Reed steps to sideline from job that was ‘fun every day’

Photo provided.
Ruth Reed

Would Ruth Reed let a little thing like retirement slow her down? All indications are she will be on full-steam ahead, just like she’s done the past 41 years teaching at Huntington North High School. Reed’s last day in the Huntington County Community School Corporation will be June 30.

One of the school’s most beloved – if not its most colorful and visible – teachers, Reed has been at the helm of the HNHS Theatre Department nearly all of her career, producing and directing five shows per school year for the community. Some of them she even wrote herself. And she doesn’t plan to stop doing what she loves – producing great shows and working with teens and kids.

“I love what I do and I love working with teens,” she acknowledges. “I had fun every day.”

Reed credits her husband, Greg, with convincing her to retire the same time he is planning to quit his position as a medical technologist in the lab at Parkview Huntington Hospital. He told her that if she quits, she won’t have to deal with all the technology nightmares that she had tried to keep up with the past few years.

“At school, I am sometimes referred to as the ‘Technological Dinosaur,’ because I can’t seem to figure things out,” she says, adding, “But right now, with the remote eLearning, I’m doing really well! I was even told I was doing really well.

“But my husband says, ‘Ruth, when you consider how much time it takes for you to deal with all that, plus you have four different classes you teach, plus you do five shows a year, plus you’re part of the LaFontaine Arts Council and you’re part of the Theatre Guild.’ He says, ‘You just don’t have enough time. If you retire, then you don’t have to deal with technology and you can focus on those other things that you love so much.’”

Reed keeps boxes full of picture albums and memorabilia of the shows she’s done, including a book bag, a gift from some of her students, that says, “My Classroom is My Happy Place.”

In her classroom, she has taught several subjects including English and English honors, technical communication, Shakespeare’s comedies, dual credit theatre arts and advanced theatre arts, technical theatre, speech and advanced and dual-credit speech.

As sponsor of the speech team, Reed saw five students qualify for nationals. She also had a duo team that placed fourth in the nation. She also sponsored the Masque and Gavel Club, whose claim to fame is the Pioneer Festival Melodrama, a high school improvisation group and also served a year as the assistant tennis coach.

On the HNHS stage, Reed has produced the One-Act Play Festival, a winter play, variety show and the spring musical for the past four decades. In that time, she’s done “Wizard of Oz” three times; “Fiddler On the Roof,” “Peter Pan,” “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” “Brigadoon,” “Little Mary Sunshine,” “Grease,” “Hello Dolly” and “Bye Bye Birdie” twice each; and a plethora (at least 19) of other musicals, including classics such as “Oklahoma,” “The Sound of Music” and “Annie.”

She’s also had a hand in directing, writing and even acting in three to five more productions a year outside the high school, such as Vaudeville at the Historic Forks of the Wabash, Huntington Theatre Guild, Huntington Theatre Guild Act II and shows at First Church of the Nazarene, where she is a member.

As with nearly every retiring teacher, Reed leaves a legacy behind in the students she has taught over the years. Three of her former students are now professors at Huntington University; seven students are professional performers and another works as a talent agent in Hollywood, CA; about 30 of her former students are now teachers themselves, with a number of them teaching alongside her at Huntington North.

“That has been a real blessing, that I get to see so many former students,” she adds.

But she’s also taught children and even grandchildren of her former students – another reason, she laughingly says, why her husband has told her it’s time to call it quits.

Some of her best memories involve being inspired by her students.

“I teach them how to do things,” she says, “and then they can achieve and excel. And it’s so exciting to see – ‘Yes! Yes! Yes! You did it!’ in shows. I’ve had kids who say, ‘Mrs. Reed, you brought me out of my shell.’”

She is also proud of the HNHS “1920s Day” celebration in which her American literature students dressed up in ’20s-style period costumes and enjoyed a party complete with food, music and activities popular during the Roaring Twenties.

“I’ve had kids who said, ‘Mrs. Reed, that was some of the most memorable days we’ve ever had in high school,’” she remembers.

Another memory involves the time she was on the auditorium stage in the middle of teaching a theatre tech class how to move on stage when she tripped on a speaker placed at the edge of the orchestra pit, sending her flying to the horror of her students as she caught herself during the fall.

“The kids said, ‘Mrs. Reed, you looked like Superman – you were flying!’” she says. “I fell, and I just thought it was really funny. I didn’t break anything; I was just really embarrassed.”

Reed also cherishes a letter of recommendation she received in 2013 from HCCSC Superintendent (then HNHS Principal) Chad Daugherty, who enumerated a few of her awards.

“She was HCCSC Teacher of the Year in 1985, Indiana All-Star Teacher in 1994, Forks of the Wabash Pioneer Festival Arrowhead Award in 1999, and HCCSC Teacher of the Year in 2002,” Daugherty wrote.

One of her students, Matthew Neely, who went on to Trine University, won an award in which he named a teacher who had been a major influence on his life. He chose his high school drama teacher.

“I got a grant for $1,000, and it was like, oh my goodness!” Reed exclaims.

First Church of the Nazarene also presented Reed with its Distinguished Service Award for her work in presenting the gospel through theatre.
Now that her retirement date is set, the big question is what will Reed do with all the free time she’ll have. Or, better to answer which activities she will choose out of the myriad avenues available to her.

Current HNHS Principal Rief Gilg offered Reed a spot as the drama department’s extra-curricular assistant, which she says is an answer to a prayer.

“I would love to continue to do all of the theater productions,” she says. “And he said, ‘We don’t want to give you up because we know what you’re capable of doing.’”

Reed will likely continue to support and direct shows for the Huntington Theatre Guild Act II, and possibly contribute to the Huntington County Coalition on Aging’s Senior talent show.

“I would love to direct shows for anyone, but Theatre Guild, definitely,” she says. “I definitely would like to continue doing shows at the high school.”

She has also received interest from the Honeywell Center in Wabash, which talked to her about directing shows. At the time she turned the theater down because she was teaching full time. But now that might be an avenue for her post-retirement pursuits, along with a possible teaching post in the speech department at Huntington University.

In addition, Reed has written a number of original plays she is considering publishing. She has talked to Joni Killian, of Huntington University and elementary music teacher Barry Jamison about creating original musicals.

“I said, ‘If I write the play and come up with song lyrics can you write the music?’ and Joni said, ‘I would love to do that, Ruth,’ and Barry Jamison told me yes, too.”

But her enduring passion is her craft – making stained-glass windows. Reed took champion honors in the adult division at the Huntington County 4-H Fair with her work. She has been working at a hobby-level for 32 years and savors the opportunity to devote more time to her art.
Reed’s travel plans include heading to Michigan to see her grandchildren, to whom she is known as “Gramma-Lamma-Dingdong,” with apologies to the musical, “Grease.”

“I decided I didn’t want to be ‘Grandma’ – I wanted to be something unique, that matched my personality,” she says.

What she’ll miss the most, of course, are her students. Many of them from years gone by see her out and about in the community and remember her from when she started at HNHS as a single “Miss Davis,” the first eight years of her tenure, known for her smile. She says her own PE teacher from middle school remembers her being called “Toothy Ruthie” because she grinned all the time.

“I have countless letters here from all kinds of administrators and parents,” she says, sorting through a pile of opened mail.

And after HCCSC posted her retirement on Facebook last week, Reed says she was bowled over when she got more than 300 notes of well wishes, mostly from her former students.

She would like to have a party to celebrate her retirement and all the years of fun she had teaching what she loved to the young people she loves; however, she says there may be nothing because of the coronavirus restrictions. However, the investment she put in over the past 41 years will likely bring many returns of congratulations for her work with students and bringing the community some great entertainment.

But that is just the first half of Reed’s career. Stay tuned for Part Two.