A stalwart of the Northeast community, Shane Rowse, passed away last September at the age of 55. Local residents who have attended the Summer Dusk Concerts at the Colonnade or the Chalk Walk at the Concourse have certainly crossed paths with Rowse at some point. He was a longtime member of the Northeast Arts board and he helped to organize these events every year for the community.
Rowse’s passion was theatre, where he worked for over three decades – the theatre is where he met his wife, Marianne, in 1991.
“He actually started out as a singer,” Marianne said. “He went to school to study opera, but he later began doing backstage work and finished out his college career as a theater major studying design and technology.”
However, Shane’s starring role was not on stage, or even backstage – it was his role as a father to his two children, Ian and August. Shane’s mother was an educator, so he was very dedicated to supporting the Kansas City Public Schools. His children attended Gladstone Elementary.
Rowse was actively involved in his children’s education, where he befriended the parents of many of his children’s classmates – his neighbors in the community who shared similar interests. August, the Rowse’s youngest, graduated from Lincoln Prep last June. Shane was there to celebrate with them.
Rowse also cared deeply about Historic Northeast, the community that he and Marianne moved to in 1998.
“We had a friend who had just bought a house in Northeast, right next to the Concourse. She was saying ‘Oh! You should come and look in our neighborhood,’” Marianne said.
Shane and Marianne looked at many houses in Northeast, but everything in their price range was smaller than what they were looking for. At that time, the couple knew they eventually wanted to start a family and they would need a home large enough where they could raise their children.
“Eventually, we found a shirtwaist. It was completely unlike any of the other houses on the list that we’d seen and we were like, ‘This has got to be a mistake,’” Marianne said. “We asked to look at the house and the little old lady who we were buying the house from had kept the floors beautiful. The woodwork was still beautiful and the house had not had very many owners. It was crazy what a good deal we got.”
Rebecca Koop owns a home across the street from the Rowses. As neighbors, they soon became friends, and the couple eventually helped Koop build St. John Gardens, a community garden beside Koop’s Back Door Pottery shop at 3922 St. John Ave.
“It was refreshing to have a new couple on the block back then,” Koop said. “The Rowses were creative people so we had some things in common in addition to gardening. They got involved with Chalk Walk and the concert series. Shane and Marianne became valuable members for Northeast Arts KC.”
In 2006, Shane and Marianne joined Northeast Arts KC, a local non-profit that hosts cultural events in the community. Shane was an avid photographer, and loved to take photos of Cliff Drive, where he would often ride his bicycle. He entered many of his photos into the “Cultures Without Borders,” event, an annual art exhibit hosted by Northeast Arts which showcases the works of Northeast artists in various different mediums.
Another event that Northeast Arts sponsored was the “Window Dressing” project where artists painted boards that sealed up the doors and windows of vacant buildings in an effort to make the structures more appealing. This project was a precursor to the murals that adorn the old Scarritt School, which was sponsored by the Kansas City Art Institute, and local art professor Héctor Casanova. Casanova worked with Rowse on a previous Window Dressing project organized by Northeast Arts and Rebecca Koop.
Rowse helped paint boards to look like playing cards for the infamous “House of Cards,” a vacant building at 7th and Indiana. Due to structural failure, the building collapsed in 2015.
He also participated in other Window Dressing projects. One of the boards that Rowse painted is displayed on the side of the Northeast News offices, as it was rescued from the rubble when the vacant building it once festooned was demolished.
In 2008, when Mosaic Brain, a small non-profit, came to Northeast Arts with the idea for an annual community sidewalk chalk event called “Chalk Walk,” Shane Rowse helped organize it at the Concourse Park every year, even after members of Mosaic Brain moved away from Kansas City. Rowse always brought his children along to volunteer as well.
“I was volun-told to help,” the Rowse’s oldest son, Ian, once quipped at a Chalk Walk event.
Bryan Jordan, co-founder of Mosaic Brain remembers Shane as a work-horse, full of creative ideas to help get Chalk Walk kicked off every year.
“He was very pragmatic and structured in his process, and someone who could be counted on, which made the event go smoothly,” Jordan said.
For many years, Rowse worked as a lighting designer and production manager for the American Heartland Theatre at Crown Center, and commuted to work on his bicycle. He loved riding his bicycle, and so when he accepted a job as the Assistant Professor of Lighting Technology in UMKC’s Theatre Department in 2014, he could no longer make the commute, which was much further, and instead spent many evenings riding his bicycle through Cliff Drive. “That was sort of his peaceful place to go and burn off some energy and have some solitude,” Marianne said.
Over the years, Rowse made many friends in the theatre, and when they were looking to buy a home, he would tell them about Northeast. Many members of the local theatre community call Northeast their home, and more than a few decided to look into the neighborhood upon a recommendation from Shane.
“We worked together on dozens of shows,” Georgianna Buchanan, a colleague said, “I was introduced to the Northeast area when I came to their house often to babysit. The Northeast seemed the ideal area for us to find a house and raise a family.”
Donna Miller-Brown, another colleague in theatre said, “Shane wasn’t the type to proselytize about his religion or his neighborhood. He would just quietly be the shining example you wanted to become: a good person and a great neighbor.”
While at UMKC, Rowse decided to pursue his master’s degree. Buchanan’s mother is part of the UMKC faculty, and Buchanan added, “When Shane started teaching at UMKC, my mother became his mentor for writing his thesis as he pursued his master’s degree in theatre. His scholarly writing on Kansas City theatre history is now included in the UMKC library archives.”
Rowse passed away before he was able to complete his final courses, but UMKC granted Marianne with Shane’s master’s degree posthumously in December.
“That was really touching, and it’s framed and in my living room now,” Marianne said.
Shane had many interests and hobbies, and he poured himself into them – many of which still have a lasting impact on Northeast and beyond. Another was his fascination with astronomy. Marianne tells of how he would set up his telescope in the yard and stare into the night sky. The city lights could often make the stars hard to see, but Shane still enjoyed stargazing.
“Shane delighted us with guided looks at the night sky through his telescopes,” Buchanan remembers.
Light years away from our solar system, many of these stars are now gone, but their idea lives on, and shines brightly, much like our neighbor, Shane Rowse.