William Michael Klein
04 May 1950 - 05 Sep 2020
Western Star Dancers
Received 10 Year Medallion at Lights, Camera, Linear Action in 1999
Received 20 Year Medallion at Gone With The Windmill in 2011
Bill is mentioned prominently in Chapter 6 of Ten Years IAGSDC: A Collection of Pages From Our Memory Book
He was instrumental in getting Western Star Dancers started.
PASSAGES Computer programmer/Chi-Town Squares member Bill Klein passes away
by Carrie Maxwell
Longtime Chi-Town Squares member and COBOL computer programmer William "Bill" Michael Klein died Sept. 5 due to health complications after he fell down in his home a few days prior. He was 70. Klein was born May 4, 1950, in Evanston and graduated from New Trier High School in 1968. He received his bachelor's degree in linguistics from Indiana University and master's degree in dance education from Northwestern University.
In 1998, Klein moved to Wilmette, where he was living at the time of his death. Klein previously resided in San Francisco and London for a number of years during the '80s and '90s.
Klein worked for several companies throughout his career, including his last job as a COBOL and mainframe issues senior consultant for Micro Focus until he went on medical leave and then long-term disability due to vision issues. His declining vision resulted in him only at times being able to discern between light and dark spaces.
This did not stop Klein from his online COBOL community participation, which he did until his death. Klein's loss of vision spurred his involvement with the Village of Wilmette Commission for Persons with Disabilities, where he pushed for greater accessibility accommodations for all disabled people.
When Klein was not working, he was a very active member of Chicago's LGBTQ square dancing club Chi-Town Squares. He joined the club immediately upon returning to the Chicago area in 1998 and stayed active with the group in various capacities for the next 20 years.
Klein was one of the top C4 ( challenge level ) square dancers in the United States. He was known for his expertise on the dance floor and taught many square dancers no matter their dance level.
Additionally, Klein was instrumental in the creation of Western Star Dancers, in San Francisco, and taught the group's first two mainstream ( entry-level ) dance classes. Klein introduced modern Western square dance to the LGBTQ community in San Francisco.
Klein was also featured in chapter six of the book Ten Years IAGSDC: A Collection of Pages From Our Memory Book. The International Association of Gay Square Dance Clubs ( IAGSDC ) history project wiki website has created a page in honor of his life with quotes of remembrance from fellow members. The site also mentions that Klein got 10-year and 20-year medallions at their annual conventions to commemorate the number of years of his involvement with the association.
Among the many other things Klein loved were musicals, reading science fiction and fantasy novels, using white zinfandel to make macaroni and cheese and taking naps. According to family members, Klein made the world's best scrambled eggs.
Klein was preceded in death by his parents William Henry Klein and Ruth ( Goldman ) Klein as well as his sisters Lori Adamek and Barbara Klein. He is survived by his nephew Donald Adamek, his wife Heidi and their daughter Jennifer; his niece, Elizabeth ( Don ) Adamek Ayres; and countless chosen family members and friends.
"He was especially close to his sister Barbara," said Donald Adamek. "The two of them spoke on the phone at least once a day, no matter what else was going on in their lives. Barbara nominally lived in Tucson, but it seemed like she was in Wilmette to be with Bill more often than not, and when she was in Arizona, Bill would often go to visit her.
"Bill was a brilliant man with a passion for genealogy, and this led him to trace our family tree back for at least nine generations. He also loved square dancing, music theater and computers. Bill's dry wit is something everyone who knew him will miss. We will miss having this human anthology in our lives tremendously."
"Bill was passionate about square dancing for a long time, achieving the highest levels in the late 1970s and early 1980s here in Chicago, and was integral in the formation of one of the first LGBTQ clubs in San Francisco," said longtime friend and Chi-Town Squares Secretary Bob Siegel. "Despite his many ailments including a nearly complete loss of vision, he kept dancing as long as his health allowed, and continued to work as a COBOL programmer.
"Bill was instrumental in getting his late sister Barb involved with square dancing, both in Tucson where she lived, and with Chi-Town Squares. Just last month Bill arranged her interment ceremony, welcoming people to his home afterwards. He also supported the local theater group Music Theater Works, and organized groups to see shows. I will miss him dearly."
"Bill was a unique blend of practical and theoretical in all parts of his life, including dance," said Chi-Town Squares member and longtime friend Phil Davis. "He was an odd mix of 'what is' and 'what could be' that always left you with a better understanding of all the factors that made him tick."
"Bill's generosity of his time was amazing," said Chi-Town Squares member and longtime friend Michael Maltenfort. "He designed square dance flash cards used by many, many people including me. In other square dance activities, he was an active member of the Definitions Committee ( of which I was vice-chair ), and his contributions were often quite insightful. His determination to do things the 'right' way was always impressive—something that strongly affected how he taught square dancing. Those who learned with Bill learned square dancing thoroughly."
"Bill was the first high-level challenge square dancer I met while taking square dance lessons in 1977 with the Fascinatin' Singles square dance club of Wilmette, a club he helped found" said Chi-Town Squares member and good friend Barb Jarvis. "He was an 'angel' ( experienced dancer ) who supported us. Not only was Bill instrumental later in launching gay square dancing in San Francisco, he executed a huge boost to the Chicago scene when, in 1988, Bill recommended that my now late husband, Lindle 'Lin' Jarvis, be named instructor for the newly-formed Chi-Town Squares.
"From Bill's earlier time on the North Shore, he had danced to this prominent teacher-caller even swaying his parents to take lessons from Lin. As Bill lost his eyesight, he danced admirably for a long time due to his remarkable mental imaging ability ( seeing within one's mind where dancers are positioned ). Upon his return to Wilmette, Bill drilled higher-level dancers, including his sister Barbara, whom I met at a local square dance. This led to a strong friendship that lasted until her passing in May. I now mourn both losses."
"Bill was a marvel of persistence," said Chi-Town Squares member and longtime friend Rick Simkin. "Once he had his mind set on a project, he saw it through to the end. I once saw a paper he wrote about an expansive new version of COBOL—his commentary ran to 75 pages. He reviewed a 200-page dictionary of square dance calls, and had something to say on almost every page. After his sister got started in square dancing, he helped her advance by setting up a plan of instruction, collecting a group to dance with her ( since a square needs eight people to dance together ), and running the practice sessions."
A joint celebration in honor of Bill and Barbara Klein will be held in Wilmette at a later date due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The family has asked that donations be made to St. Augustine's Episcopal Church in Wilmette ( staschurch.org ), Chi-Town Squares ( ChiTownSquares.org ) and/or Music Theater Works ( MusicTheaterWorks.com ) in his memory.
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Gay Western square dancing icon William ‘Bill’ Klein dead at 70
The Wilmette native, who worked as a computer programmer, went to San Francisco and ‘helped get square dancing going on the West Coast.’ By Maureen O'Donnell
Before William “Bill” Klein began teaching square dancing in the early 1980s in San Francisco’s gay community, it tended to be a razzle-dazzle pastiche of disco and the “Urban Cowboy” craze, other dancers say.
But once the Wilmette native started educating them about standardized calls like “Allemande left” and “Spin the Top,” his expertise helped transform that city’s dancers.
“Bill was a key figure — the first — to teach us what Western square dancing was really all about,” said his friend Steve Browning, an early member of the Western Star Dancers, a San Francisco square dancing club.
Mr. Klein learned square dancing in the Chicago area, and his prowess positioned him at the epicenter of a civil rights movement in a city associated with gay pride and power.
“After [anti-gay activist] Anita Bryant, after the assassination of Harvey Milk” — a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors who was one of the nation’s first openly gay politicians — “in San Francisco and across the LGBTQ world there was a kind of explosion,” said Scott Carey, a founding member of the Western Star Dancers. “ ‘We’re going to make our own choruses, gay softball leagues, gay Olympics, gay theater. We’re going to do our own’ — and gay square dancing is right in that mix.”
Mr. Klein, 70, a programmer and expert in COBOL, the foundational computer language, died last month at Evanston Hospital after a fall at his home in Wilmette.
Mr. Klein — who worked as a programmer for Micro Focus and other companies — was a C-4 level caller, meaning he knew more than 1,000 calls and variations.
Some likened him to a drill sergeant.
But, in those pre-Internet days, he “was our ‘Google search,’ our YouTube video, our social media for all things related to square dancing,” said Carey, who lives in Hayward, California. “The history and the heritage, the dress codes, how to behave at another club’s dance or attend a regional or national convention, the expected etiquette and conventions, where to find square dance resources, how to contact callers — he taught us everything to know.”
“He helped get square dancing going on the West Coast,” said Rob Sierzega, president of the Chi-Town Squares, a Chicago LGBTQ Square Dance club. In Chicago, he “put together a series of flash cards for us to print out so we could study all the calls.”
Mr. Klein lived for decades with AIDS and experienced complications including blindness, according to his nephew Donald Adamek.
About 20 years ago, he moved back to his family home. The familiar layout made it easy to navigate. For a long period, he was able to continue dancing — and working on computers — because he could visualize keyboards and the patterns of square dancing.
Mr. Klein introduced San Francisco dancers to CALLERLAB, the Esperanto of the square dancing world, established in the 1970s to standardize commands, ensuring that square dancers anywhere can swing their partners together.
“If you learned how to do a do-si-do, it’s the same in the United States, Germany or Japan,” said Dana Schirmer, executive director of Topeka-based CALLERLAB and the International Association of Square Dance Callers.
“I think of it as being like a Busby Berkeley routine for eight people,” said Russ King, a member of the Western Star Dancers from El Cerrito, California.
The benefits of Mr. Klein’s tutelage were evident when the South Florida Mustangs — billed as the world’s first LGBTQ square dancing club — visited San Francisco in 1982. When they met up with the Western Star Dancers, a hoedown became a showdown.
“We were ragtag,” Carey said, “and they were fully capable, confident dancers.”
He remembers the Floridians as friendly but intimidating, starting with their look.
“Boots, of course,” Carey said. “ They wore black-and-white: black jeans, black shirts that were like black satin, and all the way down the sleeves was white fringe. Black hats and kerchiefs around the neck.”
When Mr. Klein started doing the calls, “We found out that our training worked,” Carey said. “We could have four Western Star people and four South Florida Mustangs in a square, and they were dancing, and we were dancing — and it was exhilarating.”
“Bill set us on a track where we could dance with anyone who was doing traditional square dancing calls,” said Larry Brown, another early member of the Western Star Dancers. “We were so lucky as a gay community to embrace square dancing early on as AIDS was starting to spread. It was a welcome alternative to bars and booze and gave us a safe place to meet, dance and socialize.”
Today, there are an estimated 44 gay square-dancing clubs around the world and an International Association of Gay Square Dance Clubs.
Members say gay square-dancing clubs have helped blur regimented male and female roles.
“Bill introduced the idea of all-position dancing by having us learn both roles as soon as possible,” King said in a 2005 Western Star newsletter. “When some dancers complained that they couldn’t keep track of who was dancing what, Bill sternly admonished them: ‘You will learn the calls by definition. If you are doing your part correctly, it will not matter if it’s a man, a woman or a Hanukkah bush coming at you.’ ”
With “all-position dancing, we liberated hundreds of women who previously had to wait on the sidelines for the men to invite them to dance,” according to Brown.
Young Bill’s mother, Ruth, was active in Chicago Episcopal women’s circles. His father William was general counsel for Playboy Enterprises.
“The Klein family had the largest Christmas open house in Wilmette, and Hugh Hefner would come with his current girlfriend,” said Stephen Voysey, a lifelong friend of Mr. Klein.
He went to New Trier High School, where he enjoyed performing in musicals. He got a degree in linguistics and French at Indiana University, according to his nephew, and a master’s in dance education from Northwestern University.
He loved musical theater, whether classics by Rodgers and Hammerstein or the latest Broadway smash.
“If something was up for a Tony,” his nephew said, “I know he would have the soundtrack.”
Mr. Klein liked science fiction and fantasy novels, including the work of Anne McCaffrey and Piers Anthony.
“He loved naps,” his nephew said. “Multiple naps every day.”
And, working with cream cheese, cheddar and Worcestershire sauce, “He made the world’s best scrambled eggs,” he said.
In addition to his nephew, Mr. Klein is survived by his niece Elizabeth Ayres. Funeral arrangements are pending.
I wanted to share the sad news that Bill Klein, a long time member of Chi-Town Squares, passed away this Saturday a few days after sustaining injuries from a fall in his home.
Bill was passionate about square dancing for a long time, and was integral in the formation of one of the first LGBTQ clubs in San Francisco. Despite his many ailments including a nearly complete loss of vision, he kept dancing as long as his health allowed. I first got to know Bill around 2003 when he helped angel a Chi-Town C1 class. This renewed his interest in square dancing at the time, and he went on to help many others who were interested in learning the higher levels outside of the club, conducting many classes and workshops at his home in Wilmette, and eventually achieving the C4 level himself. He was instrumental in bringing his late sister Barb into the activity, and just last month he organized Barb’s internment service and welcomed people at his home after. I am sure others can add their tributes and contributions he made to our activity. Certainly he will be missed for a long time, and his passing makes this difficult year even more tragic.
— Bob Siegel, President of Chi-Town Squares
Bill taught the first two Western Star Mainstream classes, both in 1982. Scott and I were in his first; the second one graduated in December 1982, when the attached class/club photo was taken. Bill was not a teacher or caller; he was an experienced Challenge-level dancer who had resolved to help us out after we split from Foggy City Squares as run by Skip Barrett at that time, which used a singing-call only, non-Callerlab format.
Bill approved of our determination to learn to square dance the way everyone else did outside of Skip's high-energy bubble, including gay clubs in other cities and local straight ones. But it wasn't easy, since our record collection consisted of singing calls only (the Jack Lasry hash series came later), so to fully learn the calls from both positions, we had to learn both roles right off the bat. This was tricky for many dancers, and Bill's patience often wore thin. He was a natural martinet with a sarcastic streak, and on more than one occasion I had to remind myself that he had the knowledge I wanted to acquire, so I needed to just buckle down, focus and hold my tongue.
I learned later from Scott Carey that despite outward appearances, Bill was quite shy, and developed increasingly severe stage-fright as the classes wore on. Scott would give him pep talks and a good stiff drink to get him going, as I recall--but hopefully Scott will chime in with a more accurate account. In any case, this side of Bill was quite a contrast to his mad leather queen side, but he was a complex and multi-faceted man, and an excellent dancer. One quote from him I still remember, and repeat when appropriate: during our first class, when one dancer complained about the number of dancers who were (with Bill's approval) regularly switching roles and getting him confused as to whether they were man or woman at any given moment, Bill replied, "It shouldn't matter whether it's a man, a woman or a Hanukkah bush coming at you--just do your part of the call correctly by definition and it will all work out."
— Russ King
I was sorry to hear the news about Bill. Please pass along my sympathy and condolences to his family and friends.
Russ has written a well thought out portrait of Bill during the early days of Western Star Dancers. I’m not sure I could add more content, but possible some additional detail. It is hard to overstate the control that Skip Barrett had over “Square Dancing” in San Francisco in the early eighties. He had that certain charisma that a bully has. He had the glamorous space at the big disco hall for his classes. And he had worked out a “routine” - teaching singing call records as choreography - that took advantage of the “Urban Cowboy” Country Western fashion craze of the day. It was very important what we wore, what clique we were in, and what blind allegiance we paid to Skip. But this isn’t a note about Skip. Just to tell you how the odds were against Western Star Dancers at the very start.
We did have 5 dedicated folks willing to make a run with it. And somehow we had secured a dance space - problematic as it was, at the ACT studios downtown, where you had to go thru a sign-in process and make a number of twists and turns to reach the space. We had also somehow found some square dance records at a dusty old shop in Oakland. But what we were missing was the concept of what Modern Western Square Dancing was all about! We were basically recycling what Skip had erroneously taught us, albeit in a gentler way. And so I will always remember the evening when Bill arrived at one of our “classes”, disgusted, amused, and caring - and said “I’m a Square Dancer. I’ve been a square Dancer for many years. Would you like me to teach you what Square Dancing really is?” We collectively and immediately replied “YES”. And at that pivotal moment we were on course to bring Gay Square Dancing as we now know it not only to San Francisco, but also to build and reinforce it across the country.
We were able to move to a lobby area at the Golden Gate YMCA and “hire” Bill for our first class. Skip Barrett and his cronies sat parked outside to record the names of anyone who went inside for our class and set the stage for their ostracism and harassment. Meantime, inside, Bill taught us Callerlab with the dedication of a drill sergeant. I remember doing “Boys, Run”, “Girls, Run” over and over and over. As Russ so aptly wrote, with Bill’s teaching, you had to "buckle down, focus and hold your tongue." What we couldn’t have known at that time was just how good of dancers Bill was making us.
The moment of truth came when the South Florida Mustangs arrived rather unexpectedly one evening for a visit to our class. We knew of them - mostly in conjunction with the Gay Reno Rodeo, We knew they were “Rock Stars”. We had heard they had paid a visit to Skip’s class - of course! And here they were with their intimidating black and white outfits, their confident polish, and their excellent dancing skills. We were mostly thru the Mainstream calls. But we had never danced with anyone outside of this very first class, let alone “The South Florida Mustangs” And we held our own! If Square Dancing is Friendship Set To Music, then that night, Bill, Western Star Dancers and the South Florida Mustangs became great friends.
With a few more classes at the Y, Bill forged a group of dedicated, confident and excellent dancers. Western Star Dancers now had two feet firmly placed in Callerlab’s Modern Western Square Dancing. The IAGSDC was percolating across the country. Bill was truly a pioneer in this movement. He has left us all with a wonderful and lasting legacy. God Bless you Bill.
— Scott Carey
I don’t know when I met Bill, but I do remember that he visited Denver on a work trip one time, and we got together for dinner. He was well aware of the homophobic situation in the square dance world here in the late 1980’s. A local Challenge caller asked me as a gay dancer not to attend his dancers for fear he would lose his calling business. Bill was among the chorus of IAGSDC dancers who provided emotional support during that time. I will remember him for his keen knowledge of Challenge calls, his friendly disposition and his colorful suspenders.
— Karl Jaeckel
With heavy heart we have received news that Bill Klein has passed away. There are no plans yet for for services. Rest In Peace Bill.
— Chi-Town Squares
I feared this would happen with Barb gone. My condolences to his many friends in greater Chicago and the Bay Area.
I didn't know Bill was still doing programming work. My one and only computer class (in 19-seventy-something) was COBOL. I miss visiting and dancing with both Bill and Barb.
— JW Paulson
Very sad news. I always enjoyed Bill's visits to Tucson, to visit Barb. He was always a great source to help the Dancers with complicated calls.
I also enjoyed his dry sense of humor. I also have a great memory of staying at his house and we had a blast class to teach Barb Plus in his living room.
My payment was a Geno's Pizza.
We all will miss him and Barb at our dances.
— Rick Gittelman
It is with great sorrow that I have to pass along news of the death of two square dance friends. Bill Klein passed away this morning after many years of health difficulties. Bill was active in gay square dancing since the beginning, and was an avid challenge dancer. He was deeply loved by the community and will be sorely missed. Bill was also a rare COBOL programmer, and despite being legally blind for many years continued to work, by memory, up until the end. I'll never forget staying in his giant, ancient (and drafty) Victorian house in Chicago in the winter. I could barely make my way around, and yet, despite being blind, he lived there quite successfully all by himself. I previously posted about Bill's sister Barb, also a deeply-loved member of the square dance community, who passed away from cancer back in May. The world is poorer without both of them in it.
— Rob French
Will so miss Bill Klein! Gay square dancing in the San Francisco Bay area would not have gotten such a successful start without him. Just a few years ago he was visiting Barb in Tucson and I was able to chat with him. Sigh...
— Erin Byars
Very sad news indeed. And his passing is so close to Barb’s. I guess then need to be together right now. 😢😢
— Bruce Harrigan
Oh wow. So sad. Joining his beloved sister Barb!
— Chip Prince
Bill used to tell me stories of attending some of the early Western Star dances, and not really wanting to let anyone know that he had been doing this for years.
— Frank Yellin
NO!!! I am so very sad to hear this. What an amazing man who overcame so very many challenges. I just take comfort in the visions of he and Barb dancing together again and helping all the others in their square get it right😁. I know how many times they helped me! I am so very grateful for all they brought to the square dance community. A huge loss😢
— Nancy Vedder
Beyond sad at the passing of my friend Bill Klein. Just five months after his sister Barb.
— Kathy Zottmann
Only yesterday did I learn Bill and Barb were related, and since Barb was so amazing, he must have been an epic human also. I was astounded that he continued programing by memory as a blind person! I wish I'd known him. I liked his comment relayed yesterday that he came to California and no one cared he was a gay square dancer, they only disliked that he used COBOL.
— Bex Clark
Bill loved sq dancing like few others. We met him at a PACE EXtrav pre Marriott Res Inn. He was fun to dance with, and a real student of sq dancing. He will be greatly missed.
— Dennis Moore
Western Star Dancers graduation photo December 1982
At Lights, Camera, Linear Action, 1999
At Anchors Aweigh With a Half-Sashay, 2003
At Red Rocks and Purple Mountains, 2007
At Touch A Quarter Century, 2008
At DC Diamond Circulate, 2009
At Gone With The Windmill, 2011
At Dance Up A Storm, 2012
- Windy City Times (Chicago, IL) Wednesday, 16 Sep 2020
- Sun-Times (Chicago, IL) Thursday, 22 Oct 2020