Sandra Okamoto opinion: Columbus State University Theater Alumni gather to celebrate

Reunion party offers former students a chance to reconnect

June 27, 2012 

Columbus is lucky to have Cameron Bean in town.

He came here to earn a theater degree from Columbus State University and stayed. He then earned a master's degree, worked for CSU, and is now the development director of the Springer Opera House.

All of this is in something like six years.

The past few years, he's joked that he's the "unofficial president of the department of theater's alumni association."

He keeps track of CSU's theater alumni and is in touch with the "angels." Theater Angels help raise money for scholarships and some expenses for the department.

Last Saturday, he held the Second Department of Theater Alumni and Angels Reunion.

About 35 people came downtown for the reunion. About 25 of them were alumni.

Two awards are given every year.

Merrill Cheyne, a 1996 CSU theater graduate, won the Hazel Hall Brennan Distinguished Alumni Award. Merrill teaches drama in the Harris County middle school. Hazel was the department chair for almost 30 years.

The second award, the Neal R. Fenter Theater Leadership Award went to John Hargrove, one of the owners of the Columbus Lions, who is a dedicated theater supporter. Neal was a theater professor for almost 30 years. And we're lucky to see him on the Springer stage at least once a year.

"In the history of the program, both Hazel and Neal dedicated their lives in laying the foundation for theater education within Columbus State University's mission. Without their vision and leadership they displayed in their tenures as faculty members, the department simply wouldn't be what it is today," Cameron said.

Cameron was the host of the evening, though he quickly acknowledged current department chair Larry Dooley and the CSU Alumni Association for their help.

When I first started covering the arts in Columbus, CSU was still Columbus College and the department was in the Fine Arts Hall on main campus. It's now called University Hall.

There were maybe 20 theater majors. And I mean year after year, the same number of kids would come to Columbus.

Then, Hazel added the theater education degree and the number of students practically doubled. Today, there are more than 170 theater majors.

How do they decide on who gets the two awards?

Cameron said the current board of Theater Angels make recommendations and then take a vote.

A select group of theater alumni make recommendations and also take a vote.

"It's a democratic process," Cameron said.

I asked what would he do if his name comes up.

He said he wouldn't vote for himself, of course.

"There are tons of alumni out there doing wonderful things, all of whom are more deserving than me," he said.

I'm not so sure of that.

One of these days, he'll get that Distinguished Alumni Award.

Sandra Okamoto, arts writer, can be contacted at sokamoto@ledger-enquirer.com or 706-571-8580.

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