Local woman turns to Hulu, not photo album, for memories of her late father

A young Joanna Stebing poses with puppets on the stage that her father, Thomas Stebing, built in the basement of their Fort Wayne home during her childhood.
A young Joanna Stebing poses with puppets on the stage that her father, Thomas Stebing, built in the basement of their Fort Wayne home during her childhood. Photo provided.

When most people want to remember a deceased family member, they crack open a photo album.

When Joanna Stebing, of Huntington, wants to remember her father, she can get on the Internet website Hulu and watch old episodes of "Adam-12," a police drama on NBC from 1968 to 1975.

Stebing's father, Thomas, lived a life immersed in the fine arts and pursued an acting career from the early 1970s to the early 1980s. It was during this time that the elder Stebing, based in Fort Wayne, struck up a friendship with fellow Summit City actor and eventual "Cheers" star Shelley Long that involved train rides to different locations for acting jobs, among them California, where Stebing would eventually work on "Adam-12."

The elder Stebing was interested in theater as far back as high school and that interest informed his plans in college and beyond, says his daughter.

Stebing attended Northwestern University and graduated in 1970 with a Bachelor of Arts in theater.

Of her father and Long, Stebing says, "Apparently they were good friends... she lived a couple streets over; I remember what the house looks like. They became friends and they would take a train to different locations together, just hang out and do acting jobs."

From these efforts, Stebing says, her father got positions on shows, including "Adam-12," in which he appeared in different seasons. Also, the elder Stebing appeared in a movie and acted in several plays.

The curtains closed on Stebing and Long's days of riding the rails when Long was cast as Diane on "Cheers" and Stebing got into teaching. Stebing got his license in 1983 and started teaching theater in high schools around Fort Wayne, eventually studying at the University of Saint Francis, where he obtained his Masters in Art in 1994.

Stebing also started a family during this period, getting married to Joanna's mother, Robin, in 1985. Joanna was born two years later and the elder Stebing passed on his love for the fine arts as both a teacher and a doting dad who introduced his daughter to the art forms he loved.

"He had art tables downstairs set up for drawing and painting and sculptures," Stebing says of her father. "From an early age, I just remember drawing. Like, as early as I can remember, he always really encouraged that ...

"Even though he didn't really do any professional acting when I was young ... he constructed this theater set ... in the basement, and he really got into filming me doing little amateur acting stuff with, like, puppets. It's silly, but it definitely kind of makes an impact on a kid."

The impact of those experiences is reflected in Stebing's choice to study the fine arts in college, like her father, as she moved to Huntington in 2006 to study art education at Huntington University. Thomas Stebing passed away in 2008 and Joanna has embodied his ideals ever since.

"Educated people contribute to a really good society and so do people that are able to be creative and engage their creativity," Stebing says. "Starting with kids is a really good way to do that, which is why my dad got into teaching and why he loved it so much. He wanted to open up those opportunities for kids."

Stebing has done the same thing during her time in Huntington.

"I started teaching art at the ‘Y' a year or two ago; that's a blast. I can't get enough of that," she says.
"I'd love to find a way to get a grant or something to do art classes for kids downtown, if there's an empty building or something," she continues. "It's a whole process ... it comes down to money and that kind of thing, so it's hard to get grants for stuff, but that's my hope before I leave Huntington, that I can kind of put that into action. So, we'll see."

If she ever gets discouraged, watching episodes of "Adam-12" on Hulu and spotting her father living the saying, "Where there's a will, there's a way," might be the best way to cheer up.

"I'm really proud of him," she says.

Complete caption: A young Joanna Stebing poses with puppets on the stage that her father, Thomas Stebing, built in the basement of their Fort Wayne home during her childhood. The elder Stebing was a lifelong advocate of the fine arts and his daughter, now of Huntington, has followed in his footsteps.