A mentor, a friend
Theater Professor Robert Winters is a dedicated teacher who has touched the lives of thousands of students who attended Ohio University. I am just one of those students.
My first class with Professor Winters was an undergraduate course in technical theater. Although there were more than 70 students in this lecture course, he was able to offer an exciting and often personal insight into the behind-the-scenes preparation for a show. His enthusiasm for his craft was contagious. Over the last 30 years, I have had the privilege of being associated with him as a student, as a member of a stage crew, as an employee, as a community volunteer and as a colleague. But for me, the two most important associations have been having him as a mentor and as a friend.
It was Professor Winters who inspired me to change my major to theater, and it was Professor Winters who helped mold me and shape me through his guidance, his patience and his encouragement. After that first class, I took another and another from Winters because he had so much to offer. In addition to class, I also signed up to work on stage crews with Winters. One of my fondest memories of those days was when Winters designed the set for the production of "Peter Pan." From his detailed drawings, each student helped created a part of the set, including Never, Never Land. His imagination for Never, Never Land included having a butterfly puppet (with more than a 4- to 5-foot wing span) "fly" across the stage and a flower (really an umbrella with petals attached) that opened as the "sun came up." This is the only time I recall hearing an audience applaud the scenery. His creativity was shared with each student, whether in class or as a member of the production crew. He also challenged students to use their creativity in responding to assignment and production problems.
Winters has not limited his sharing, coaching and teaching just to college students. For more than 35 years he has been an integral part of a community summer theater, which is a town/gown operation. This has provided opportunities for young and "young at heart" community members to work along with University students to produce from two to five shows a summer. Because of tight schedules, limited resources and a diversity of talent levels, Winters' skills as a teacher and diplomat shone through. What is particularly impressive has been watching the young community members grow up in the summer productions and then decide to attend Ohio University as theater majors. Each should be stamped "I have been nurtured by a true teacher, Robert L. Winters."
One summer it was decided to tour a production of "You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown." Under Winters' tutelage I prepared a grant proposal requesting funding for this project. Now nearly 30 years later, I am a full-time fundraiser for a major university. But it was Bob Winters who gave me my start.
In the late '70s after teaching high school, I decided to return to Ohio University for a master's degree in arts administration, and once again Bob played a critical role in helping me during this time. At his encouragement I applied and was selected for a fellowship with the National Endowment for the Arts (Theater Program). Upon completion of the fellowship, I graduated and was offered a position with the School of Theater. From this position (as one of his employees) and from subsequent positions in the University, I had the opportunity to continue to watch Bob interact with class after class of students and to work alongside him as he touched the lives of the community through the summer productions. For each student or individual community member, he has created a moment, supported an idea or offered a ray of hope.
While teaching, coaching and cheering on each student are critical parts of the tenure of Professor Winters, for many, our memories also include the basics: food, shelter, a supporting shoulder or just being there as a friend. One of those moments is etched, I am sure, in both of our memories. Bob is an excellent fisherman, and he often escaped to the quietness of an area lake or river to fish. However, he was willing to have company, and I got several opportunities to go with him. On one trip I know I tested all his patience as I proceeded to drop a reel in the water and entangle my fishing line around the boat propeller in less than 20 minutes. While I am sure he was frustrated, he calmly untangled everything and continued to "teach" me the finer points of fishing. He even invited me to go again. During these times I learned lessons in life.
For each of us, the story of how Professor Winters influenced or touched our life has many common threads. Two of my classmates, Jonathan Freeman (the voice of Jafar in Disney's film "Aladdin") and Richard Dean Anderson (MacGyver) also tell similar tales of Winters' teachings.
C. Frisch, BFA '71, BSED '72, MFA'79