September 16, 2016
Dr. Linda “Doc” Stewart’s first parade to march in was during homecoming at Northwestern Oklahoma State University when she was a young trumpet player in the band at Hazelton, Kansas. She will now come full circle by returning on Oct. 1 as parade marshal for the school that eventually became her alma mater and a place where she taught for 35 years.
Stewart, who taught primarily speech and theatre, retired from the university in May 2002. It’s been 10 years since she’s visited Alva after moving to the Arlington/Fort Worth, Texas, area, and is so excited to return.
Being named as parade marshal is a thrill for Stewart because she had served several years on the homecoming committee that is responsible for selecting the parade marshal and knows first-hand how difficult making that choice can be. She recalled a time while working at a homecoming food booth and seeing community leaders Jim Holder and Anna Belle Shafer lead off the parade.
“I just thought how wonderful that would be!” she said. “He was a community leader and so was she, and I thought wouldn’t it be nice to really be honored in that way; never thinking that I would fall into that slot, so when I got it I was thrilled.”
Stewart also served on the Miss Cinderella committee while at Northwestern.
“I was the technical director for Miss Cinderella for many years,” she said. “That’s just kind of a job that went along with running the backstage. I loved that job, too; that was fun. It’s always fun to be the guy in the background that knows what’s going on.”
She also was a sponsor for Castle Players, the drama club at the university that began as “Little Theatre” in the 1950s. For homecoming this group, along with Stewart’s guidance, sponsored clowns who walked in the homecoming parade. Stewart also taught clown school during several summers at Northwestern.
Stewart began her college career at Friends University in Kansas as a music major (trumpet, first chair) then changed her major to psychology. She then transferred to Northwestern where she chose to focus on English.
At Northwestern is where Stewart found her passion in theatre while double majoring in English and speech education.
“I started out in theatre because a friend of mine asked me to come over and help her,” Stewart said. “I did, and I just sort’ve fell in love with it.”
She had a teacher who required students to attend plays and shortly after, Stewart found herself getting more involved with all aspects of the theatre by helping the teacher with critiques of the actors and set, which turned out to be a help to Stewart.
Finding enough people, as well as the right people to be in a theatre production started to become a skill for Stewart, even as a student.
“If we didn’t have enough people to be in a play [following auditions], we would just go back to the dorm and ask our friends or catch someone in the lunch room and say ‘we have a part that would be great for you!’ I always felt like I could spot them,” Stewart said. “I could spot somebody who would be really good in a certain part, and I think everybody who ever directs a play feels that way.
“One time I cast a boy who came in to sell us some pizzas, and he was so good that later on he became an extra in California. So, some of them work out and some of them don’t.”
In 1962, she graduated from Northwestern with her bachelor’s degree and taught high school in Medicine Lodge, Kansas, and Harper, Kansas. Stewart returned to the university in 1963 to earn her master’s degree along with her certification in guidance and counseling. She spent the next two years splitting her time being a counselor, English and psychology teacher.
In the summer of 1963, Stewart received a grant for post-graduate study at
the Oklahoma State University (OSU) and eventually applied for graduate work in education.
“I felt pretty prepared when I went down to OSU,” Stewart said. “There were a lot of people there who didn’t have the background that I did. I was very fortunate to have had gone to Northwestern.”
Stewart admitted that she had trouble determining what she wanted to do as a career because she was interested in so many different things, something which she believes affects most people involved in theatre. However, after completing her course work and starting on her dissertation, she got a call that would set her future path in stone.
Boyce Pennington, her former speech professor at Northwestern, called her in 1967 to inform her of a job opening at the university. Because of his influence and the respect she had for him and the support she was given by other teachers like him, she accepted the job to teach speech and theatre at Northwestern, which led to her life-long career with the Ranger family. She earned her doctorate from OSU in 1970.
Stewart was honored by the university with a Distinguished Teaching Award in 1985 and the John Sheffield Teacher of the Year Award in 1997, honors which she is especially proud. She even credits Dr. Sheffield for possibly being the reason people started calling her “Doc.”
“I guess when I got my doctorate that was pretty big news for a while,” she said. “I also had a teacher who I thought a lot of and his name was Dr. Sheffield, and people called him ‘Doc’. So when people started calling me ‘Doc,’ that made me feel real good.”
Through the years, Stewart tried to do what she was asked to do as best as she could with what she had to work with, whether it was for class, a production or even to serve on a committee.
“I just did the same thing every other teacher did,” she explained. “Whatever was related to your field or they think you can do, they have you do it, and that’s part of the fun. I think that’s where you really get to know your students and become like family. Because when you’re in the theatre all day long and part of the night, our job is unique that we go back to school after supper to practice a play or build a set. We always tried to make the person who was the actor be well-rounded to be able to do lights or staging or something. When you try to get into professional theatre, that’s the main thing that gets you into the show is that you can do something else.
Working within the theatre is a different way of life that not many understand, but Stewart “got it” and helped her students to “get it.”
“There’s something about the theatre – when you’re live on stage with an audience – that is really electrifying,” Stewart said. “When you’re on stage, you’re going to work it, and your audience is learning something, and it’s a wonderful way to inform people of things.
“[Theatre] gets in your system, and you can’t get it out. I would love to still be working with the theatre.”
Stewart was dedicated to teaching and enhancing her own skills so she took summer classes at Emporia State University in Kansas and also spent a summer in an internship in St. Louis working with a professional theatre company.
For theatre productions at Northwestern, Stewart was always sure to have mixture of modern and timeless dramas and comedies throughout the year. She said she always loved the musicals but didn’t know enough to run them, so they were dependent on the music department to help out. Early in Stewart’s career plays and performances were conducted in the Fine Arts Building or the Student Center Ballroom, rather than in Herod Hall Auditorium.
For Stewart it’s difficult to say how many productions she was involved with during her career at Northwestern, along with various high school and community theatre opportunities, but in 35 years as a professor at Northwestern she produced an average of four major productions a year, a musical every other year and performances every time a specific production class was taught.
“Our actors always painted and worked on the set,” Stewart said. “It really makes them feel like it’s their production, not just an actor coming into read the script; it’s your play. If [a student] signed up to act they had to sign up to do technical work, too. [The actors] take a lot of pride in it, I think, and are good people.
“[The students had] their own things to worry about, too; their classes, their tests and all of that to balance with the time that they spend in theatre. I just really think that’s kind of like a person having a job when they are growing up. It teaches them so much.”
Stewart enjoyed teaching her students the mechanics of theatre but also liked performing live on stage working with the local community theatres on occasion. She laughed when saying she believed it showed her versatility through being cast as a nun in one of their productions and a prostitute in another.
Stewart also showed that same versatility and comedic side by starring on NWTV in a 1990’s cooking show named “The Sloppe Sisters” with fellow alum, former student – and at the time – colleague Cindy Spradling. The pair also had a co-host and “brother” named “Bubba,” who was played by another alum and university retiree Dr. Rod Murrow.
Stewart explained that they would have guests on the show varying from other faculty members to a group of Boy Scouts. She said that the show was never scripted, but Spradling was the “brains” behind the operation because she was the one who really could cook and knew all of the recipes. Stewart said her character was more on the side of comic relief who never really had it all together, something she said was an easy part for her.
“I still am a ‘Sloppe,’ and I will be forever,” Stewart said. “If you ever eat my food, I’ll bring Tums, because you’ll need them.”
Although it’s been awhile since Stewart has been able to make the journey from Texas to Alva, she hasn’t let distance stop her from keeping in touch with students and friends.
“I sure do [get to keep up with students]! That’s why my phone is never charged!” Stewart said. “I don’t let anybody slip through my fingers. I try to keep in touch, and Facebook has been wonderful for me because I’ve gotten to get back with so many people.”
It won’t be long until “Doc” will be able to actually see and visit with her friends and former students as a number of them plan on attending a special “50 Years of NWOSU Theatre” reunion planned for Oct. 1. A reception in her honor will take place at 9 a.m. at the Northwestern Alumni tent on the square prior to the start of the parade at 10 a.m. Theatre alumni will be able to visit with Stewart and pre-register for the informal evening dinner reunion, planned for after the game at approximately 8 p.m. in the Student Center Ballroom.
Alumni and current students who have been involved in some aspect of theatre and are planning to attend the evening reunion are asked to RSVP by Tuesday, Sept. 20, to Kimberly Weast, current director of theatre who has served Northwestern for 15 years, at firstname.lastname@example.org. The cost of the reception is $10 for adults and $5 for children 12 and under.
All theatre alumni, whether attending the reunion or not, are asked to provide a current email address, mailing address, phone number, graduation year or years attended, and what they’ve been doing since leaving Northwestern so the theatre records can be updated. Those unable to attend may send cards, emails, photos, etc., to post on a display board at the reception.