Harmon E. Beekman
Taylor, Michigan

Harmon Beekman has had a lasting impact on educational theatre in his own school and town and nationally. While teaching in the Taylor, Michigan, school district for twenty-one years, he designed and set up a complete program of secondary school theatre courses; developed and taught an extracurricular program in creative dramatics for elementary school students; designed a theatre program combining pantomime and American Sign Language; began a summer theatre program for teenagers; produced an annual touring children's play; and directed more than 150 school productions. Among those shows was one written by Mr. Beekman, called Together in Silence, which his troupe presented at the 1982 Thespian Festival.

Mr. Beekman first became involved with what was then called the National Thespian Society in 1966 when he chartered Thespian Troupe 2474 at Taylor Center High School. From 1968 to 1971 he was Michigan's state Thespian director, a period during which he organized that state's first annual state Thespian theatre conference. He became regional director for Michigan and Indiana in 1971 and was elected to the Board of Directors in 1972. In 1974 he became assistant international director and, in 1976, international director. (Those titles were used at the time for the positions that are now called president and vice president.)

Among Mr. Beekman's contributions to EdTA were the development of the first state director resource guide and the implementation of leadership training programs. The organization’s headquarters building on Central Parkway in Cincinnati (1976-99) was purchased during his term as assistant international director and the mortgage was paid off, after a brisk fundraising campaign, during his term as international director.

Barbara D. Dusenbury
Erdenheim, Pennsylvania

Barbara Dusenbury’s career in theatre education spanned more than fifty years. Beginning in North Carolina in 1942, she taught theatre, speech, communications and English in schools in Florida, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. She sponsored her first Thespian troupe in 1947 while teaching in the Daytona Beach public school system. From 1951 to 1955 Ms. Dusenbury was an instructor at the University of Florida at Gainesville and served as a university liaison to Florida high schools.

She began her twenty-seven-year association with Springfield Township High School in Erdenheim, Pennsylvania in 1961. As the school’s director of theatre, she taught theatre, English, speech and communication; directed Springfield’s Thespian Troupe 1154; directed hundreds of plays; and designed the school’s theatre curriculum. She also founded a traveling children’s theatre troupe and a children’s theatre workshop staffed by her high school Thespians.

During her many years of involvement with the Thespian Society, Ms. Dusenbury hosted state conferences in Florida, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania and regional conferences in Pennsylvania; conducted Thespian workshops at state, regional and national conferences; and presented one-acts at international festivals and musicals at state and regional conferences. She served as state Thespian director for Pennsylvania from 1963 to 1973 and again from 1978 to 1980, and as regional director from 1974 to 1978.

She was elected to the board of directors in 1980, and served as assistant international director from 1984 to 1986 and as international director (the equivalent of board president) from 1986 to 1988. During her term, Ms. Dusenbury oversaw the development of the Theatre Education Association, the original launch of the Thespian Society’s professional association for theatre educators.

Douglas H. Finney (1943-92)
Cincinnati, Ohio

Doug Finney dedicated his life to theatre and Thespians. A student of EdTA Hall of Famer Melba Day Henning, he was an active member of the organization from the time he was in high school until his death in 1992.

He graduated from the University of Oregon in 1966, where he received an award for outstanding contribution to theatre his senior year. His first year out of college, he sponsored Thespian Troupe 2597 at The Dalles Senior High School in The Dalles, Oregon. A year later he became director of Thespian Troupe 1961 at North Eugene High School in Eugene, Oregon. He taught theatre and speech and directed numerous theatre productions for five years before joining the ITS headquarters staff.

A gifted actor and director, Mr. Finney performed and directed in community theatres in both Oregon and Ohio. He was author and composer of the children’s musical The Song of the Gypsy Princess.

Mr. Finney's service to the Thespian Society began expanding in 1969, when he served as Oregon’s state Thespian director. He served as regional director in 1970, and, in 1971 he moved to Cincinnati to become assistant executive director. He also served as co-editor of Dramatics magazine for one year, and co-chaired and then chaired the Thespian Festival. In 1989 he became director of volunteer services.

A colleague of Mr. Finney’s says of him, “Doug’s greatest trait is leaving his mark of perfection on every task he undertakes.” For his service to the organization Mr. Finney was awarded the International Director’s Award in 1982 and the Founders’ Award in 1991. Oregon Thespians presented him the Melba Day Sparks Award for Contributions to Theatre in 1980.

Robert L. Geuder
Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Inspired by a college professor to pursue a career in theatre education, Robert Geuder began his teaching career in the little Iowa crossroads town of Nashua in 1955. Beginning in 1959 he was drama director and teacher of theatre, language arts, and speech at Thomas Jefferson High School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and he had sponsored Thespian Troupe 561 for each of his thirty-six years as a teacher at the time of his Hall of Fame induction. Mr. Geuder’s colleagues, friends, and former students describe him as energetic, caring, selfless, committed to quality, and, above all, a gifted teacher who instills in his students a love of theatre by his passionate example. In addition to teaching and directing five shows a year at Jefferson, he directed and costumed shows for a Cedar Rapids community theatre with assistance from his wife Alo. He also produces annual fundraising revues for the Cedar Rapids Symphony and a local hospital.

Mr. Geuder has been a national leader in educational theatre since 1974, when he was elected to the Thespian Society Board of Directors after serving five years as a regional director and two years as state director for Iowa. He became assistant international director in 1976 and served as international director (the office now called president) during 1978-80. In 1986 he became the first individual to be re-elected to the organization’s board, and served on the EdTA transitional board in 1989 and 1990. At the time of his induction he was the EdTA governing board’s executive regional director.

Throughout his career Mr. Geuder has made valuable contributions to ITS and EdTA national events. He attended every Thespian Festival between 1968 and his 1991 induction and co-directed six main stage shows. In 1989 he received the EdTA President's Award.

Joan C. Hahn
Salt Lake City, Utah

Joan Hahn made a lasting contribution to theatre education during thirty years of teaching. Her drama program at Cottonwood High School in Salt Lake City had won, at the time of her induction, seventeen consecutive regional championships and many state championships.

In 1991 Ms. Hahn was named outstanding speech educator by the Utah High School Activities Association; she was also listed in that year's edition of Who's Who Internationally and has been named in Who's Who of American Women for four consecutive years.

Ms. Hahn has served EdTA in several different capacities. She was Utah’s state Thespian director for four years and presented many workshops at state conferences. She was a regional director from 1974 to 1978 and a member of the board of directors from 1978 to 1982. She served as assistant international director from 1980 to 1982 and as international director (board president) from 1982 to 1984. During her term as international director Ms. Hahn took a sabbatical from her job at Cottonwood High School and traveled throughout the United States visiting high schools and colleges to present workshops, meet with theatre teachers, and promote ITS.

She describes her travels on behalf of EdTA as one of the greatest educational experiences of her life. A member of the headquarters staff says of Ms. Hahn, “She has a talent for making everyone she comes into contact with feel special.”

Harlan L. Hamm (1918-95)
Morehead, Kentucky

Harlan Hamm worked at many levels for the improvement of educational theatre. In 1965 he established a speech and theatre program in grades K-12 and chartered Thespian Troupe 1457 at University Breckenridge School in Morehead, Kentucky. After teaching there for thirteen years, Mr. Hamm joined the Department of Communications at Morehead State University. At the time of his induction into the Hall of Fame he was an associate professor of speech and coordinator of forensics at Morehead State. He was also serving as director of the Kentucky Educational Speech and Drama Association.

Mr. Hamm received numerous citations for his work in education, including an outstanding faculty member award at University Breckenridge, the Kentucky Jaycees' outstanding young educator award, a Morehead State University presidential citation, and the Kentucky Association of Communication Arts distinguished service award. In addition, he has been listed in Who's Who in the South and the International Directory of Distinguished Leadership.

Mr. Hamm served ITS and EdTA in numerous capacities. From 1966 to 1969 he was state Thespian director for Kentucky, and from 1969 to 1970, regional director. He was elected to the board of directors in 1970 and served as assistant international director from 1970 to 1972 and international director (board president) from 1972 to 1974. In 1979 he presided over EdTA’s fiftieth anniversary celebration.

Melba Day (Sparks) Henning (1915-93)
Portland, Oregon

Melba Day (Sparks) Henning was a leader among leaders for educational theatre. A teacher in the Portland, Oregon school system for thirty years, she established Thespian Troupe 124 at Jefferson High School in 1948 and Troupe 1782 at Madison High School in 1957. She served as Oregon’s state Thespian director for eleven years, beginning in 1957, and hosted the 1966 national conference—the first national Thespian conference held outside of Indiana.

Ms. Henning was elected to the Board of Directors in 1968, served as assistant international director from 1968 to 1970 and as international director (board president) from 1970 to 1972. During her term as international director, she spent more time at ITS's headquarters than at her own school. She developed the first written policies for volunteer leaders, designed the play marathon system that was used at the Thespian Festival for many years, and designed a successful campaign to raise funds to purchase a new EdTA headquarters building. She served on numerous other policy-forming committees and was known among her colleagues for chairing marathon-length committee work sessions.

Doug Finney, a student and protégé of Ms. Henning who became EdTA’s assistant executive director, said of his mentor: “Melba Day is a little Audrey Hepburn, a lot Loretta Young. She was an inspirational teacher who made sure her students set off on the right path in life.”

Fred B. Hutchins
Englewood, New Jersey

Fred Hutchins devoted more than forty years to educational theatre. For nine years he taught in public school systems in Rhode Island and directed students in numerous productions, including, memorably, several Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. In 1956 he began teaching at the Englewood School for Boys in Englewood, New Jersey, and chartered Thespian Troupe 746. Over the years his students performed hundreds of shows and he brought them to eight national conferences. His troupe performed Arthur Miller’s The Crucible on the main stage at the 1960 conference.

Mr. Hutchins was a key figure in the leadership of the Thespian Society in the 1960s. He was elected to the national council in 1959, became assistant national director in 1960, and served as national director (the equivalent of board president) from 1964 to 1968. During his tenure he oversaw a reworking of the system for electing trustees and an effort to enhance the professionalism of the headquarters staff. He also served for many years as an adjudicator for the national conference and, in 1966, helped recruit more Thespian troupes on the West Coast by moving the national conference to Portland, Oregon. Members of the headquarters staff described this Hall of Fame inductee as “a true gentleman with a great sense of humor and a caring heart.”

Ellis L. Jordan (1929-2010)
Corona del Mar, California

Ellis Jordan was recognized as a leader in theatre education throughout the state of California. He taught theatre for twenty-six years in the Rowland Unified School District in Rowland Heights, California, and was a consultant to the theatre arts program at Laguna Beach High School.

He helped to design a performing arts program at Nogales High School that combined music, drama, and dance in one course of study. He developed a nationally recognized theatre program at Rowland High School. And he designed a workshop to teach production methods to K-12 teachers. For his efforts as a theatre arts teacher Mr. Jordan received several commendations from his district’s Board of Education—including having the Rowland High School’s theatre renamed in his honor—and he received special recognition from the California state legislature.

Mr. Jordan chartered Thespian troupes at Nogales High School, Laguna Beach High School, and Rowland High School. His Rowland troupe appeared on the main stage of the 1988 Thespian Festival with The Canterbury Tales.

Mr. Jordan served as California's state Thespian director from 1981 through 1986, and as territorial director. During his term as state director, he revitalized the state’s Thespian organization, building a strong state board and winning awards for outstanding state conference and for outstanding state Thespian newsletter.

Harry T. Leeper (1904-1998)
Fairmont, West Virginia

Harry Leeper was one of three co-founders of the National Thespian Society, the organization that has grown into the Educational Theatre Association. Along with Paul Opp and Earl Blank, Mr. Leeper, a speech and drama teacher at East Fairmont (West Virginia) High School, developed a framework for the organization and wrote the original constitution. The constitution and the first initiation ritual were conceived in the spring of 1929 on his front porch. In the society's first year Mr. Leeper helped recruit seventy-one troupes, including Troupe 3 at his own school. He also designed the Thespian Society’s first official logo, the familiar T bordered by two masks that still appears on Thespian certificates and awards.

Mr. Leeper devoted his career to the development of educational theatre. From 1929 through 1934 he served as the first editor of The High School Thespian, the forerunner of Dramatics magazine; he remained an advisory editor until 1958. In the autumn 1934 issue of The High School Thespian, he defined his goals for educational theatre: “Considerable importance should be placed on training which leads to the intelligent production of dramatics as a cultural and time-absorbing activity. Community tastes must be developed for the study and the encouragement of local drama work and dramatic talent…. It is here that our tasks lie. It is here that we find the reasons which justify our existence as a society, our program, and the faith we have in our work.”

In 1978 Mr. Leeper and his co-founders were presented with the International Director’s Award, an annual award established in their honor.

Julian T. Myers (1924-93)
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Julian Myers contributed to the growth of the Thespian Society for many years. He established Troupe 1603 at Pittsburgh’s Mount Lebanon High School in 1956 and quickly became involved with Thespian affairs throughout Pennsylvania. He served as state Thespian director for Pennsylvania from 1965 to 1971 and set about recruiting colleagues to establish new troupes. He organized five state conferences that were so successful they attracted delegates from four surrounding states.

On a national level, Mr. Myers chaired several key committees responsible for restructuring the Thespian Society. He helped establish a system of regions and regional directors, helped revise the constitution when the society became international, and helped develop a new initiation ceremony. He also served as an adjudicator for several national and international conferences. Mr. Myers’s troupe performed a memorable production of All My Sons on the main stage of the first international conference in 1970.

Helen S. Smith
Cumberland, Maryland

Helen S. Smith photo

Helen Smith devoted her life to theatre. For forty years she taught drama and English at Fort Hill High School in Cumberland, Maryland; she oversaw three drama classes and two English classes a day for many of those years. Under Ms. Smith’s stewardship Fort Hill produced hundreds of shows. Among her favorites were the original theatre productions her students created every year for a three-day celebration of May Day. She and her Thespian Troupe 230 attended ten national and international conferences.

Ms. Smith served the National Thespian Society as Maryland's state Thespian director from 1952 to 1960, during which time she assisted in the development of the formal Thespian initiation ceremony. She served as member of the Board of Directors from 1960 to 1970 and held the post of assistant national director from 1964 to 1968. During her term of office she assisted in the restructuring of the society. Her Thespian troupe performed the initiation ceremony for new members at several national conferences.

Ernestine O. Smizer
St. Louis, Missouri

Ernestine Smizer served EdTA in a wide range of leadership roles. As a teacher at Webster Groves High School in St. Louis, Missouri, she attended five national and international conferences and took on major responsibilities at each. She served on the scholarship selection committee for three conferences and was security chair for two conferences. She also served as chair of the international cultural exchange committee at one conference.

Ms. Smizer was a state Thespian director for Missouri from 1963 to 1968 and was elected to the Board of Directors in 1968. During her term on the board, she helped design the Thespian scholarship program and oversaw the transformation of Dramatics magazine from a house organ to a first class educational theatre publication. Ms. Smizer has continued to support EdTA by courting donors and sponsors. In 1990 she secured a large gift for the organization from the John R. Stubbins Foundation. As one EdTA staff member described her, “Ernie is vibrant and gutsy—a role model to us all!”