts and a master's from Boston University.
He served in the Army Air Force as a radar technician and navigator during World War II in Italy, France and Germany.
Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247.