George Reed left a lasting impression on many MCC alumni.

May 25, 2015
George with his wife, Jayne.

George with his wife, Jayne.

By Rob Alway. Editor-in-Chief.

Mason County Central alumni are grieving the loss of one of the school’s most influential teachers. George Reed, 61, died over the weekend from complications from heart surgery. I received the news Sunday morning and have been reflecting on George and his influence on my life and the lives of hundreds of others.

George was a 1972 graduate of Ludington High School and began teaching at MCC in the mid-70s. His wife, Jayne, also taught at MCC.

George taught kindergarten and fifth grade over the years. He was also the school’s drama club director for over 20 years. His plays, from the late ‘70s to late ‘90s were epic productions that brought an entire school and community together.

I was a pretty shy kid growing up and I have no idea how or why I decided in seventh grade to try out for “Annie Get Your Gun.” But I did it. George’s musicals were school-wide productions that brought kids from all ages together. As younger members of the cast, we learned how to interact with older kids. We learned the value of working together with a diverse group of people and how to create something magical out of nothing. 

I was in four other musicals including “Annie”, “Oklahoma”, “Grease”, and “West Side Story”  (skipped the musical ‘Bye, Bye, Birdie’ my freshman year — not really sure why). Those times on the stage of the A.O. Carlson Gymnasium are some of my most precious middle school and high school memories. The skills and friendships I gained from those musicals have lasted a lifetime.

But, I’m certainly not the only one. On Sunday I posted one line on the MCP Facebook announcing George’s death. By Monday evening that post had been seen by over 10,000 people with over 64 shares and over 80 comments.

MCC High School teacher Tom Richert continues the legacy started by George as the current high school drama club director.

“I was with George when he started directing at MCC,” Tom said. “I played the Cowardly Lion in his first play, ‘The Wizard of Oz.’  He directed middle school plays and then he was one of my first directors at the high school.  I did his first play at the high school, ‘Professor Fennerstein’s Magical Musical.’  Later, I did ‘The King and I’, and ‘Oliver’, and others.  George encouraged me to go into teaching and theater directing.  He persuaded me to go to Western Michigan University, and enter the theatre education program.  I wasn’t sure of what program or school and he was very instrumental in getting me on my way in my career.  He was always very supportive, and a real gem for Mason County Central.  He laid the ground work for the program I offer now.  He gained respect for the drama program, and negotiated for similar coach pay for it. He directed over 20 years and was an influence on many people!”

Jim Wert has worked for Disney for over 20 years. He began as a performer and today trains the trainers at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Orlando. He credits George Reed for being the influence in his decision to get into acting.

“I first moved to Scottville as I entered the seventh grade,” Jim said. “That was also the first year that I took part in the school play.  That year it was ‘Oliver’ and I was one of many orphans.  I still remember my solo in ‘Food Glorious Good.’  From that point until I graduated in ’85 I was in the school play.  From ‘Oliver’ to ‘Annie’ to my senior year and the lead as Albert Peterson in ‘Bye Bye Birdie’. 

“I remember Mr. Reed commenting on our opening night of ‘Birdie’ that when I was in eighth grade I came to auditions too nervous to sing but asked if I could  have a part anyway (which he gave me by they way) and now here I am with the lead.  I could feel his pride in me and I was proud of myself for pleasing him. 

“I was also a cheerleader during my senior year, coached by Mr. Reed. My friend Todd and I auditioned as a lark and Mr. Reed chose us.  I think he was just excited to have a couple of guys on the squad.  It was unheard of at MCC.  So we may have made history, but we also had a lot of fun. 

“I never had Mr. Reed as one of my ‘teachers’ in a classroom, but for six years he helped foster a love of theater and professionalism that I took to college where I earned a degree in theater and continue to take pride in what I do and how it affects others.  That all came, in no small part, to my time with George Reed.  I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that I am a better man for having had him in my life.”

Ann Genson serves as MCC Middle School drama director.

“George Reed sparked my interest in theater when I was in second grade,” Ann said. “He was the student teacher in my class and directed a class production about the ‘Fifty Nifty States’.  Although I had the tiny part of Fourth Flag Bearer, I was hooked.  Mr. Reed directed me in seven more productions from sxith grade until I graduated.  Each of those productions was the highlight of my school year and created bonds of long-lasting friendships with the other cast members. 

“These productions, and Mr. Reed, taught me that hard work, perseverance and working as a team can accomplish a beautiful and rewarding result.  We were all so very proud of the shows we produced, and he was responsible for that. Mr. Reed was firm but fun.  He always had a smile and made sure our rehearsals were a good balance of work and joy.  He is the source of too many warm, happy memories to count.  In the years since, running into him on the street always resulted in big smiles and hugs.

“George Reed was loved and respected by countless former students, cast members and coworkers.  He will be dearly missed by all who knew him.”

Dan Blackstone was a co-worker of George’s at MCC Middle School. Dan was also responsible for constructing several of the drama club’s sets.

Dan Blackstone

“I worked with George for many years in set construction and back-stage organization and supervision,” Dan said. “He spent many long hours in rehearsal and preparation for a play and the results always reflected those efforts. He always expected, and got, the highest level of excellence that was possible from each of the performers. 

“His goal seemed to be to present performances that were as close to ‘professional’ as possible. For instance, the technician who came in to install the rigging and train the actors for the flying scenes in ‘Peter Pan’ commented that this was one of the best casts he had ever worked with.  They were always on time and on task and followed directions to the letter.  Of course, they had the added incentive of knowing that they would soon be 20 feet above the stage dangling from a cable about the size of a pencil lead.

“He always strived to make his classroom as interesting and interactive as possible. In observing George working with his students, one could tell that he truly enjoyed working with these youngsters, even the occasional challenging student.  He served on many committees at the middle school.  He chaired the committee to improve the interactions with at-risk students and he spent many hours working to update our subject-ares curriculums to align them with the latest state standards.”

Jonathon Wennstrom is a school administrator in southeast Michigan.

“Mr. Reed was a more than a teacher to me, he was a mentor, a role model, and an inspiration.  He was the first person that made me consider education as a profession.  My goal is to touch people’s lives in a positive way, just as he did for me and countless others.”

(Read Jon’s blog about George Reed’s influence here).

George Reed’s legacy will continue for many years to come through his former students, his alumni actors and their children. 

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