!-- Official UMass Sesquicentennial Logo --> UMass Sesquicentennial

Alumni and Friends


Read articles, view photos and watch films about alumni, friends, and members of the Department of Theater here.

May 2010: The Denise Tribute Issue — Contents

Click on the title to go directly to the story

Remarks from the Chair

by Penny Remsen

Denise has been essential in shaping the way we on the inside, and community members on the outside, have experienced the Department of Theater. I'm talking about her friendly, welcoming manner on the phone, and the way she turned many a prospective student or a parent into a friend before they'd even set foot here. I'm talking about that candy bowl that provided so many of us with a much-needed pick-me-up in the middle of the day, not just because of the sugar rush, but because of the cheerful conversation that accompanied it. I'm talking about the way you could go into the office and fire off the most random question relating to theater business and she would bustle over to her desk, flip through her file folders, and inevitably pull out one that had the answer. I'm talking about the many, many ways she has gone above and beyond the call of duty for so many years to make sure that what needed to be done, got done, and did so with warmth and good humor.

We'll miss her tremendously.


Renaming the Community Spirit Award

In 2005, the Department of Theater initiated the Community Spirit Award, which recognized students who, "through their beyond-the-call-of-duty dedication and commitment, have made an outstanding contribution to the community spirit of the department." Each year since, faculty have given the award to a pair of students who best fit that description. When Denise retired this year, we realized something: although she was never a student of the department, she embodies the qualities we sought to recognize with this award. From there it was a short leap to the idea of renaming the reward in her honor, and that's exactly what we did. On May 6, with the help of Meghan Kane '05, one of the recipients of the award in its inaugural year, we unveiled a new plaque that bore the name of our new award: The Denise Lessard Wagner Community Spirit Award. We look forward to honoring students — and Denise — with this award for many years to come.

Back to top

The Denise Marvel

Remarks Delivered at the Celebration of Denise Wagner’s Retirement
Fine Arts Center - May 6, 2010
by Julian Olf, Professor of Theater Emeritus

I am delighted to have an opportunity to speak at this celebration honoring Denise Wagner on the occasion of her retirement from University Service.

Besides the headaches that come with academic administration, there are a number of perks, few more gratifying than the ability to recruit and hire personnel. As a theater chair for 21 years, I interviewed and hired more people than I can possibly recall. Included among them were dozens of wonderful individuals who have had a great impact on their department and on the quality of life of its people. Measured by that yardstick, Denise stands head and shoulders above the pack.

Before coming to the Department, Denise held a variety of jobs in different areas at UMass. She began in 1981 as a member of the typing pool in the School of Management. In 1986 she moved to University Relations and Development. She even did a short turn on the Chancellor’s Staff where, among other things, she coordinated the Distinguish Faculty Lecture Series. But nothing that she did in those days could possibly compare with what lay in store for her, and for us, in the West Wing of the Fine Arts Center.

Let it be clear: Denise can, with her eyes closed and both hands cuffed behind her back, write the book and teach the course on how to be a brilliant secretary. But that’s only where The Denise Marvel begins! How many secretaries do you know who have owned more cats than the Dakin shelter has ever seen? How many secretaries do you know who’ve played roles in the Wizard of Oz? The Sound of Music? Romeo & Juliet? —and played them well? How many secretaries do you know whose office has the ineradicable scent of take-out from AmChi? How many secretaries do you know who routinely fill out adoption papers for all students that walk through their office door—instantly learning their names, cheering them on in every theatrical performance, eager to keep in touch—often long after they have graduated? How many secretaries do you know who are eager to brighten every sad face with a small piece of chocolate? Have you heard Denise’s infectious laugh resounding in the halls of the Department? You would know if you have! There wasn’t an actor in our shows who couldn’t tell you which performance Denise attended—and precisely where she sat.

There’s a saying that in any well-run organization no one person is indispensable. Well, the day Denise Wagner announced her decision to retire, there wasn’t a faculty person on board who wouldn’t call that saying a bald-faced lie. Denise didn’t merely do what needed to be done—and do it brilliantly. Time and again she anticipated our every need. During round after round of rotating departmental chairs, it was Denise who maintained continuity in our department. Whether by herding people into a complex schedule of graduate committee meetings, or by distributing periodic reports and reminders, or by locating instantly any piece of paper that had passed through the office since the beginning of recorded time, it was Denise who kept the gears of our complex operation well-oiled and running.

On a personal note: Denise and I worked together for about seventeen years.  From the time we met, she took a personal interest in me and my family. My daughter Kimiko adored her. It was Denise whom Kimiko came to see when she visited the Department, and I’m sure that must have been the case for most of our faculty and staff children. That’s because even the most timid soul senses that there’s no limit to Denise’s kindness, her warmth and generosity.  Now, it will come as no surprise when I confess that I’m not the easiest person to work with. Denise was quick to let me know if I was making unreasonable demands on her. No waiting or letting resentment build. She understood that I cared a great deal about her—that I sometimes needed and always welcomed her occasional reminder to stop, to look and to listen. In case you didn’t know, Denise has a wicked sense of humor—she and I often stole into the back office to share funny stories and jokes.  (Hers would make your ears burn.)  And as life’s challenges unfolded before us, we shared our sadness as well. 

Denise, you have touched my life deeply, as you have the lives of so many faculty, staff and students. To us, you were and will always be the mother of all secretaries.

I wish you and your family the very best of health and contentment in your retirement.  Whatever you end up doing—and it’s inconceivable that you won’t be busy—just remember to call me when you hear a good joke.

Back to top

Two Alumnae Reflect

I wasn't sure how I was going to manage balancing graduate school and a young family, but Denise made me feel at home from the beginning—I remember her playing with my one-year-old while I signed my first contract. Denise's depth of knowledge and ready smile were a guiding force that helped me through more problems (and copier jams) than I can count. I'll miss seeing her when I pop back to UMass-Amherst, but congratulate her on her enormous contribution to the Department of Theater over the years.
— Talya Kingston, '07G

I was so sorry to hear that Denise is retiring! She will be hard to replace. When I came to look at UMass Amherst back in 1995 with my brother to see if I wanted to transfer, she greeted us with a friendly smile and gave us a tour. I ended up going to UMass-Amherst and majored in Theater. Denise was always there to offer a smile and support and I know she will be greatly missed. I wish her the best of luck!
— Rachel Carney '99

Back to top


The Front Office

Remarks Delivered at the Celebration of Denise Wagner’s Retirement
Fine Arts Center - May 6, 2010
by Sally O'Shea

For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Sally O’Shea and in 1991 I was the Business Manager for the Theater Department as well as Julian’s assistant. I’d like to take a small amount of credit for being involved in the hiring of DENISE WAGNER, who has served the department, the community, and all of us-well, for 19 years!  Denise found her home in the Theater Department, having worked in banking, supported the School of Management here on campus, and even put in some time in the provost’s office in Whitmore.  It all came together for her-and for us-when she took up residence in 112 Fine Arts Center!

I worked with Denise for several years.    In addition to Julian, we kept company with Vincent Brann, Virginia Scott, Dick Trousdell, Ed Golden, Harry Mahnken, and Doris Abramson.  Penny, Miguel, June. . . they were the youngsters!  In those early years, it took 3 of us to keep the main office running.  Ginger Dudkiewicz, Denise and I would find ways to amuse one another when the paperwork and details of office life became overwhelming.    For awhile we had a HEAD SECRETARY.  It was just that, a pumpkin or wig stand with a long haired blonde wig on it. If Ginger or Denise were out, or just needed a break, we’d place the HEAD on their desk and wait for a reaction.  One day June brought her daughter Adrien in, as an infant. She left Adrien in Denise’s arms.  Next thing you know, the wig was on the baby and everyone was in tears laughing.  We worked hard, but we had fun! 

As in the old days, I turned to Ginger for help with the memories.  She reminded me of some of our musical moments. . .  Denise raising a bag of peanut M&M’s and singing “I’m in heaven!” or the many times  when Denise came to the rescue of  a faculty member or staff and we’d chime in with our rendition of “she’s a butt saver”.  Holidays, birthdays, vacations were all marked with festivities.  Upon returning from a trip to Ireland, my office was covered with paper potato people!  After my daughter Maggie was born and I returned to work, my office was plastered with huge images of Maggie’s smiling baby face to make the transition easier.  Ginger would often come up with alternate ways to get things done, she’d say she was being “lazy” Denise would praise her for finding a “smarter” solution.  I learned a lot from the two of them.  Kat Lovell stopped by my office the other day and as we spoke of this retirement event for Denise, the tears started to flow as she recalled the “bright light” that was and is Denise. “She was the keeper of all knowledge”, Kat said.  If she couldn’t answer your question, she’d find the answer or know right where to direct you to get it. As is the case with many of us in this room, we have Denise to thank for encouraging us and helping us get to where we are now. She did it with love and humor.  

When you think about FAMILY, there is so much meaning in “family for Denise. The love-of-her-life, her husband Glenn, provides his support and comic inspiration.  Their cats (Iggy, Velcro, Mrs. Coolidge, Emma, can you name the many others   . . . . . with their crazy antics.  Her sisters, brother, mother, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, grand nephews, in-laws—none too far away, always close to her heart.  The Theater Department has been (and will no doubt continue to be) family as well. She knows everyone who’s been through these hallways. She kept on top of the faculty needs, tended to students who were new, lost, or just in need of a welcoming smile. She made sure there was coffee, there was candy, there was information available before you knew you needed it. She got you into the class you couldn’t get into. She celebrated your first role in a production. She applauded your performances. She was even IN some of your performances! She made sure you knew you were special on opening night, helped you party at the end of the semester. She was the proud MAMA as we’d sit in the audience-she’d tell me about everyone’s role, share a story about them and always have a great big smile when she saw her name credited in the program. She is proud of this department and everyone who has made it so special.  And let’s not forget celebrity—we all know when a former student is in the news (or at least in People magazine), on TV or in a new movie.  I’m sure the autographed headshot of Richard Gere had to be carefully removed from Denise’s desktop when she packed up.

Denise had her own performances over the years too. As her costume designer, I watched her pack a pistol as Mrs. Butterwell, the head baker at the North Pole in a murder mystery dinner theater production. She played Sister Margaretta in Amherst Leisure Services’ The Sound of Music and the Mayor of Munchkinland in The Wizard of Oz. Always at home with the kids, and not much taller, she’d enjoy catching up with them years after they’d performed together on the Bowker stage, always with a wink and a memory of earlier times spent in the theater.  She was involved with performances and summer church services at Laurel Park, where she and Glenn make their home—and have yet another loving family of friends.  And of course the many, many impromptu performances when Denise would share a song, recite a monologue, or tell us a story as only she can.  We can all hope to be in her audience for a long time to come!

Family.  Denise created the theater department family and kept it running for nearly 20 years.  She invited us to be part of her family and in turn she has become integral to all of our families.  We’ve all had the luxury of knowing right where to find her all these years, there when we’ve needed her.  While we get used to our new lives here at the university, with Denise now on the other side of the river, we can take such pleasure in the many years we’ve had the opportunity to have daily contact with her.  Thinking of the richness of the time she’s now able to spend with Glenn, her family and friends beyond these concrete walls.  There is no doubt that she’ll be keeping tabs on all of us, keeping in touch, and sitting in the audience when you’re least expecting it.  Don’t get lost in technology-pick up the phone and give her a call.   Send her a note from time to time, not forgetting to include a scratch ticket!

Back to top

The Tie That Binds

Jason Czernich '00 wrote this appreciation of Denise for the UMass Daily Collegian in spring 2000. It is reprinted here with the permission of the Daily Collegian and Jason Czernich.

The University of Massachusetts Department of Theater puts on at least two shows per semester. It is a place where undergraduates and graduate students can get a thorough education in the fields of theater performance, design and dramaturgy. If you want to learn about the world of the theatrical stage then UMass Theater is the place to go. With al of this to offer, one would wonder who has kept things running so smoothly over the years in this busy department.

Is it Catherine Bloch, the production manager? She oversees production on all the theatrical productions in the department and makes sure all production positions are filled. Without her, all the major productions would not execute properly. She is without a doubt an extremely important component of the UMass Department of Theater; she is not the person, however, I refer to when I talk about who holds the UMass Department of Theater together. The person I have in mind has been present in the department longer than Catherine Bloch.

Am I referring to Ed Golden or Penny Remsen, the co-chairs of the Department of Theater? Ed is an amazing acting teacher and Penny Remsen does quite well at presenting lighting design material. Both of them are very friendly, approachable people who have mastered their respective fields. Students feel free to go to them with questions and concerns anytime, but again there is someone else who I see as embodying the spirit of the Department of Theater. Don't get me wrong, Catherine Bloch, Ed Golden, Penny Remsen and other faculty and staff at the UMass Department of Theater are all important elements. The students also make up a big part of the department, too.

However, the glue that binds all these parts is someone that everybody in the UMass Department of Theater knows and loves: Denise Wagner. She is the Department of Theater secretary and has been with the department since 1991, almost a decade of service! Before that, she had secretarial experience from the Chancellor's Staff Office and the School of Management. Besides handling phone calls, filing away files and other secretarial duties, she is an all around helpful and nice person. Need to know something about the department? Ask Denise. If she doesn't know the answer off the top of her head she will definitely know who will, as she knows everybody in the department.

When you stop into the Department of Theater lobby Denise will be the smiling woman sitting behind the desk in the main office. More often than not Denise will have a jar full of candy on her desk that anybody is welcome to. She doesn't have to have that candy but it's there just the same for anybody who wants one. That's just plain nice.

On the opening days of department shows Denise will place some refreshments out in the lobby for the students and faculty. These refreshments are usually Dunkin' Donuts Munchkins or something similar. It is almost always a race to see who can eat all the chocolate-glazed ones first. Denise doesn't have to spend the time or money for these treats but she does anyway because that's just who Denise is — a sweet and caring person.

Denise does her best to be helpful and make everybody feel welcome in the department, and everybody in the department appreciates what she does. She is one of those people about whom you never hear anything bad, like Al Roker. Even so, there was one time last summer when Denise was having doubts about her effectiveness in the department due to the stress of her busy schedule. I happened to be on campus at the time so I stopped in to see how things were going. When I bumped into Denise I was surprised to find her down in the dumps. After hearing how stressed she was, I told Denise that she was in fact the glue that holds the department together. If she were to suddenly disappear, the department would become disorganized and maybe a less fun place to be. She thanked me for the reassurance, gave me a hug, and went straight back to work, right on top of things as always. She didn't really need my reassurance because deep down she knows how valuable she is to the department. She would have gotten over her stress anyway because Denise Wagner is unsinkable.

Seceretary's Day is coming up very soon. If you're a Department of Theater student and you appreciate what Denise Wagner does to make the UMass Department of Theater a brighter place then please let her know. Also give her a hug. She likes those.

Back to top

denise mayor

Denise Wagner, Department of Theater Compass

by Mark Dean, Department of Theater General Manager

As I think about the remarkable occasion of Denise’s retirement from the university where she has worked for an amazing 28 years, over 19 of them here in the Department of Theater, I have to stop and recall my own first days in the department. When I first arrived as the temporary Production Manager in 1995 I was lost – the place seemed huge, the cavernous concrete hallways seemed endless and not to lead anywhere I was trying to go, and everyone had their own thing going on, very busy, rushing everywhere. Just to slow people down as they were rushing off from one appointment to another was a daunting task. , However, there was someone at peace in the middle of the hubbub, someone who never seemed flustered and never seemed in too much of a hurry to explain where everything was, who everyone was, how things usually got!  That was Denise Wagner, who welcomed me into the department with the same grounded enthusiasm with which she has welcomed so many faculty members, students, parents, and the general public over the years. 

With Denise’s help I eventually figured out where the Upper Rand Lobby was. I learned how to get the attention of Physical Plant when internal rivers ran through our regular Lobby from a roof leak or from a toilet that had had enough of going in only one direction. I learned how to harness the tremendous volunteer energy of department students as I watched her coordinate the Undergraduate advisory council in giving prospective students and their parents tours of the department. When I became the Department’s Business Manager I also became Denise’s direct supervisor, which has been not only a joy, but an education in itself, of finding new and better ways of supporting others work.  Denise’s example inspired me through it all . Her support and unflagging attention to detail in critical activities like assisting graduate and undergraduate program directors with the mountains of transcript organization and related paperwork of clearing students for graduation every year inspired me in my search for better ways to organize the flow of information in the Department.  It is no surprise that Denise’s significant contributions to UMass Amherst and the Department were recognized in awarding her the 2005 Chancellor's Citation Award.

In a more personal realm, Denise’s spearheading of our Department lobby receptions, warm, personal gatherings that have made the Department feel more like a large, extended family living room than the structured and accomplished academic unit that it also is, helped me to see the context we create in which students feel safe to learn and to grow..  Denise herself discovered the magic of theatrical reinvention when she performed as an engaging and accomplished actress in the solo role of Mrs. Sorkin in the Department of Theater, as the Mayor of Munchkinland in Amherst Leisure Services’ production of The Wizard of Oz, and as Mrs. Butterwell in a delightful Murder Mystery Dinner Theater.

Amidst everything else, Denise has coordinated the Department’s contributions to the campus-wide COMEC campaign for most if not all of the time I have known her, reminding me to be more generous when I think I am too busy to think of others, reminding me of the satisfactions of doing for others in the midst of trying to get my own lists done. The only time in my friendship and working relationship with Denise that we ever came to blows was last winter as she was about to retire. She was organizing a surprise send off for one of our graduating work-study students, Malgo Tolak.  Unbeknownst to Denise, Malgo was organizing an informal surprise send-off party for Denise, which required me to delay Denise with a ruse for 10 or 15 minutes, right when Denise was finishing the details for Malgo’s imminent surprise lunch party.  I can warn you that woe awaits anyone who gets between Denise and making a student feel special and cared for – I did delay Denise for the required time, but those were among the longest 15 minutes of my life.  I pulled out all my delaying stops, but normally calm and unflappable Denise insisted, politely yelled, finally (at my increasingly desperate suggestion) hit me in her frustration to surprise Malgo.  Thank goodness Malgo showed up to rescue me. In the end, some of Denise’s magic came back to her. Our student Malgo carrying on what the teacher Denise had always demonstrated: the art of making community, and of connecting people to their best selves in service to others.

Back to top

Slideshow: Denise Day

Gallery requires the Flash Player plugin and a web browser with JavaScript enabled.

On Feb. 5, the Department of Theater celebrated Denise Wagner on her retirement from the department by declaring "Denise Day." View the slideshow for photos of the festivities.

Back to top

Filling Denise's Shoes

by Imani Denson-Pittman '07, alumnus and temporary secretary for the spring 2010 semester

When I first thought about becoming a theater major, I was taking Theater 140 with Melissa Miller, a directing grad student at the time. My only foray into theater had been little acting things in elementary and middle school and set designing Pippin for the UMass Theatre Guild. Coming into the Department was a little bit intimidating.  Having graduated in a class of five with a total high school population of just about 30,I was extremely out of my element at UMass.

Denise was one of the first people I spoke to in the Department. She helped me find the Upper Rand Lobby and was a smiling face to see everyday when I was scared shitless and didn’t have many friends yet. It was such a new thing to me, so many people; I didn’t know how to go about making friends or finding my place. Talking to Denise everyday helped me a lot in both my academics as well as finding a life long friend. Eventually, I found my spot on the purple couch (it’s the right-hand side sitting all the way back with your neck nestled in the back cushion for extra support). From there, we would have conversations about everything ranging from theatre to movies to the fact we lived around the corner from each other in Northampton.

Over the next few years our friendship grew. She started asking me to give tours, at first because I was always on the couch sleeping, doing homework or reading something. Eventually, I started to really learn the layout of the Department, figured out other the inner workings of the Department and the University. I even gave some tours after I graduated since I was working in Whitmore at the time. All this helped me prepare for things outside of school. After moving to NYC, I called Denise a few times to see how she was doing, making sure she was doing well, but also for information of alum who were in the city or other folks she might know of that would be helpful in getting in touch with for future work.

After my two years in the city I moved back to Western Mass. I became increasingly antsy as the summer progressed from having not done anything theater related. I also needed a job. I remember calling to see if it was possible to work in the office or in the shop, but because there was a hiring frieze on O3s and I wasn’t a student anymore there wasn’t anything I could do.  found myself working at the Textbook Annex which lasted all of two weeks. Then found I got the position of set designer for Sweeney Todd in the FAC Concert hall for the Theatre Guild. Full circle really. Having been in the FAC everyday almost from 9-5 up until the show, it was nice to pop in and see Denise.

This semester found me working at the Annex again, when I received  a phone call from Mark Dean asking me to fill in for Denise. My first thought was “oh no, what happened to Denise!?” then it was “oh no, how am I going to fill those shoes! She has tiny feet and a big job!” The first week was a bit rough going, but I only had to call Denise twice. She called enough to make up for the other days I was kinda freaking out about. I have to say the Department of Theater would NOT be the same if Denise had not been here all those years. She was and is the glue that kept everyone together and from falling apart. Even though she is no longer a part of the staff she will always be a part of our family. Denise’ retirement came suddenly, but she has still been here in spirit.

Filling the shoes of such an incredible woman has been a daunting task, but one I will never forget. Nor will any of us forget the love, respect and friendships Denise has made over the many years. Her influence will continue to reverberate through my life and ours in every capacity, but especially in how we treat others and our love of candy. So thank you Denise for everything you have done and everything that you are. May your future outside of the Department be as fulfilling as it was in, and may the many people you encounter later in life be as blessed to know you as we are to have you in our lives.

Back to top

Denise the Trickster

Excerpted from Remarks Delivered at the Celebration of Denise Wagner’s Retirement
Fine Arts Center - May 6, 2010
by Harley Erdman

I’d like to make one thing perfectly clear. This is not your average retirement party.  No, this is not normal.  Denise: you’re not normal! What I mean is, this is something special. Because we’re in the presence of somebody pretty special, maybe even somebody extraordinary.

I just finished teaching a course on Tricksters, and we spent a lot of time in that course talking about trickster characters—these sorts of magical individuals that crop up in literature and theater and folklore and dreams and in life. Tricksters are complicated and contradictory and paradoxical and out of the ordinary and elusive.  Denise, I am not 100% sure you are necessarily a trickster but  I am sure you are a woman of enough paradoxes and contradictions to remind me of them. 

 First of all, Denise, when it comes to paradoxes and contradictions, there is the matter of your age. Now, don’t get me wrong—I don’t mean literally how old you are. I’m speaking of metaphorical age. On one hand, in a way, you are ancient. Not “old.” I mean age-old, enduring.  It still astounds to think that you only came to the Department a few years before I did. Denise, for the longest time I always thought that you had always worked here, that there had never been a time when there was no Denise. Your office—outdoor inner office or inner outer office—whatever—seemed to be built around you. You’ve told me a lot about what it was like growing up right here in Amherst, and I've heard your stories of what it was like here before there was a Southwest.  And so I sometimes imagine maybe you were here before there was even a campus, some primordial pastoral time, when there were open fields and meadows and orchards, and in the center of it was you, Denise Wagner, and the decision came down to build the campus, they built the campus around you.

But Denise, even though you are age-old, you are also by far and away, at heart, the youngest adult I know.  I see the way you relate to children—the way you welcomed Jonah and Cara into the department when they were little kids—the artwork they loved doing for you—the way you’ve welcome so many children (there’s been a lot)—the way you give out candy to students—the doughnut holes that were always there the day we opened a show—your advocacy and belief in our them—the joy you take in being around young people—your strong personal identification with them—the intuitive bond between you and the hundreds students who took classes. It is compassionate and it is deep and it is true. And it tells me you are not only ancient but also very young.

Then there is another Denise paradox. This has to do with your selflessness. Your job required you to attend to other people’s needs, other people’s demands, not just on a daily basis but on an hourly basis, sometimes on a minute to minute and second to second basis.  Every day, you dealt with the polite and the rude, the considerate and the cranky, the sacred and the profane, the patient and the impatient and the extremely impatient (the latter was me)—and through it all you made sure students graduated on time; that toner was always in Bessie; that that key memo didn’t get forgotten; that the right forms were signed and paperwork attended to; and that were always pencils and paperclips when we needed them. Every ”t” was crossed and every "i" dotted—because of your selfless giving and attention to detail.

But I don’t want to make you out to be Mother Teresa. That would be boring, Denise. And Denise, you were never boring. Because you could be the opposite of selfless.  I don’t want to say you were selfish—that is not true—but you are in the best, most fabulous sense of the word: a diva.  You love socializing. You love storytelling. You love performing.  I think you thrived being the center of the histrionic whirlwind that is the Department of theater. In a place where people compete to be the center of attention, you matched the best of us in turning heads. To quote Willie Loman: “Attention must be paid!” And so I think you were a perfect match for the Department of Theater, for you are a natural performer, and performers must be giving but never truly selfless. Like the best performers, you are larger than life.

That’s another contradiction. Larger than life. Now in physical stature, Denise, you are not larger than life, You are smaller than average. (I’m with you on this one.) But your presence here was larger than life. I’m reminded of this over and over again whenever I end making contact with a former student (usually via email). It doesn’t matter whether they graduated 2 years ago or 4 or 8 or 12 or 16.  The one thing they always ask is “How is Denise?” It seems that as the years pass, memory has this strange way of making everything fade into a hazy mist except for a crystalline moments, and looming over those at the center of everybody’s experience here is Denise, department secretary.

Secretary. Another paradox. Universities are very hierarchical places: they rival, maybe even outstrip the Catholic Church for bureaucratic levels. Messages travel “upchannel.”  Jobs are classified with numbers.  In this bureaucratic pecking order, there are arranged various tiers of students and then staff and then faculty and then chairs and deans and provosts and chancellors and presidents and then somewhere tucked away in a room in Boston the magical board of trustees. In this pecking order, a secretary is not supposed to matter. Or, to put it another way, a secretary is not supposed to be at the margin of this activity, not at the center. But you flipped this idea on its head. You became the center, the hub, the magnet, the person to go to, the person to remember. And you always embraced that word secretary. You didn’t want to be an “administrative assistant” or whatever the official job title might be. And you reminded me that secretary can be a powerful word:. Like Secretary of the Navy or Secretary of State, or Secretary General . To quote the dictionary: “An official who presides over an administrative department.” Denise, you presided over our Department no matter who was Chair, who was Dean, or who was Chancellor.

I could go on and on with a long list of paradoxes but I won’t, Denise.  You have a little bit of the em cee in you. A little bit of the jester. A little bit of the mother. A little bit of the healer.  A little bit of the trickster. A little bit of the magician. Thank you for working this magic with us for 19 years.

Online Format

As of this fall, we've switched exclusively to an emailed/online format of Stages, which will save paper and money, as well as allowing us to share more interactive features and lots more photos. If you'd like to receive email notices whenever a new issue of Stages has been posted and you're not sure we have your email, please click on Send Us Updates in the sidebar. You can also use the update form to send us your news.


This page is maintained by Department of Theater.
© 2008 University of Massachusetts Amherst Site Policies