The Great Lakes Bay region in general and Saginaw community in particular lost a significant and creative educator, visionary community supporter, and expansively creative artistic force of nature with the untimely passing of Dennis Adomaitis on February 11th.
Born in Grand Rapids in 1945 to Robert & Sonnie Adomaitis, in 1969 Dennis united in marriage to his soulmate, Melodye Schwartz; and together this incredible duo impacted the community not only as husband & wife, but as business partners at their vintage antique emporium, Adomaitis Antiques – an entity that eventually grew to include an expansive costume shop, appraisal and estate sale services, and even a travel business.
Together they also spear-headed many significant community artistic endeavors such as the Westside Art Festival, the annual ‘Dickens Dinner’, and even developed the first winter ‘snow sculpting festival’ at Hoyt Park years before Frankenmuth cornered the market with their annual Zehnder’s Snowfest.
But most significantly, Dennis served as an educator who impacted the lives of thousands of students. After attending Aquinas College, he held a teaching position at St. Stephen High School, which brought Dennis & Melodye to town. Later, he joined the staff at Freeland High School, where he taught for 37 years with an unconventional style that inspired & touched the lives and vision of numerous young artists.
As his dear friend Anne Russell-Lutenske so aptly puts it: “Dennis was an artist at heart, and that spirit touched everything he did. His oil paintings are highly respected and he treasured recent opportunities to teach that craft again to adults. He loved music (he had a booming baritone voice that could fill a room!) and theater; he traveled intrepidly throughout the world, cooked amazing food and adored entertaining. Nobody was a stranger to Dennis Adomaitis; he had a big heart and an even bigger laugh that made everyone feel welcome and included.”
As for my own memories of Dennis, I was always view him not only as a distinctive and engaging force throughout the arts & educational community; but as a champion to all with a vision for contributing and improving our cultural fabric. When I first moved The Review into Old Town Saginaw, both Dennis & Melodye were early supporters of my own endeavors – signing up to run full page ads and assisting and advising us on how to set up elaborate photo-shoots featuring local models and top-notch photographers that would showcase different fashion themes ranging from the Jazz Age of the 1920s & 1930s to 1960s kitsch. Indeed, I retain some of my fondest memories from those early and exciting days of evolving the format for this publication.
Such earnest engagement was not atypical for Dennis. Recalls Melodye: “I remember when Dennis was attending Aquinas to get his art degree, and they had some old building there that he transformed into this entire lodge, revamping the whole interior of the structure, and I believe its still there. He could just see something and transform it.”
“Dennis created hundreds of incredible oil paintings over the years, along with all the jewelry, tiles, hats, sculptured works, and incredible wood carvings that he also created,” continues Melodye. “He was constantly working on his art and was always painting or working on a sculpture or designing a new hat. When he cooked he would make both the meal & presentation beautiful, because cooking was also an art form for him. Everything he did had art infused into it.”
Working primarily with oil painting, Dennis created numerous works dealing with nature and portraiture. “He possessed a consistent style and got better at it the more that he painted,” reflects Melodye. “I cannot get over how fast he could paint. Dennis would think about what he wanted to do, visualize it, and then move right into the act of realization the creation. He enjoyed working with live models and didn’t like paintings created from photographs. He felt anybody could do that and it was more of a ‘paint-by-numbers’ technique. Dennis was an artist through and through,” concludes Melodye. “From the way he dressed to the way he cooked, there wasn’t anything he couldn’t transform.”
As Anne Russell Lutenske so aptly summed it up at Dennis’ Memorial Service: “Nobody was a stranger with Dennis. He did this thing whenever a customer would come in or when he was meeting someone new, where he would just airlift them into the middle of a conversation or thought he was having, as if that person had been there since the genesis of said conversation or thought. Sometimes you could see them struggle to catch up to what was being discussed, but they always enjoyed being included”
“Dennis LOVED including people – he was an artist at including people. A master of bringing people together by pointing out commonalities; and a master of making everyone feel special and worth including. Dennis made a difference in this world to thousands of young souls. His ideas never stopped. Dennis was an artist. Talk about your mixed media – he carved, sculpted, painted, sketched, beaded and cooked art – and the hats.
“I think Dennis’ best work was not something you could hang on the wall; it was his life. He saw with the eye of an artist and because of that he could appreciate a bit of beauty everywhere and in everyone. And that beauty in each of us was welcomed by Dennis to add texture and light and contrast to his own beautiful, on-purpose, out loud life.”
“He was the warp and we were the weft of his tapestry. He lived and loved deeply and with brush stokes as bold and brash and unapologetic as his laughter.”
16th November, 2023