Tuesday, May 30, 2023
MacConnell, MacConnell, MacConnell, it’s hard to think of a world without you. You certainly made some impressive improvements while you were here, and your ripple effect is still spreading. I wish I had taken time to tell you all that you meant to me. You would have had my thanks in-person had I only applied your advice to “Do it now, while you can!” Still, that advice has helped dictate my life’s path. Thanks, MacConnell! Here’s SOME of what you did for me:
We first met before I entered Montclair State, when my sister, Agnes, took me to meet you after a show. I had been accepted as an English major but thought I’d pick up some theater courses since I had loved performing in high school. You welcomed me and told me to stop by whenever I liked, that your door would always be open.
You took time to stop and check on me in the first week of classes. I asked about the overwhelming list of hundreds of plays a professor had told us we should already know. I figured you tell me not to worry. You just nodded and said, “Yup. Let me know if you have trouble finding the scripts, but see the shows if you can. Words on a page won’t be enough.”
I was working on a set with Gene, John and Joe one day, complaining that my thirty-hours-a-week job could cover commuting expenses but little else. You strolled over and said you were looking for some work-study help for events. I learned and saw more shows in those events than I ever could have imagined.
Maureen and I were sitting in your office studying for a test when you asked if we had declared our double majors yet. “If you’re putting in the time,” you advised, “you might as well get credit for it.” Employment at Jersey schools was tight when we graduated. She and I were the only two English teachers in Montclair’s Class of ’76 who were offered fulltime jobs in public schools. I taught combinations of English, speech and theater for decades and was never without a job when I moved. Thanks, Boss!
You opened another magical world when we toured The Mandrake to the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. We stayed at a Howard Johnson right across from the Watergate, in the midst of that political controversy. Working in the Opera House before they finished the Eisenhower Theater, Carolyn and I had climbed two ladders to hang the portal. We looked down and saw four men holding our ladders, two on each. Turns out there were union rules we hadn’t learned yet. You were just standing to the side smiling, although you did intercede when I picked up a broom and was told by a KC crew member that I couldn’t use it. You strolled over and took the broom, “The floor belongs to props,” you explained to me, then turned to him and promised it wouldn’t happen again. The two of you went off smiling, and my transgression has fueled many of my stories.
Other competent advisers had been assigned to me, but after my first semester, you checked my schedules before they approved them. You pointed out that it didn’t cost any more to take twenty-one credits than to take twelve. I enjoyed an array of classes I would otherwise have missed.
When I was accepted as a cast member for Summerfun Summer Theater and also won a scholarship to study outside London for the next year, I went to you with my dilemma: I couldn’t afford to do both. You had offered such hearty congratulations that I’d be at Summerfun! You really understood how important it was for me to participate. I thought you’d have a strong opinion one way or the other. Instead, you asked me to consider future benefits and life choices. Did I want to act professionally? To which experiences would a principal making a hiring decision give more weight? Which opportunities might be available at another time? Which were one-time chances? You volunteered that while either group might be inconvenienced if I chose the other, neither would be angry. When I opted to go to England, you wished me well.
Years later, you gave me another chance. After my first year teaching, I was disappointed at the prospect of selling furniture all summer to cover my rent. You offered a job with Summerfun doing props. At the end of seven weeks, I was exhausted but had wonderful memories and no unpaid bills.
I had never met anyone else who was as excited as I at finding someone who was getting rid of a house full of Venetian blinds or a box of old drawer handles. Your sheer joy was contagious. When an effect worked or one of us announced a success, your approval made us all glow.
While teaching high school, I was offered a gig doing lighting for a dance company. I had never used dry ice before and called you for advice, explaining that the budget wouldn’t cover any practice. The effect went off as planned. I confessed to the choreographer that you had talked me through it. She said she’d seen some of your shows and liked the idea that I could just call you for advice. I lit shows for her for several years. I couldn’t take full credit for my employment there but enjoyed the extra coin.
It's impossible to count how many of my home, volunteer and work projects relied on skills you taught me in designing and building, carpentry, painting, electrical wiring, recording, rigging, restoring, special effects, and adapting materials. I passed many of these skills along to well over a thousand students and my own daughters.
Again and again, I have been grateful that you shared your knowledge and your life with me. Thanks, MacConnell, a little late but from the heart.