June 20, 2008

Remembering Mr. C

Dear Theatre Alumni,

I feel very out of touch with all the wonderful things that SUNY Potsdam continues to do – especially in the Department of Drama and Dance. I do my best to read the alumni newsletters that are sent to me, but I haven’t been on campus since my graduation in 1989. The only time I returned to the Potsdam area was for the funeral of Professor William Champney (lovingly known as “Mr. C”) in December 1991. Mr. C was diagnosed with lung cancer in June, 1991, and gave it his best battle for 6 short months.

A couple of years ago, I had one of my best SUNY Potsdam experiences in Colorado, where I live. I got to meet the impressive and energetic Kim Bouchard (Associate Professor, Department of Drama and Dance) and reconnected with Megan Champney, Mr. C’s daughter, who is also living in Colorado! Bizarre, huh?

The reason for our meeting was to brainstorm ways we could memorialize “Mr. C” at SUNY Potsdam. We hoped we could start an annual scholarship that would help drama students interested in theatre history or theatre education. It was perfect timing – as SUNY Potsdam hopes to soon offer a new Theatre Education major too.

“Mr. C” adored history, and certainly made the Theatre History classes extremely entertaining, energetic and interesting. I first met “Mr. C” when my roommate Mary Beth wanted to audition for The Crucible. I went with her to the auditions, mainly to keep her company and to check out the Drama folks. I had no real intentions of doing the show, as I had just started playing soccer for the first women’s soccer club at Potsdam, and knew I wouldn’t have time. I was immediately drawn to “Mr. C.” I don’t know if it was because he reminded me of Santa Claus (he had the best, hearty laugh), reminded me of my own father, or because he had an excellent connection to the students and Arthur Miller’s script.

Ironically, I was cast as Rebecca Nurse (the oldest character in the play)…and my friend wasn’t cast at all. But she was still supportive when I decided to accept the role (and drop out of the soccer program). After The Crucible was over, I found myself doing more and more theatre at SUNY Potsdam. When I told “Mr. C” I wanted to become a Drama major, I was shocked at how he reacted. He was very strict with me and told me that ‘if I was to become a Drama major, I would have to promise him I would pursue graduate studies in theatre.’ So, I promised him…and then followed through. [I received my MFA in Theatre (Acting) in 1991 and went on to direct/act in over 75 productions across the United States, and teach theatre at colleges for 11 years.]

When I visited “Mr. C” two weeks before he died, I reminded him of what he told me about graduate studies. I believe it was the cancer and aggressive treatments he had been going through that impacted his memory – as he didn’t remember ever telling me this. Even though “Mr. C” was a tough cookie, I know I saw a glint of tears in his eyes when I told him what he said to me back in 1986…and when I told him he was one of just a few folks that I credit for my varied theatre accomplishments.

I know I am not the only SUNY Potsdam alumni closely connected to “Mr. C.” There are many more alumni who were educated, encouraged, and/or entertained by “Mr. C.” Who are you? Please help us create this important theatre scholarship in memory and honor of all that “Mr. C” did for you and SUNY Potsdam?

In order to get an 'endowed' scholarship ($20,000 value), the Development Office needs to receive 10 'lead gifts' of $1,000+ each by December 2008. Based on meetings with the Drama staff and alumni contacts, the Office does feel there is strong interest for the Mr. C Scholarship. They are committed to promoting this scholarship in their upcoming mailers, as well as the promotions that the Drama department will do.

Just to clarify, with three teenagers (2 starting college in Fall 2008) and a 4 year old just starting her academic journey, I am FAR from rich. We are a typical middle-class family, who occasionally donates to various local nonprofits…just like most alumni. Instead of donating to some local charities every year, we are now redirecting our money to the “Mr. C” award instead, for the next 2 years. I am honored and excited to do this to help honor and remember “Mr. C” and help future theatre students achieve their goals…just like I was able to do, with “Mr. C’s” motivation, support and love.

I made a pledge for one of the lead gifts at $1,000. The cool thing about the pledge - is I can pay it over a 2 year period (thank goodness!). The Development Office can set up any form of payment arrangement - so it will work best for the donor. Won't you please consider making a donation towards this scholarship? Or better yet - pledging a 'lead gift'? Please see this blog for the most recent fundraising progress.

For more information about the financial aspect of this scholarship and/or to make any level donation, please contact:

Colleen M. Baker
Office of Advancement
State University of New York College at Potsdam
44 Pierrepont Avenue
Potsdam, New York 13676
Work: (315) 267-2396
Cell: (315) 212-0396

Memories of "Mr. C"

  • "Mr. Champney was my friend, mentor, college professor and all-around guide during my four years at SUNY Potsdam. He and I came from similar blue-collar, no-nonsense middle class stock. And we both shared a passion for theatre, film, etc. Mr. Champney could and would cut through the clutter of high brow theatre talk and tell it like it was. I'm honored to help out current and future Postdam students in his name." Tim Christensen, '82 Drama Major
  • “I adored Mr. Champney too. He was by far the best teacher I had outside of Crane and I always looked forward to his classes, which is why I took almost everything offered that he was teaching. He was a lot of fun, very dedicated and understanding, and totally motivating.” Arlene Kuhlberg, ‘82
  • “Back in 1989, it was Mr. C's "Orientation to Theater" class that got me into adding drama as second major. He certainly had an enthusiasm and sense of humor that made you enjoy the theater as it was made to be enjoyed. It also helped that he fully enjoyed what he did and the students that were learning his trade. One of the most memorable moments that I remember with Mr. C was the first day in an advanced drama class that 2 newbies entered by mistake. One of our own (who will remain nameless) walked in late and had obviously gotten a breast reduction over the break, so everyone in the class was staring at her. She went full blown saying loudly; ‘So what do you think about my new breasts?’ The newbies, who now wanted to escape but couldn’t, were mortified. So in a fashion that only Mr. C could deliver, he said; ‘Common now settle down, you’re scaring the straights!’ Those 2 never returned and it was one of those Potsdam moments that I could never forget.” Tom Collins, ‘92
  • “I remember Mr. C. He was a fantastic professor. I also had his intro to theater class and was in a couple shows of his. Good times!” Stephen Buess, ‘91
  • “Mr. C. was a great man with a great laugh, and a good friend as well as a great teacher. Not enough superlatives to express how he impacted my life and the lives of my classmates.” Dennis Booth, ‘75
  • "I had had a little background in carpentry before Potsdam but Mr. C. really taught me the field. He showed me how to read a scale ruler one day and showed me the working drawings for some set. It might have been A Cry of Players. I wound up on that stage crew and never felt such a family feeling or being an integral part of something important, even though my job was to run onstage in a blackout ad clear a bucket! His famous witticisms and salty sayings keep the atmosphere light and easy and being part of his crew was something special. He also got me into acting. I was so shy and scared that it wasn't until I took his Reader's Theatre class that I felt confident enough to try for more. When I hit Oscar Loop in Futz I never looked back. I'm AEA, SAG, AFTRA, SSD&C & sometimes USITT. I've acted & directed in NYC and freelanced with William Morris, Phoenix, Zoli and was signed with Sanders. I've taught theatre for 17 years at the College level and Designed Lights for 12 professionally and Mr. C. was a big part in getting me going. It's still going and every Tech Direction and Design Class I teach hears at least one Mr. C story." Mark Wenderlich '76
  • "My late father (Crane Prof. Robert Holland) and Bill were good friends both on and off campus, sharing a love of both acting and techinical theatre crafts. I remember Bill as a boundless fountain of energy both on and off the stage. In the early 60s, at about age 10, I auditioned for a bit part in "The Man who Came to Dinner". I got the role of the telegraph boy, and remember Bill an upper-classmen undergrad. I was terrified of the play, but Bill took me under his wing. It was pretty awe-inspiring for a young kid to be "accepted" by grown-up college men. His attitude about both of us "being professional" helped give me the confidence to pull off my first stage role. I got quite a bit of experience working with him (and my Dad) over the next ten years or so (all the way up through my short years as a student at SUNY) doing tech theatre and special effects for the Theatre dept., Crane summer operettas, Potsdam Community Theatre. Good times, all. What a great guy. I'd bet Bill and Dad are up there somewhere trying on rubber noses or figuring out how to fly without wires." - Mark Holland (Dallas, TX)
  • "What a wonderful endeavor in Bill's name. I had the pleasure of being in the drama dept. in the early days of the major (drama was my second major). Between Mr. C and Mrs. G it was quite a department! Bill was a wonderful teacher and mentor, and I have very fond memories of him and my time at SUNY Potsdam. I will happily send in a donation to this worthy cause!" - Kathy Norris
  • "I graduated as a Drama major in 1975 and was fortunate to have spent 4 years working with Mr. C. He made building sets and hanging lights so much fun that I was there working every night (long after I fulfilled my 100 hour P&P requirement). He was also the only faculty member who was down to earth and made me feel like a valued member of the team. Although I never pursued a career in the theater, I now have a 17 year old son who aspires to being a theater major when he starts college in a year. I hope he meets a "Mr. C." along the way. I plan on honoring Mr. C by designating all of my future donations to his scholarship program. What a great idea!" - Ellen Feinman Sobczak