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Published: Wednesday, 1/2/2008

New auditorium named after beloved former drama instructor

BY JIM SIELICKI
BLADE STAFF WRITER
The audience at a ceremony at Rossford High School gives retired teacher Harry Wilcox a standing ovation. The audience at a ceremony at Rossford High School gives retired teacher Harry Wilcox a standing ovation.
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Harry Wilcox left Rossford High School more than six years ago, but his influence - and now his name - lives on.

The board of education last month named the newly renovated high school auditorium's stage after Mr. Wilcox, to honor the impact he had on students who went on to pursue careers on the stage, in films, and in the classroom.

"He's the teacher you aspire to be. Harry is truly amazing," said Jason Cervenec, a 1996 graduate who studied French and drama under Mr. Wilcox.

"He's so good at rallying the troops," added Mr. Cervenec, who teaches Advanced Placement biology and freshman physics at Worthington High School, north of Columbus.

Mr. Wilcox speaks with Debbie Zuchowski outside the high school auditorium. Ms. Zuchowski is the parent of a former drama student of Mr. Wilcox's at Rossford High School. Mr. Wilcox speaks with Debbie Zuchowski outside the high school auditorium. Ms. Zuchowski is the parent of a former drama student of Mr. Wilcox's at Rossford High School.
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"He would think big and then get out of the way. He'd say, 'Here's what I want.' As a student, the sky was the limit," Mr. Cervenec said.

Mr. Wilcox, 58, who left Rossford after 23 years, was known as a demanding drama instructor, French teacher, and leader of summer community theater.

Every two years, he took groups of 14 to 23 students on month-long trips to France. He also organized trips for students and their parents to New York and Stratford, Ont., for theater productions.

Suzie Bame, former secretary of the theater boosters, said he had a knack for motivating students and their parents.

"If Harry dreamed up something, the boosters worked to make it happen," said Mrs. Bame, whose three children were involved in his drama classes.

"I think all of us, as parents, were amazed at what he pulled out of our kids," Mrs. Bame said.

During his years at Rossford, Mr. Wilcox's drama students produced musicals, comedies, and plays that challenged his young charges in performances that rivaled professional ensembles, Mrs. Bame said.

His French classes combined speaking, cultural lessons, and food.

"I traveled with him twice to Europe," Mr. Cervenec said. "I credit him to my speaking French so well."

At the start of one such trip in 2002, Mr. Wilcox was stricken by seizures. They signaled the start of a brain tumor.

The year before, he retired from Rossford after 30 years of teaching. He and his wife, Jan, moved to Dexter, Mich., to begin programs for high school French and drama.

"It was a new challenge, and a brand-new facility," Mrs. Wilcox said. "He went from zero to two full programs in two years."

His health deteriorated from the tumor and surgery. In 2005, he was unable to finish his classes. Mrs. Wilcox, a former French and English teacher in Clyde, Ohio, took over for him.

Last year the couple returned to Rossford.

Terri Reichert, a teacher at the high school, sparked a drive for the stage dedication at last month's board of education meeting.

The auditorium was named after former superintendent Wayne Hosafros. Mrs. Reichert said it was only fitting that the stage bear Mr. Wilcox's name.

The dedication that Mr. and Mrs. Wilcox attended was held at the Dec. 17 board meeting.

Mrs. Reichert taught with Mr. Wilcox and appreciated his special style with his students.

"The thing about Harry is, he had a knack for finding something for you to do," Mrs. Reichert said. "He never turned kids away. He was just a favorite."

Mike Cervenec, parent of Jason, said Mr. Wilcox nurtured another talent when involving parents in theater productions and his trips.

"There are two things that you could expect with Harry," Mr. Cervenec said.

"It was going to cost you money and it was going to cost you time."

Mr. Wilcox said he was flattered by the attention.

"I'm pretty honored by that. I really thought that if they named anything after me, it would be the [restroom] down the hall," he joked in an interview before the dedication.

He takes pride in his former drama students who are still involved in the stage or films.

"All of the kids I worked with are working, they're not waiting on tables," he said.

One of his students, mezzo-soprano Katie Calcamuggio, accepted a full scholarship to Northwestern University and now works professionally in opera.

Jonathan Bennett, another Wilcox protg, is a film actor in Los Angeles.

The Wilcoxes drove to New York in 2005, "when I was still walking," Mr. Wilcox said, to join his former student to walk down the red carpet for the premiere of Mean Girls, which starred Lindsay Lohan.

Mr. Bennett, who started his career on the soap opera All My Children, has also been in The Plastics, Season of Youth, Lovewrecked, and Cheaper by the Dozen 2.

Drama booster Mrs. Bame says none of her children pursued a career on stage or with French. But Mr. Wilcox's influence gave them confidence to perform in public settings.

"My kids have done solos, musical solos at church, and they never would have done that without the drama background," she said.

Contact: Jim Sielicki at: jsielicki@theblade.com or 419-724-6078



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