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Arts Legacy of Marshfield's Dynamic Duo, Part II

11:09 AM, Mar. 27, 2013  |  Comments
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Writer's note: Last month I introduced you to a pair of educators whose work profoundly affected Marshfield's arts scene.

Arriving in Marshfield in 1960, Jerry Schroeder and Jack Bittrich proceeded to establish the MHS Madrigal Singers, Central Chamber Chorale and a 50-plus year theatre tradition that puts larger towns to shame.

A multitude of former students, colleagues and friends share their recollections in Part II of the story of this "dynamic duo."

Respected and well-liked teachers inevitably get nicknames. Jack was called "Mr. B" or, sometimes, "JB." Former student Jean Doty admits, "I still call him 'Mr. B' to this day."

Explaining Schroeder's nickname, she says, "We called him 'Herr Schroeder' and spelled it 'Hair Schroeder' outside of class as a joke because he had very little hair." After earning his doctorate and starting to teach at the University of Wisconsin-Marshfield/Wood County, he became "Doc."

They earned student respect by demanding quality even while bringing fun to the work.

Harrio Clement Sherman: "They made high school really fun and exciting, and really pushed us all to do our best."

Jean Doty: "Herr Schroeder encouraged perfection in every group he directed and did it in a way that was totally fun."

John Andersen: "Both had a terrific work ethic."

Striving for perfection, however, had its risks.

John Andersen: "They both had tempers. When Jerry got angry at the choir he would jump on the piano bench and yell at us. Jack was famous for his temper."

Gene Hayes: "JB wanted his productions to be absolutely perfect. If you played your part well there was unending praise, but if you didn't ... the famous temper was sure to appear."

The students, however, developed confidence in themselves and pride in their accomplishments. Singers told me of the thrill of performing at Expo 67 in Montreal, Canada. Actors vividly recalled memorable productions where they accomplished so much more than they ever thought they could.

One of Jack's brilliant creations was the Trojan award for the best students working backstage in non-acting roles. Chris Britten Williams and John Andersen spoke of it with pride. Luise Custer stated: "Jack had such respect for the people who ran tech, managed backstage and painted mountains by number. He helped the actors understand that they, as much as we, made it all happen."

In the theatre, students worked long hours with gusto.

Jean Doty: "We usually worked until the wee hours of the morning in the week leading up to opening night - much to the dismay of many of our parents!"

John Andersen: "As a crew member we often worked through the night - I mean until sun up. Our parents were always wild about it and demanded something be done."

Jerry Schroeder confessed: "(Jack') talent was contagious, and even though there were times things got strained, as parents sought to justify the many late hours ... his constant drive for perfection was an inspiration to all of us. Between the two of us, I'm sure we sent Mr. Knapp home with a headache more than once."

The principal's daughter, Mary Knapp Margulies, adds, "Dad backed him up even when he wanted to throttle him! He knew talent when he saw it, and he saw it in Jack!"

But it wasn't all Jack's fault. Kids would actually sneak into school to work on sets at night, weekends or vacations. In one instance, loosely chained doors were breached by a skinny crew member, so that students could use a lathe in the industrial arts area. Bittrich later discovered them cooking hamburgers in the home-ec room!

To be continued next month.

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