Tuesday, April 8, 2008


We're about a week away from opening night of Wisconsin's second largest fund-raiser for the American Heart Association. I have been fortunate to be part of this organization for many years in a variety of capacities. Countless numbers of volunteers have made this show happen over the past thirty-eight years - all good people who check their egos at the door and do what needs to be done for the benefit of others. We've made many friends over the years, and we have lost far too many of them. Some moved away, others simply decided to take on other projects. Sadly, we have lost others to illness, but I bet they find each other every April, think about us, and sing "You Gotta Have Heart" with us each night at 7:30. Listen for them.

Here's a look at some of our missed friends.

    Doug Malzahn's entrances stopped the show cold. Each night, when he stepped on stage in his Stanley S. Stalwart character, the audience would erupt. They knew what was coming. Doug's lisping, sputtering character was a yearly favorite. Doug and his wife, Helen, gave many generous years to Heart-A-Rama. They come back each year to see what the new kids are up to!

Jack Mounford's claim to fame was playing slick talking characters. He was a master at double takes, cunning double meanings, and deliberate line delivery. His wife, Joretta, and daughters, carry on his legacy by heading up the props committee for the show.

Kathie Bundy did it all - act, direct, produce, write. My favorite memories of Kathie include how much the general co-chairs' dogs loved her. She did not return the love! Whenever we met, one of the two huge dogs, a black and a chocolate lab, would inevitably seek out Kathie and spend the evening either snoring at her feet, or with her head resting comfortably on Kathie's knee. On one occasion, one of the pups emptied Kathie's purse item by item while we discussed plans for the show.

Kathy is a long time champion of civic projects, and remains active in the arts.

Linda Moses left us for the light of Vegas.

Ralph Schwark was just goofy all the time, always laughing. He ran a local laundromat and had an amazing collection of costumes concocted from unclaimed dry-cleaning items.

Bobby Lebarek...well, this picture says it all. This particular costume was a pair of long-johns and Bobby had a terrible time keeping the trap door in the back closed. Eventually, he just gave up! He still stops by LaDeDa to say "hi," and catch up. Bob has begun taking impressive pictures of Manitowoc architecture.

Sheila Hansen was Heart-A-Rama's resident sweet young thing for many seasons. Although she's hasn't been on stage for several years, Sheila is always on hand to sell notepads, chocolates, take tickets, whatever needs to be done. HAR is a family business for Sheila. Her mom is a general co-chair of the show, as was her father, Ron, before his death. Her husband, Biff, is our show MC.

Lucky for us Sheila continues to do local musical theatre whenever possible.

Oh boy! What can be said about Jim Jansen? People still refer to him as "the little guy from the DMV." This little guy made a huge impact. We were somewhat concerned for his safety when he first auditioned for the show but Jim easilybecame a regular. Audiences loved him. We admired his courage. Jim was in pain all the time, but no one ever knew it. This guy just didn't complain. He was in life to do what he could, and he took whatever came his way. He enjoyed Fellini films, a little gossip, a shot of Jack Daniels, and an occasional colorful joke!

When Jim died, his mom sent us her favorite photo to use in the HAR program. I had it on the counter at the store and accidentally slipped it into a customers's bag with her holiday purchases. She put the bags in her closet, never looking at them. When she wrapped the gifts and sent them off to Florida, she just packed the books, still in the store bag, into the box and shipped it out. Imagine her daughter's surprise when she opened the box and found several books and a nice picture of Jim! We had to call Jim's mom and confess we had lost her favorite picture. We got the picture back sometime in spring.

Lori Lippert has one of the most beautiful voices I have ever heard. This will be our first yea in many without Lori in the cast, and she will be missed. I hope that she will come back in the future. She's fun to have around, and wonderful to direct.

Lori is a private person, and I suspect, somewhat shy. I am glad that I have gotten to know her over the years. She is generous, caring, and makes great Texas caviar

That's John Reade in the center. Al and Bill are behind him; watch for them as two lovely German girls in this year's show. John was only with us for two years, but we will remember him for his strength. During last year's show, he was battling pancreatic cancer, and we had a stand-in ready to go on at a moment's notice. John wouldn't hear of it. He was a trouper.

The year before, John had us all worried. We liked him well enough, but for some reason, he could not learn his lines. His director finally worked out a way for John to go on stage with his script. Two weeks after the show, I ran into John at a restaurant and he stood up and recited his lines perfectly!

Jim and Mary Mellberg were one of many husband and wife teams in our show. They were both leaders in community theatre, and were unstoppable when it came to over the top physical comedy. Nothing was too wacky or too outrageous.

Jim had exemplary on-stage range, and he loved the opportunity to stretch and add a few more nuances to his repertoire. He was a punster and a practical joker. Every so often, I hear a joke that I know Jim would have loved. I just holler, 'Hey Mellberg, listen to this!" When's he's not singing with Elvis, I like to think that Jim is telling those jokes to someone!

Johnny Depp...OK, so he has never been in the show - I'm just dreaming! But, there's a good chance he'd get a part if he auditioned.

There are more...many more people past and present who have imprinted our show. If you get a chance to see this year's show, take a minute to think about the history upon which this organization rests. It is impressive. Look around at each piece of the show - the costumes, the make-up, the stage, the curtain, lights, sound - everything. A volunteer touched that. A volunteer made it happen. New volunteers will join the ranks, others will leave. Just having been there is important! It allows us to go on!