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ODE TO MR. “J”

May 16, 2011

And just when I needed it most – out of an almost forgotten past came rejuvenation and recommitment. Yesterday, I learned a significant influence in my life passed away. And I quote from the shared obituary:

Mr. “J” was passionately dedicated to the power and possibility of education… His educational innovations were many.  He brought the first musical to Staples and the first dinner theatre production to Rochester.  He advised the original creators of the Mantorville melodramas and sat on an early advisory board for the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis.  By the late 1960s, he developed what is believed to be the very first high school television studio in the country.  In the 1980s, he left teaching to create the Rochester Instructional Television Studio…His hallmark was pushing his students to achieve…(and) throughout the years, students always found an open door and an even-handed assessment when academic or personal problems found them in need of someone to listen.

The Post Bulletin suggested Mr. “J” gave his students a “taste of success”.  And that taste, for me, was three-theatre filled years of personal accomplishments that taught me much about myself as he pushed me on ever-forward to explore my skills and talents and overall , gave me permission to be ME; then turned me over to Bob Wise at RJC as well as to his friends at the Rochester Community Theatre.

The theatre skills themselves are long-since forgotten; but the passion remains – as does the message I heard over and over from both Mr. “J” and Bob Wise:  In twenty years, no one will care about your grades or academic success.  You will be judged and rewarded on your love of life and how you use your leadership skills.  If only all students in the world has such wise council!

So I am sad for the world but glad for Mr. “J” that his battle with Parkinson’s ended this month.  And thanks to Dave who let me know, I am reminded that this man’s encouraging words captured forevermore in that ’63 Rochord will be there as the push to move me through this stormy time in my life:

As one of the “reliables” of the theatre department, you have been of invaluable help-how can we ever replace you.  Not only has your contribution affected the shows you worked on, but you have established a standard that people will be attempting to attain for years to come.  So you have actually contributed to the shows we will give in the future.  I shall always be grateful to you, but I hope theatre has been its own reward.  Best of luck for bigger and better partys.  – Mr. “J”

If only this kind of support and encouragement were available to every student, our world would be a better place.

And here’s hoping that Mr. “J” is smiling down from heaven – recognizing I may not have delivered all he sought from me, but, yes, I’ve had good luck in delivering “bigger and better partys”!

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