There are more than 300 staff members around Rockwood School District who were Rockwood students during their K-12 years. "Then and Now" is a series that highlights some of their stories and what has made Rockwood special to them as both students and educators. Rebecca Dillon, Julie Merkle, Justin Scheuer, Julie Weitzel, Mary White and Teresa Yakel; Eureka High and Eureka Theatre Company (etc…) Rockwood Schools Attended Dillon: Geggie Elementary
, LaSalle Springs Middle
, Eureka HighMerkle: Pond Elementary
, Wildwood Middle
, EHSScheuer: Eureka Elementary
, Eureka Junior High, LaSalle Springs, EHSWeitzel:
LaSalle Springs, EHSWhite:
Eureka Elementary, Geggie, EJHS, EHSYakel:
Eureka Elementary, LaSalle Springs, EHS Grades Attended in Rockwood Dillon, Scheuer, White and Yakel:
Students in the Eureka Theatre Company
– or "etc…" – take ownership of their productions. Every aspect of the product they put on stage is student-driven. Every acting beat they nail, high note they hit, costume they create, lighting sequence they execute and seat they fill has special resonance to them.
Even years after they graduate.
"It becomes a permanent buy-in," said Teresa Yakel, the troupe's production manager. "We're forever invested."
That's true for Yakel, a Eureka High and etc… alum who now teaches social studies at the school.
Same for Rebecca Dillon, the technical director who teaches math; Julie Weitzel, the choreographer who teaches Spanish; Mary White, the pit conductor who teaches orchestra; and Justin Scheuer, the company director who teaches drama. It's true for Julie Merkle, who volunteers her time to serve as photographer.
They all wanted to come back to contribute to the Eureka community that helped raise them. More specifically, though, they all wanted to come back to etc…
"It just feels good to come home," Merkle said. "I went to college and always found myself thinking, 'I wish I was home.' And not at home on my sofa with my parents. Here, in the theater."
Since its inception in the late 1980s, etc… has been building a devoted alumni base. They return as staffers or volunteers, support the current students by going to shows and serve as advocates for the company.
"That's the strength of the program; it's always been student-driven," Scheuer said. "We work so much because the students want to be here so much."
It's all about upholding a legacy of quality in every aspect of operations.
Dillon, for example, took over for Yakel as company treasurer when the latter graduated from Eureka. The books were clean, color-coded and organized.
"And I kept them that way," Dillon said. "We have this personal stake because we want it to continue being as good as it was when we were here. We want it to get better every year than it was before."
Dillon, Merkle, Weitzel and Yakel came back to the fold under longtime drama teacher Susie Allmendinger, who was their director when they were students.
"When I started teaching here, all my former teachers were so supportive of me," Weitzel said. "They want you to do well and succeed because you're the fruit of all their efforts. The same people who invested in you when you were young are investing in you as a professional."
Scheuer, who was president of etc… when he was in school, came back as director upon Allmendinger's retirement this year.
White, a strings player, never got to be involved with productions in high school – they didn't do musicals back then – but has overseen the increased involvement of student musicians in etc… productions.
This fall's show, "Little Women," runs Nov. 7-9 at the Eureka High School Theater. Shows are at 7 p.m. on Nov. 7-8 and 2 p.m. on Nov. 9. Tickets are $10 in advance
and $12 at the door.
"The first time we ran the big number with our lead, when she sang with the orchestra for the first time, she cried," said White, whose mother, Martha, performed in musicals when she was a Eureka student. "That was a good sign it's the right show. It shows that they're really invested in it."
The alumni staffers in etc… remember that investment fondly. They remember the extended family they had at school, working long hours and putting their all into a product of which they could be proud.
Now, they get to help the next generation find their own pride.
"As far as I can remember, Eureka has been this community that comes through for you," said Yakel, who taught in Texas before returning to Eureka in 2013. "Always, forever, Eureka will be my community. It just made sense to blend those worlds, personal and professional, and continue to be a part of that."