Clara L. “Lulu” Gamble, 94, died June 8, 2023 in Kalamazoo, MI. Clara was a graduate of Alabama State College for Women, Montevallo (Bachelor of Arts in Physical Education) and University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (Master of Arts in Physical Education). She also completed post-graduate study in Dance at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Clara taught at Oklahoma A&M and Southwest Texas State Teachers College before coming to WMU in 1965 as a dance faculty member in the Women’s Physical Education Department.
In her 24 years as a professor of dance at Western Michigan University, she impacted the lives of thousands of students. Clara was an inspiring modern dance teacher influenced by the normative technique developed by Erick Hawkins whom she brought to campus with his company several times. She received the 1979 WMU Alumni Teaching Excellence Award, and was a prolific and highly creative choreographer for her many students. One of her dances, “Nocturnes,” was honored for excellence by being selected for the regional American College Dance Festival Gala Concert in 1980. An avid collaborator, Clara worked extensively with composer Ramon Zupko and visual artist Dwayne Lowder on several projects, and choreographed several full-length College of Fine Arts collaborative productions such as Hodie, Hansel and Gretel, and Proud Music of the Storm. In 2011, Lulu received the Partners in Dance Community Dance Advocacy Award for her contributions to advancing the art of dance in the community.
Her colleagues treasured Clara as a role model and supportive team member. Professor Wendy Cornish once stated, “She had a mission to produce a dance program which encouraged mutual support (vs. competition amongst students and faculty) and which ensured that the faculty be first and foremost focused on the student. One of her watchwords was, ‘We have no maid service around here.’ She was unrelenting in her pursuit of tidiness and cleanliness of the studios, and she also was adamant that there be “no stars” who felt any sense of privilege. She most appreciated persons who had a strong work ethic and who were self-starters.”
In addition to her reputation as a teacher and artist, Lulu also excelled in sports. In 1960 she was the first woman in the United States to be registered as a Black Belt in Taekwondo. Lulu continued her physical prowess following retirement with her participation in Michigan and United States National Senior Olympics. She took home numerous medals in discus, shot put, javelin, weight lifting, softball, tennis, badminton and pickle-ball. In 2002, the WMU Department of Health, Physical Education and Recreation presented a Girls and Women in Sports Special Recognition Award to Clara.
Lulu impacted so many people that on her 80th birthday, she was joined at a surprise party in her honor by over 100 friends, colleagues and former students from the 1960s through 2000s. Her spicy sense of humor and wisdom will be missed by all who knew her.
Clara is survived by three brothers and a sister. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be directed to the Western Michigan University Department of Dance. There will be no services.
While at www.amsfuneralhomes.com please take time to sign Clara’s guestbook and/or share a memory with the family.
The Gamble family is being cared for by the Avink, McCowen & Secord Funeral Home, 129 South Grand, Schoolcraft, MI 49087 (269) 679-5622.