Life Story / Obituary
Jack Michael had a passion for living life to the fullest. He was known by all as a scholar, but what may not have been so widely known is just how kind and generous he was as he did whatever he could to help everyone succeed. He shared much of his life with his love, Alyce, and it was easy to see that he adored her. A longtime resident of Kalamazoo, Jack will be sorely missed by all who knew him.
Jack’s journey began during a time that was as vibrant as he was. It was the Roaring Twenties. During this exciting time, Lioniel and Willie (Murphey) Michael welcomed John Lester, known as Jack, on January 16, 1926, into their hearts and home in Los Angeles, California. He grew up in center city Los Angeles, embracing all the city had to offer, even being a member of a Hispanic gang. Luckily, the other gang members kept him away from their fights because they needed his smarts to help with their schoolwork. Jack had a love for reading from the time he was young, thanks to his mother who would take him to the library on Saturdays. After graduating from high school, he attended UCLA where he participated in gymnastics.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor in December of 1941, Jack became one of the countless individuals who were called to serve. He was drafted into the Army in 1943. Upon discharge, he returned to UCLA where he switched his major from chemistry to psychology due to books he asked his mother to send him while he was a soldier. Interestingly, Jack’s career in psychology began with a fascination of the writings of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. Jack put his GI Bill to good work, earning his bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees from UCLA, finishing his studies in 1955.
Jack accepted a position teaching statistics at the University of Kansas, but he soon became interested in the teachings of B.F. Skinner. For the rest of his career, Jack was dedicated to promoting behavioral psychology. He would later accept teaching positions at the University of Houston and then Arizona State University, known at the time as Fort Skinner in the Desert. With his reputation growing throughout the field of behavioral psychology, he was enticed to move to Kalamazoo and become part of the faculty at Western Michigan University in 1967. Jack always considered himself a teacher first and foremost and had a reputation of being tough but fair. He cultivated passion for behavior analysis, sharing his excitement and igniting that excitement in his students. Jack was one of the founders of the Association of Behavior Analysis International and served as its president in 1979. He received many awards for his achievements including the Distinguished Faculty Scholar Award from WMU, teaching awards from the American Psychological Association and WMU’s Alumni Association, and lifetime service awards from ABAI and the Society for the Experimental Analysis of Behavior. In 2012, Jack was the first recipient of an award named in his honor by the Verbal Behavior Special Interest Group affiliated with ABAI.
In addition to being known for his work as an educator, Jack was a well-respected speaker and author. In 1959 he and his student, Ted Ayllon, published what many consider to be the first applied behavior analysis article in the field. He spent much of his academic career concerned with the technical terminology of behavior analysis, and basic theory regarding verbal behavior, and motivation. Over the years Jack taught generations of leaders in the field of behavior analysis. Jack loved to talk about behavior analysis and a simple question would turn into a lengthy answer. Jack retired from teaching in 2003 but continued to remain active in the field.
Jack’s life changed when he met Alyce Dickinson. They met in 1980 when Jack was teaching at WMU. With a desire to spend the rest of their lives together, Jack and Alyce were married on May 8, 1989 by Alyce’s father who was a Methodist minister. It was easy to see that she was the light of Jack’s life. Jack treated Alyce like a queen with flowers, kindness and respect. Alyce never had any reservations that Jack loved her each and every single day.
Throughout his life Jack enjoyed so many things. He was an admired dancer, a great ping-pong player and a connoisseur of wine. Many of the vacations that he and Alyce took were to conferences, but he came to enjoy relaxing at the beach. He loved all kinds of music including jazz, opera, folk, rock and even some country. His favorite song was, “Brown Eyed Girl,” by Van Morrison. Alyce was his brown-eyed girl. Jack never strayed from doing things his own way and has been compared to a September salmon. Jack was a rogue and a rascal but had a heart of gold and would do anything to help a student in need, inside or outside the classroom.
In 2004, Jack began showing signs of dementia. Alyce cared for him with love for several years. Even with his diminishing cognitive skills, Jack never lost his love for reading and knowledge and he could still give a mean lecture on verbal behavior. His eyes would twinkle and his face would light up whenever Alyce would enter the room.
With his quick wit, sarcastic sense of humor, and fearless courage, Jack Michael was an inspiration to those around him in many ways. He worked hard but also embraced each and every day he was given while holding the people and things he was passionate about near and dear. Jack leaves behind a priceless collection of achievements that will continue to enrich the lives of so many for generations to come.
In Jack’s words, he “done good” and “didn’t do nothin’ wrong.”
Jack Michael died on Thursday, November 12, 2020, at Story Point Residence in Portage. Cremation has taken place and a memorial will be held at a later date. Please sign his online guestbook and share a memory. Betzler Life Story Funeral Home, 6080 Stadium Drive Kalamazoo, (269) 375-2900.