Nafe Katter, professor emeritus of dramatic arts and UConn benefactor, died on Aug. 7 in Florida. He was 87.
Katter joined the UConn faculty in 1957. He was instrumental in developing the Department of Dramatic Arts after the School of Fine Arts was established in 1961, heading the acting program and teaching a wide variety of courses. He worked in the Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s Nutmeg Summer Series for 10 years as a director and actor, helping establish the series as a regional success and tradition. He retired from the University in 1997.
The son of a Lebanese baker from Saginaw, Mich., Professor Katter planned to study law at the University of Michigan but after taking a theater course, he knew that he had found his calling. He received his undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral degrees from Michigan.
After retiring, Katter continued to take occasional acting jobs, at theaters including the American Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford, Hartford’s TheaterWorks, and Hartford Stage, where he became an area favorite as the Solicitor in the annual production of “A Christmas Carol.”
In 2000, he donated the $1 million lead gift to build the 229-seat thrust theater that now bears his name, and he continued to give generously to the University, including a $400,000 gift in 2014 to support a new production facility. The Nafe Katter Theatre officially opened on Oct. 7, 2004 with the Connecticut Repertory Theatre production of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar.”
A 1981 graduate of UConn’s acting program, Scott Kealey, played in that production of “Julius Caesar” and said at the time, ”He was the most nurturing professor, the professor on the faculty that the undergraduates were a little more worried about than everybody else, a little bit harder to please. And now there is this theater with his name on it.”
Dean of Fine Arts Brid Grant describes Katter as “an elegant gentleman, a generous benefactor, a kind colleague, and a committed educator.”
“He will be sorely missed,” she adds, “even as his legacy continues to champion the students, staff, and faculty of the School of Fine Arts for years to come.”
Katter is survived by his sister Elnora Katter Hamady, and other family members in Florida and Michigan.
A ceremony to celebrate his life will be arranged at a later date.