Jack Burke

Remembering Dr. Jack Burke

Dr. John (Jack) Burke, former Associate Professor and Chair in the Department of Music and Theatre Arts, passed away on Dec. 10 at the age of 75 due to cancer. Burke taught at the University for about 25 years, served 15 years as the Chair of the Department of Music and Theatre Arts, and served over a decade as Director of the Theatre Arts program before retiring after the spring 2020 semester.

“He touched the lives of thousands of students beginning with his days as a high school teacher and his subsequent 25 years at Monmouth University,” said Stan Green, Professor Emeritus of Anthropology and Former Dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences. “I had the honor and privilege to work closely with Jack and most importantly to have him as a friend who gave me joy through his work and our attendance of many plays.”

During his time teaching at the University, Burke developed a partnership with the Two River Theatre in Red Bank, creating opportunities for students to participate in professional theatre. Most recently, he directed his last play “Gemini” in Lauren K. Woods Theatre in March 2020.

“Jack was the creative heart of the theatre program,” Green said. “He ran the department pretty much by himself and built it from nothing. Monmouth has a lot of things to be grateful for from Jack’s work.”

Green, who described Burke as an empathetic, sensitive, and humble person, noted that his legacy on the University is also marked by his impact on students. “He was among the most student-oriented professors at Monmouth. He saved a lot of Monmouth students,” Green said. “If he saw that students were having problems, he would work with them as best as he could. He spent so many hours with students both individually and at rehearsals.”

Katherine Fernandez, a senior music student, worked closely with Dr. Burke as the assistant director of “Gemini” last March. “I really appreciate my time spend working with Dr. Burke,” she said. “With so much knowledge of the theatre world, he had so many stories to tell. He also gave me a lot of freedom when it came to being his assistant for ‘Gemini,’ and I was able to gain more hands-on experience than if I had been assisting someone else. When working with him, I was treated like a creative partner, not just someone who wrote down notes and performed tasks. Dr. Burke will be missed, and I cherish the wisdom and experience he had passed onto me during our time together.”

Senior music student Samantha Ventola also worked with Dr. Burke during last year’s production of “Gemini.” She said, “Doc Burke was more than just a professor or director. He was your biggest supporter and mentor. He shared his wisdom and knowledge with all his students…he offered the best advice and gave us unforgettable opportunities to create art with our peers. He often shared stories of his time in the industry and little funny anecdotes of theatre that were unlike any I’ve heard before. He will be greatly missed.”

“Students really recognized his passion for conveying a story and developing a character. Jack was very passionate about that.” added Joe Rapolla, Specialist Professor and current Chair of the Department of Music and Theatre Arts.

Burke brought renowned New York actors to campus, such as Breaking Bad and Malcolm in the Middle’s Bryan Cranston, who performed in the Shadow Lawn production “Chapter Two” in 2008. Burke is also credited with directing the Shadow Lawn productions “Big: the Musical” (2015), “Teddy and Alice” (2012), “The Au Pair Man” (2010), “Da” (2006), and “Butterflies Are Free” (2006).

Aside from theatre, Burke also had a love for Irish literature, being a first generation Irish-American born in Jersey City. “Jack was an expert in Irish literature, plays, poetry, novels, and history,” Green said. “That’s one of the things that connected us, since I am an Irish archaeologist and historian. That was a very important part of his world. He had family in Gallway, the west of Ireland.”

Burke received his Ph.D. in theatre from Michigan State University, where he developed his lifelong interest in the craft, according to Green.

Faculty members who worked with Burke during his tenure have recognized his legacy on the University.

“Jack was a beloved faculty member who put Monmouth University’s Theater Program on the map. He will be sorely missed,” wrote Interim Dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Richard Veit, Ph.D., in a statement.

“He was a great energy,” Rapolla concluded. “He was responsible for getting the spotlight shown on theatre at the University. We are grateful for our time with jack and that his legacy will live on at the Woods Theatre.”