Arts & Theater

Michael James Hunter, theater instructor and mentor, dies at 66

The Sacramento theater community is mourning the death of Michael Hunter, a longtime instructor of film and theater arts at Sierra College, respected actor and director.

Mr. Hunter died Feb. 11 at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center, Roseville, as a result of a subarachnoid hemorrhage. He was 66.

He is being remembered as passionate about film and theater as a professor and thoughtful, generous and gracious as a mentor to several generations of students at Sierra College, where he taught from 1976 to 2013.

“He leaned towards theater of substance,” said Martha Kight, a local theater performer and former student of Hunter’s. “He produced musicals because people wanted to do them, and he also felt that students should be exposed to them as well, but his heart really lay in the American classics. He liked to give the kids all kinds of exposure.”

Mr. Hunter also was a notable presence in the Music Circus box office from 1968 until 2014.

“If you didn’t have self confidence when you walked in as a student or employee,” Kight said, “you certainly did when you walked out.”

Michael James Hunter was born in Sacramento to James and Gloria Hunter on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 25, 1948. He grew up in Roseville, graduated from Roseville High School in 1966, attended Sierra College, and earned a bachelor’s degree in speech/theater at Sacramento State and a master of fine arts degree in dramatic art at UC Davis.

He became a full-time professor at Sierra College in 1976 and directed one or two plays a year on campus. He was also active in local theater in the 1980s and was a member of the National Guard and the stagehands’ IATSE Union, Local 50.

Mr. Hunter was mentored by Loren Orr, who taught at Sierra College. After Orr’s death, Mr. Hunter became a surrogate father to Orr’s youngest son, Tim.

“It’s such an understatement, but he was so generous of his time, of his attention,” said Tim Orr, producing artistic director of the Colorado Shakespeare Festival. “Even when I was a kid, he listened to me like I was an adult and talked to me like I was an adult no matter what I was doing or talking to him about.”

Tim Orr remembered how Mr. Hunter could buy coffee for everybody in the Music Circus box office and insist on whoever went for it to keep any change.

“Don’t even dream of buying your own coffee. He would do it everyday. He would always buy your lunch or your coffee,” Orr said, adding that Mr. Hunter would slip money into the jackets and pockets of students working there.

“I’ve never known anybody like him,” Orr said, “and I try to be like him all the time now. … I only now realize how much I learned from him about being a good manager and a good boss.”

“Michael was a gentleman in every sense of the word,” said Marlene Freid, longtime California Musical Theatre colleague and friend. “He was a humble man, who probably never fully realized the everlasting effect he had on so many of his students and co-workers.”

Mr. Hunter was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease in September 2013 and retired from Sierra College that December.

Friends said he was deeply in love with Laura Mattice Hunter, whom he married in 2006. She had been the Music Circus box office manager and is now general manager for California Musical Theatre.

“They were so like-minded and compatible that over time they just became what they were, a really perfect couple,” Kight said.

Laura Hunter said she and her husband called each other “beshert,” the Jewish word for soulmate.

Mr. Hunter’s two previous marriages ended in divorce.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Hunter is survived by his brother, Craig Hunter; daughters Allison Hunter, Sara Anderson, Christine Maligad and Merry Iseley; and six grandchildren.

A celebration of life will be held at 5:30 p.m. Sunday in Dietrich Theatre, Sierra College, 5000 Rocklin Road, Rocklin. A funeral Mass will be at 7 p.m. Monday at St. Ignatius Loyola Church, 3235 Arden Way, Sacramento, with visitation there beginning at 5:30 p.m.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Sierra College Foundation to fund a scholarship in his honor.

“He was a charismatic man,” said his wife. “He valued education, friendships and relationships. If somebody needed something, he didn’t hesitate to help them. It was very important for him to be a good person.”

Call The Bee’s Marcus Crowder, (916) 321-1120. Follow him on Twitter @marcuscrowder.