More Inspiring Minds
By Mary Alice Casey
Ken Frisch took his first undergraduate theater class in the late 1960s from a man whose advice and friendship he has valued for more than 30 years.
"After that first class I took another and another from Bob Winters because he had so much to offer," says Frisch, BFA '71, BSED '72 and MFA '79. "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, patience and encouragement."
Frisch is among thousands of students Winters has inspired in his 40 years with Ohio University. And to him, each is a person, an individual, not simply one face in a sea of many.
"You watch potential realized," Winters says. "You watch people come to life. You watch individuals become even greater than they realized was possible. That's what teaching is like. It's not about groups. It's always about the individual."
Winters came to Athens right out of graduate school at Michigan State to take a one-year appointment in the theater department. The assignment was extended to two, and midway through the second year Winters was called to the office of Claude Kantner, director of what was then the School of Dramatic Arts and Speech. Grungy from painting a set, he arrived to find Kantner and John Walker, director of the theater department and one of his mentors at Michigan State, waiting for him.
"They said, 'We've gotten you tenure.' 'OK,' I said. Then walking down the hall with John Walker afterward, I looked at him and said, 'What the hell's tenure?'"
From that inauspicious beginning, Winters went on to serve as director of the School of Theater from 1977 to 1986 and is wrapping up his second stint as interim director of the School of Film. He's also headed the theater school's production design and technical departments and was founder of the Campus Arts Program and the Appalachian Green Parks Project. The Athens community knows him well through his decades with Ohio Valley Summer Theater.
While Richard Dean Anderson (of "MacGyver" fame), movie director Betty Thomas (an art education major who Winters cast in her first play) and Jonathan Freeman (the voice of Jafar in Disney's "Aladdin") were among his many students, Winters is just as devoted to the late bloomers.
He has an easy explanation for that: "We all arrive at different times. You never know who's going to shine. Just because a person doesn't 'have it' on their 18th, 19th or 20th birthday, it doesn't mean they'll never have it."
Colleagues admire that trait in Winters.
"Bob is truly an educator," says former School of Theater Director Vincent Cardinal, who worked with Winters for six years. "He applies the same effort and enthusiasm to his work with the challenged student as he does with the gifted student. He finds his reward in their steps forward, big or small."
Winters doesn't seem to think in terms of personal time and work time. They're interchangeable. Frisch recalls bumbling his way through a fishing excursion that gave him greater insight into his mentor's personality.
"Bob is an excellent fisherman, ... and I had several opportunities to go with him," Frisch says. "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. I'm sure he was frustrated, but he calmly untangled everything and continued to 'teach' me the finer points of fishing. During these times I learned lessons in life."
Mary Alice Casey is editor of Ohio Today.