Sutton's love of theatre planted and grew at CCCC
By Sharon Coy
Blade Staff Writer
When Susan Sutton, Cloud County Community College Dean of Humanities, was a student at CCCC a seed for her love of the theatre was planted.
Although she had never taken part in plays in high school and her only drama experience had been directing one-acts for 4-H Day in the Dale and Evelyn Tholstrup basement, she responded to the encouragement of CCCC English teacher and play director Peggy Doyen and became a member of the cast for "Mr. Barry's Etchings." The college play was presented at Concordia High School where college classes and activities were held until the new building was built.
"I played a counterfeiter, and Eric Andersen had the role of another counterfeiter who trained me," Sutton said.
That, along with Doyen's introduction to theatre class and a tour of the historic Brown Grand Theatre convinced Sutton that she wanted to pursue a career that would allow her to work in this medium.
In the years that followed, Sutton, who is retiring from CCCC this year, was able to fulfill her goal, teaching and directing both students and area residents who enjoyed acting in more than 150 plays.
Sutton, who was born and raised in Dodge City, moved with her family to Concordia when she was a junior in high school. After graduation from CHS, she attended CCCC and was a member of its second graduating class.
While theatre was still her main interest when she transferred to the University of Kansas, she said her parents wanted her to be sure she would have something that would ensure her a job after she graduated. So she enrolled in education. She took classes in English, speech and theatre, since she was told that most jobs at the high school level required all three.
After graduation from KU, Sutton taught two years at Peabody and one at Hanover, where just as predicted, she was responsible for all three of the areas she had studied.
In 1975, encouraged once again by Doyen and CCCC English teacher, Kay Tomlinson, now deceased, Sutton returned to Concordia to teach at the school where she first felt the theatre nudge, and where she would remain for the next 39 years.
At CCCC she taught English, speech, introduction to theatre, acting I and II, and directed many plays. While she finds it difficult to name a favorite play, "The Chosen," probably takes the honor. This is the story of Orphan Train riders, based on the lives of real life orphans who were in the proximity to Concordia.
With input from her students, Sutton not only directed but also wrote the play which was performed by three different casts in three different years, even one year at the June Havoc Theatre in New York City.
The only college play she acted in was in 1985 in William Inge's "Picnic" when she portrayed aging schoolteacher Rosemary Sydney who married Howard Bevans, played by another CCCC staff member, Wally Carlson, now deceased. This play was performed at the Brown Grand Theatre and later at the William Inge Festival in Independence.
One of Sutton's major extracurricular activities during her years in Concordia has been her involvement with the Brown Grand Theatre. Her first visit to this building was shortly after she moved to Concordia and Sarah Coker and her daughter Sharon, who was about Sutton's age, paid a welcome visit.
At the urging of her mother, Sharon asked Sutton if she wanted to go to the show. Sutton accepted and they walked to the Theatre to see "The Pink Panther." She still remembers how impressed she was with the beauty of the structure.
Sutton admitted if it had not been for the Brown Grand, she probably would not have stayed in Concordia as long as she has.
"I got engaged to the Brown Grand and we've been married ever since," she said.
Sutton was active in the building's restoration in the mid-1970s, is a member of the Brown Grand board and has served as its president and now is the Theatre's artistic director.
She started the Brown Grand Players while sill a freshman at CCCC and continued working with them when she returned after college and teaching in other towns.
Through her work with community theatre, audiences have had the opportunity to see live theatre in the building built for that purpose.
Sutton also is active in the National Orphan Train Complex Society where she serves as president and she is a member of the Camp Concordia POW Association. She said she learned about the importance of historic preservation from longtime CCCC music teacher, Everett Miller who retired last year.
Sutton also is a member of the Cloud County Democrats and recently was elected their president.
One of the things Sutton said she enjoyed most about her teaching career is seeing her students who have gone on to achieve. Some give her the credit, but she said they probably would have been achievers whether or not they had her for a teacher.
Among the achievers she mentioned are Jaime Fall, Vice President for Workforce and Talent Development Policy for the HR Policy Association in Washington, DC.
Prior to joining HR Policy, Fall served for nearly seven years as Deputy Secretary, Employment and Workforce Development, for the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency and was a Senate-confirmed leader in the Schwarzenegger Administration. He was once a member of Sutton's Speech class and played the part of a nerd in the college production of "Grease."
She also remembers having Kansas state senator Elaine Bowers in her speech class. Max Vogler, whom she taught at Hanover High School, is an actor in New York and one-time CCCC student Susanna Pitzer is also in New York working as a freelance playwright.
Former CCCC student John Bates is a bank vice president in Wichita and has roles as a member of Wichita Community Theatre appearing at the Crown Uptown and Cabaret.
Sutton has even had the privilege of working with one of her former mid-eighties drama students, Nancy Zenger Beneda who is CCCC Dean of Sciences and Business, English and Speech and has been her colleague for 10 years.
Sutton will teach one more session of summer school before the end of her contract, July 4. She plans to remain in Concordia, where she lives with her two dogs and three cats.
"I'll enjoy being off the school cycle which has been my life since kindergarten," she said. "This will mean being able to go out of town in the middle of the week and taking vacations sometime other than in the heat of summer or cold of winter."
One vacation Sutton looks forward to will be in New York with several high school girl friends. Highlights will include . . . what else? seeing a number of plays.
Sutton will be honored at a program at 7 p.m., Friday, April 25, in Cook Theatre at CCCC. The public is invited to come and share memories.
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