Ice Network

Renowned skater Shipstad Thomas passes away

Daughter of 'Ice Follies' co-founder continued family's legacy
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Jill Shipstad Thomas lost her battle with pancreatic cancer at the age of 70. -Blakey/IceStage Archive

As a skater, Jill Shipstad Thomas was electric. As a coach and choreographer, she was energetic, inventive and always upbeat. The daughter of Ice Follies co-founder Roy Shipstad, she started her show skating days in the chorus, but the spotlight soon found her. Shipstad Thomas passed away on Sept. 19 from pancreatic cancer at the age of 70.

Her cousin, Eddie Shipstad, now a coach and show producer, remembers Shipstad Thomas' karate routine. A black belt in karate, she performed a routine that featured her skills.

"Having skates with zippers on them," he said. "She would perform her skating routine and then get on the stage, zip her skates off and perform her karate part of her number. I thought it was just incredible."

"She was one of those personalities that was larger than life."

When Shipstad toured with Disney on Ice, Shipstad Thomas was co-choreographer together with Robert Paul. During each show's five-week rehearsal period in Florida, she held skating classes in the mornings that everyone called Jillercise.

"You wanted to have that Jill energy going into the day," he recalled. "She was such a huge influence to me with the energy that I want to show my students, as well as performers that I have in my shows. I always try to bring the same energy that Jill had."

Shipstad said he and Shipstad Thomas were so proud of the legacy built by his grandfather, Edward Shipstad, and her father, Roy, and proud to carry on the family name.

Richard Dwyer and Shipstad Thomas shared a unique bond. When Dwyer was called up for military service, she temporarily took over the Ice Follies "Debonair" role, which her father created and Dwyer came to embody, giving it a jazz interpretation.

"She was glamorous. She was an actress out there," Dwyer said. "She was always in my number (as a 'Dwyer Girl'). Absolutely the most gorgeous and the last girl to come out in the glamour costume.

"Then we shared that role," he added with a laugh. "Try to get your job back from a beautiful blonde like that. She was so special."

Paul has fond memories of working side by side with Shipstad Thomas for 15 years.

"My main memory of Jill: No matter what the situation was, she was always up and positive and cheerful," Paul said. "When you go through a month or more of rehearsals, not every day is a good day, but she made every day a good day."

Paul said he last spoke to Shipstad Thomas on the telephone a few days ago and they had a great chat, reminiscing and talking about current events.

She is survived by her husband, Bill, and other relatives, as well as generations of skaters touched by her talents.