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Robert Zielinski: 1939-2013

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Theater personality ‘a very loving and caring man’

By Lisa King

Robert Francis Zielinski loved community theater, but he loved people even more, a legacy his friends say they will cherish forever.

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“Bob genuinely cared about people,“ said Rick Reinle, who worked with Zielinski at the Shelby County Community Theatre, where they both have acted and directed. “He was a very loving and caring man.”

Zielinski, 73, of Louisville died Saturday at Norton Suburban Hospital after a long battle with cancer.

Zielinski, a Vietnam veteran and 1961 West Point Academy graduate, was a decorated Army engineer officer of 8 years, was very active in community theater in both Louisville and Shelbyville, starring in many productions. He often portrayed Thomas Edison at schools and other events in Louisville.

Reinle, who has known Zielinski and his wife, Betty, for many years, said he really got to know him well through the community theater, and the two really bonded back in February when they – unexpectedly – co-directed a play at SCCT after Zielinski became too ill to direct the play by himself.

When Zielinski was diagnosed with cancer in May 2012, he already was set to direct Harvey, which was to have a 2-week run in February 2013. He asked Reinle, who had auditioned for the lead, to co-direct the production with him, and Reinle agreed.

Reinle called Zielinski “a true friend,” adding that when he needed support, during the illness and death of his sister, Elaine Nation, Zielinski was there for him as well.

“When I lost my sister, he and Betty were both so supportive,” he said.

Reinle said he could never think of his friend without remembering what a good, kind person he was.

“He never passed judgment on anybody; he was just Bob,” he said.

The Zielinskis have two children, Julie Gabis and Rob Zielinski.

Gabis said what she will miss most about her dad is his booming laughter.

“He had the most wonderful sense of humor,” she said. “He loved to joke around more than anyone I know. He was a good man, too. He was always willing to do anything for anybody.”

Gabis said her dad was very proud of having directed two plays, Harvey and Something to Hide.

Cheryl Van Stockum, past president of SCCT, described Zielinski as a very kind and talented man, who was not only passionate about the theater but was also dedicated to making each production the best it could be.

“He and his wife, they always handled the props, and he always did very detailed research on them,” she said. “One time, after a show, he said, ‘No need to thank me. When I retired, I made up my mind that I would only do things that were fun.’ I never forgot that. He was great.”

Van Stockum said that throughout his illness, Zielinski was an inspiration to the entire theater community family.

“Through it all, he was just so gracious,” she said. “He always stressed that life should go on. It was important to him. He was a dear man and I think the world of him.”