Kathleen Marie Rock “Neen” died suddenly and unexpectedly Sunday, January 3, 2021. The cause was a cerebral aneurysm. Our incredibly kind and amazingly talented Neen was born on November 22, 1961 to Joan and Bill Rock and immediately made her case as a little force of nature with her four older siblings. Neen was loved by everyone she met. As a cherubic little girl, her long braids were enviable and at a very young age, earned her a feature story in the Wisconsin State Journal.
At Blessed Sacrament grade school and at Edgewood High School, Neen was a fierce competitor running track and playing softball, never allowing her small stature to hold her back. Her grace and athleticism while skiing and later snowboarding was frequently remarked upon. Neen was a longtime member of the National Ski Patrol at Blackjack and Big Powderhorn Mountain in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Her first aid and CPR training met her quick thinking and willingness to help others in high school when she resuscitated a classmate. And more than one friend credits her with saving their life by selflessly dedicating herself to their recovery.
Neen shared her mother’s love of musicals, opera and dance. She studied ballet and was naturally gifted at many dance styles. She danced in shows choreographed by our mom and once learned a show’s dances in a few hours to fill in for a missing cast member. Neen stayed active in theatre while earning a dual language bachelor’s degree in French and Spanish at UW Madison, eventually going behind the scenes to learn technical theatre, lighting design and stage management.
Soon, Neen found herself busy working in several Wisconsin theatres including Children’s Theatre of Madison, Madison Ballet and Madison Opera. She was a proud member of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, IATSE Local 251 and Actors Equity Association, AEA. She loved her job, working on touring Broadway shows at the Overture Center, concerts at the Alliant Center, The WI Union Theater, The UW Varsity Band Concerts, events at Monona Terrace and once even took a show to South Korea. She made hard work look effortless.
Neen’s theatre home was Northern Sky Theatre (formerly American Folklore Theatre) at Peninsula State Park in Door County, WI. At NST, Neen discovered the joy of producing “theatre under the stars” and she quickly made herself an invaluable asset. In her over three decades there, she sewed costumes, designed and created props, scenery, set pieces, lighting and stage managed, eventually taking the official role of Production Stage Manager. To hundreds of seasonal performers and thousands of fans over the years, Neen was a fixture at NST, often referred to as “The Boss.” Above and beyond her expertise at her job, she radiated kindness, generosity and love. To countless actors, singers, musicians and techs she was a caring mentor, teacher, support system and dear friend. Neen was compassionate and thoughtful, always willing to take extra time for someone in need. She displayed an unmatched work-ethic and attention to detail; she was always the first to arrive and the last to leave, truly representing the heart and soul of her theatre home.
Neen's loves outside of her work world included cooking and baking, gardening and bird watching with her beloved Brian. She loved fishing on Kangaroo Lake and was fascinated by insects. Neen loved to sit side by side with Brian watching the Brewers, the Packers and old movies.
Neen was preceded in death by her parents Joan and Dr. William Rock, Neen leaves behind her dear partner Brian Smith, her siblings Julie, Patty, Bill (Marcia) John (Kelly) Mike (Mageina) and Maryellen, her nieces and nephews Anna, Jack, Libby, Wesley and Lucy, many loving cousins, aunts, uncles and many, many colleagues and friends.
Friends and coworkers have said about Neen: “She made you feel like the most important person.” “She was a beacon of light.” “She was a master theatre craftsperson.” “She taught me how to be a professional theatre artist.” “She listened with her heart. She saw the best in people and brought out the best in you.” “Her example made people want to be better, you wanted her to be proud of you.”
We are heartbroken and we’ll all miss Neen terribly. We will miss her easy smile, her generous laugh, her essential goodness. Perfectly fitting to her nature, Neen made the ultimate gift as she left this world; she was a registered organ donor and as a result of this generosity has given new life to at least five individuals. She would encourage you to become a donor. She’d also want you to do what you love, follow your passion, take the time to help someone out, be a good friend and spend some time in nature. Oh, and always carry a Sharpie marker.
We wish to thank Neen's caregivers at Door County Medical Center, St. Vincent's Hospital Green Bay and the UW Organ and Tissue Donation team.
The family will hold a private funeral. There will be a public memorial when safe to do so. Please email “TheNeenRockMemorial@gmail.com” for information.
Memorial gifts may be made in Neen’s name to: northernskytheater.com
Or to protect Door County Wisconsin’s water and lands ℅ doorcountylandtrust.org
Or to support organ and tissue donation education ℅ https://www.uwhealth.org/organ-donation/make-a-gift-to-support-organ-and-tissue-donation-education/51718
Cress Funeral & Cremation Service
3610 Speedway Road Madison
To send flowers to the family, please visit our floral store.
UW Organ and Tissue Donation Education
Northern Sky Theater
Door County Land Trust