MILAN MIHAL, (Mel) beloved husband, loving father and grandfather, Professor Emeritus of Fine Arts at Vanderbilt University, and expert on Japanese and Asian Art History, died on January 24, 2020, at the age of 91. He is survived by his wife of 63 years, Marilyn, with whom he traveled the world and shared a wonderful life. Mel and Marilyn met in the first class of their first day of college at Ohio University in 1948, became close friends and married in 1956. They lived in Athens, Ohio; Ann Arbor, Michigan: Tokyo, Japan; and Nashville, Tennessee; before returning to Cleveland, Ohio, in 2013 to be near family.
Mel was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on September 13, 1928, and grew up on Eddy Road before moving to Glenville. He graduated from Glenville High School in 1946 as World War II was ending. He remembered listening to announcements about D-Day and the end of the war over the loudspeakers at school. Swept up in a wave of patriotism, Mel and 25 of his high school classmates enlisted in the US Army together. Mel served as a medic in the Occupational Force in Japan where he rose to the rank of sergeant. He was due to serve on islands in the Pacific where fighting was still happening but a typhoon rerouted his troop ship to Tokyo, where he served instead at the 49th General Hospital Annex caring for wounded US soldiers. Mel had long had a fascination with Japan and used to take the streetcars down to the main Cleveland Public Library to read books on Japan. He also grew up taking art classes at the Cleveland Museum of Art with his older sister, Nada. While in Japan, his love of the country, its art, and culture merged into what would become his life’s work and passion.
Mel went to college on the G.I. Bill and received his Bachelor’s degree in Education from Ohio University (OU). He taught in schools in Springfield, Ohio, before returning to OU to get his Master’s in Arts Education. While at back at OU, he taught art and art education for five years. Mel was awarded a Danforth Scholarship to continue his studies at the University of Michigan where he received his Ph.D. in Japanese Art. His doctoral research took him back to Tokyo where he and Marilyn lived for three years. While in Tokyo, they adopted their daughter, Mia. Mel joined the faculty at Vanderbilt University in 1968 to teach Asian Art History in the Fine Arts Department where he spent his entire career. After settling in Nashville, they adopted their son, Mark.
Mel and Marilyn lived in Nashville for 45 years where they made many friends and raised their family. Mel had a distinguished career teaching at Vanderbilt where he also served as Director of East Asian Studies. Mel received the Madison Sarratt Prize for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching in 1975 and the Alumni Education Award in 1992. He was instrumental in building the university’s collection of Asian Art through donations from Harold P. Stern, Chauncey P. Lowe, and Herman D. Doochin. Over the years, Mel enjoyed keeping in touch with his former students and led many tours to Asia and Asian art exhibitions in the US and other countries. His tours included travel to Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Thailand, Singapore, China, Indonesia, Bali, and Mexico. Marilyn and Mel were additionally able to travel to England, Italy, Turkey, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Russia, and to the countries of the former Yugoslavia: Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia, Serbia, and Montenegro. Mel was proud of his half Slovenian and half Croatian heritage and delighted in reconnecting with his Croatian family during his lifetime. In their travels and life, Mel and Marilyn were blessed with making friends from all over the world. Many were life-long friends who touched and enriched their lives beyond measure. Mel was a joker and conversationalist who had a gift for talking to people and entertaining. He enjoyed good food and company, reading, and was always seeking to learn new things. He loved teaching and inspired many students to join him in delving deeper into the study of Japanese Art and culture.
Mel is survived by his beloved wife, Marilyn (nee Atkin); daughter, Mia (Rob) Faxon; son, Mark (Lori) Mihal; grandchildren, Anna, Evan, and Kate Faxon, Hunter (Courtland) Nall, and Jason Mihal, many nieces and nephews of multiple generations, and dear friends. He was preceded in death by his father, Joseph B. Mihaljevic; mother, Paula (nee Zorman) Starkey; sister and brother-in-law, Nada (Harold) McConocha; brother, Boris Mihaljevic, and many aunts and uncles. Mel was also pre-deceased by his grandfather Ivan Zorman, Sr., who played in the orchestra of Johann Strauss in Vienna before moving to Cleveland and served as organist at St. Paul Croatian, and uncle, Ivan Zorman, Jr., who was a famous Slovenian poet and composer. Both his grandfather and uncle were Honor Roll Recipients at the National Cleveland-Style Polka Hall of Fame and Museum for their contributions to Slovenian music in America.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Cleveland Museum of Art, 11150 East Blvd., Cleveland, OH 44106, Hospice of the Western Reserve, PO Box 72101, Cleveland, OH 44192 or Fairmount Presbyterian Church (Music Fund), 2757 Fairmount Blvd., Cleveland Hts., OH 44118 where services will be held at a later date.
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