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Omahan Don Kalal remembered for singing, laughter and love of family

Omahan Don Kalal remembered for singing, laughter and love of family

There was always love, music and laughter in the Kalal home.

And Don Kalal, the head of the family, spread it around the community as well.

Kalal, of Omaha, started singing and acting in high school with his eventual wife, Jackie, and didn’t completely stop until his death on Oct. 14 at age 92. He had been suffering from dementia and living at Oxbow Living Center in Ashland.

In assisted living, said son Jim, Kalal liked to entertain the workers and fellow residents by yodeling in the halls.

He started joking as a kid as well. He was born in Omaha and grew up in the Florence neighborhood near Forest Lawn Cemetery.

As a young man, he earned money mowing the grass around the gravestones.

“I’ve got a lot of people under me,” he told people about the job.

Don Kalal graduated from Omaha Technical High School, then joined the Navy. When he was stationed in San Diego, Jackie came to visit him and they eloped. They were married for 72 years.

The Kalals came back to Omaha, where Don became a PBX installer for Northwestern Bell. He also was in the Naval Reserve for about 30 years.

In his leisure time, he performed in musicals such as “Guys and Dolls,” “Man of La Mancha” and “Shenandoah” at the Omaha Community Playhouse in the 1970s and 1980s. He won two Theatre Arts Guild awards for his work.

Kalal’s humor became one of his trademarks at the Playhouse, said Stan Lassegard, a fellow cast member in several shows.

“He was one of the funniest men I knew,” Lassegard said. “He could look at any situation and find a joke, even if (the situation) wasn’t even remotely funny.”

Jim said his dad also did impressions of actors such as John Wayne and Frank Fontaine (who played a drunk on “The Jackie Gleason Show”).

And the elder Kalal was part of the Cabaret Theater with three other performers — Frank De George, Sue Perkins and Phyllis Noble.

With Jackie, their four sons and a daughter, he also formed a family ensemble that sang at sports banquets and other public gatherings across the city.

“We would rehearse in the car, then go in to sing,” Jim Kalal said.

Music remains a big part of the Kalal legacy. Jim and his wife, Pam, have had a musical group, Pam and the Pearls, that has played across the region. Don often would be in the audience.

“We would be singing in the park or something and we’d get him up (on the stage) and he’d always sing a song with us,” Jim said.

Jim’s sister, Elaine, and her husband, Chad Stoner, also are musicians who have performed at The Jewell Omaha, a nightclub in the Capitol District.

Above all, Kalal is remembered for his positivity and kindness.

“He was the consummate gentleman. There was never a harsh word out of his mouth ever about anybody,” said fellow thespian Lassegard.

Son Jim said his dad could be a disciplinarian, but there was never any doubt he loved his family. He spent the time others devote to hobbies with his wife, kids and eventually grandkids.

In addition to Jackie, Jim, Pam and the Stoners, survivors include sons Wayne (Ann), Rich (Kathy) and Kevin (Peggy) Kalal, 17 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren.

“You could just see the sincerity in his eyes when he would smile at you,” Jim said. “He understood life and love and what it was all about.”

Omaha World-Herald: Afternoon Update

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Betsie covers a little bit of everything for The World-Herald's Living section, including theater, religion and anything else that might need attention. Phone: 402-444-1267.

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