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To Thine Own Self Be True
June 5, 2008 - Phyllis Sigal
I was in the front row of Mrs. McCollough's second-grade class at Steenrod Elementary when I first set eyes on Hal O'Leary, who was presenting a very dramatic reading of Dr. Seuss literature. I was mesmerized by his animated gestures and that deep, booming voice.
That was 43 years ago.
And, this week, after 43 years with Oglebay Institute, O'Leary is retiring as Towngate Theatre's Artistic Director. He was honored Tuesday at a luncheon attended by Institute co-workers, board members, and his wife and two grandchildren.
O'Leary, upon receiving a beautiful album of photographs — from plays in which he performed and/or directed (including the one pictured here from "On Golden Pond," with my son Leland — recalled "40-some years ago" that Susan Greer (director of performing arts at the time) convinced Stanley Coulling, then president of the institute, "that he should hire me."
In the interview, Coulling asked him, "Hal, do you know anything about creative dramatics?" The Institute was looking to establish a program in the schools at the time.
"Of course I do," Hal told him.
Then he high-tailed it to the library to find out what the heck "creative dramatics" was.
"I have a lot of thanks to give to Oglebay Institute. It scares me to think what my life would have been without Oglebay Institute," he said. "I really believe if there is such a thing as true happiness, it can only be found by doing what you love."
O'Leary noted that every human being is born with a talent, and the only way to true happiness is by pursuing that talent. That would be his only advice to others, he said. "If we all do that, we're all going to be happy." And he has been privileged to have been able to follow his heart and dream.
"The Bard said it best," O'Leary said, and he quoted: "This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man."
Kate Crosbie, director of performing arts at the Institute, shared some of O'Leary's talents with the group, one of which has been making sets within a small budget "We've reused nails and screws and pieces of wood that are older than some of you in this room," she said. One table has been in so many plays, it'll get cast credit the next play it's in, she said.
She offered words of assurance to O'Leary and to the rest of us in the room, "The program is in good hands," she told him. "We have your example to follow."
She also noted how he can still light up the faces of children. And, I'm proud to say I was one of the first ... in the front row of Mrs. McCollough's second-grade class some 43 years ago.
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Hal O'Leary and Leland Alexander Wheeler in "On Golden Pond" at Towngate Theatre.