Our Rich History: Dr. Ron Mielech, His “Heart and Soul” and the Thomas More College Theater Program

Opera theater

By Dr Raymond Hébert
Thomas More University

Part 26 of our series, “Retrospect and Vista II” Thomas More College / University 1971-2021

Dr Ronald Albert Mielech (1931-2018) has always been respected and appreciated as the heart and soul of the Thomas More College Theater Program. Many talented teachers and successful graduates have been mentored by the man affectionately known as “The Doc”.

Dr Ron Mielech (Thomas More University Archives)

Ron Mielech was a Covington Latin graduate who attended Villa Madonna College majoring in English from 1953 to 1957 and, in his own words, was captivated by the theater in a creative writing course during his last year. year. In an interview for Le Utopian, he told student journalist Philip Hahn that “he wrote a one-act play that got him accepted at Yale.” It was there that he obtained a master’s degree in dramatic writing and dramatic literature in 1960. Then, holder of an MFA, he taught between 1960 and 1966 both at the College Villa Madonna and at Mont Saint Joseph (1964-1966) before accepting a full license. English time post at Villa Madonna College in 1966.

During this time, he had begun his doctoral studies in playwriting and directing at Ohio State University in 1963, completing his doctorate in 1974, under the tutelage of highly respected playwright and professor Jerome Lawrence. One of the highlights of these years was being selected by Lawrence, the author of Inherit the wind, for his “Special Seminar in Dramatic Writing” in the spring of 1969. It is interesting to note that the Utopian The article noted, after mentioning Dr. Mielech’s areas of interest at Yale and in the State of Ohio, that: “Ironically, this great director never really enjoyed playing the part of an actor” (Philip A. Hahn, Utopian, February 17, 1987).

Villa Players Program (Thomas More University Archives)

In a conversation with Dr Mielech about his early years on the full-time faculty, which was in the English department, he shared a disagreement he had with the then president (Msgr .) John Murphy. Bro. Murphy had struggled to find the right president and feared that in the department there would be three talented nuns, but they represented three different communities: the Benedictine Sisters (Sister Loretto Marie Driscoll), the Sisters of Divine Providence ( Sister Agnes Margaret Humpert) and the Sisters of Notre Dame (Sister M. Colleen Dillon). Bro Murphy felt some tension and did not want to play the favorites, so he insisted that Dr Mielech become the chairman, a position Ron Mielech found untenable as he was the youngest and newest member of the faculty of the department. It lasted for a few difficult years, but Mielech, in his inimitable way, has filled the job admirably. He seems to have used the situation in a positive way because soon after, the theater program was allowed to go on its own, which included a student theater troupe called “Villa Players”.

Sister M. Colleen Dillon, Chair of the English Department. (Thomas More University Archives)

Although Mielech founded the theater department, “he modestly refused to take credit,” Hahn said in his Utopian article. “He’s proud to have been part of his roster, but he says ‘it’s been a group effort.’ We have built a quality program. When asked about graduates of the program, he listed “the associate director of the Playhouse in the Park, several Broadway actors, Off-Broadway actors and, of course, Bill Schwarber” (Hahn article, Utopian, 17/02/1987). It was 1987, so many more could be added for the next 15 years, including college / university professors, producers and local ensemble actors, including D. Lynne Meyers, longtime artistic director. date from the Ensemble Theater in Cincinnati. His classmates, James Nelson (full-time for many years) and William Schwarber (with Buz Davis later), returned to teach at Thomas More College. Additionally, many alumni have returned whenever asked to perform in plays at various times, including the summer, so they can keep in touch with their mentor, Dr Ron. Mielech. A longtime colleague of the 1970s was Ken Fitts, who in the 1980s moved to the world of scriptwriting for television soap operas.

Unsurprisingly, while teaching and directing were his top priorities, “Doc” Mielech continued to write. His 2018 obituary noted that “he had performed pieces on college, community and professional stages, including the famous Barter Playhouse in Arlington, Virginia. His game The dancers of Canaan (about Shakers of Kentucky) debuted at the iconic KY Repertory Theater (Horse Cave Theater) ”(Ron Mielech Obituary, TMU Archives). He wrote about the classic French playwright Molière, directed readings at the Horse Cave Theater for A sentimental journey, wrote a piece set to music by his friend and colleague Bob Schaffer entitled Oh my daddy, and is the author of a Thomas More College Illustrated History entitled First College in Northern Kentucky: Villa Madonna – Thomas More College. Just before his death, he published a novel based on his early education titled, The heroes of ’45.

Bill Schwarber, adjunct professor and regional actor. (Thomas More University Archives)

Although recognized for his scholarship, it is Dr. Ron Mielech – the teacher and mentor (“Doc”) – who is most remembered. He loved to teach and was excellent at it. The classroom was his stage. His student evaluations were always strong: 1) “Dr. Mielech is the best: he makes the course interesting because of his knowledge and passion for the subject; “2)” all the lessons he teaches are amazing; “3)” The requirement that we see theatrical performances opened my eyes and my mind. This experience allowed me to apply what I learned in class. As a result, I will take what I have learned with me and remember it for the rest of my life; “4)” Dr. Mielech is brilliant and so enthusiastic about the subject. It makes everything extremely interesting; “5)” Doc always incorporates everyone’s ideas “(Student Assessment Comments, 2000-2002, TMU Archives).

In his final full-time year, 2001-2002 after four decades at VMC / TMC, it is fitting that for the second time (one of only three professors to have achieved the distinction) he was selected by students and peers as “Outstanding Teacher of the Year” for 2001-2002. In her final full-time assessment of him, his president (Patricia Lynch) concluded:

James Nelson, a former student of Thomas More College, returned to work as a drama teacher. (Thomas More University Archives)

“Dr. Mielech is a ‘doc’ for drama students in the most positive and endearing way. They respect his professional activity as a playwright; they appreciate the quality of its staging for a production; and they wrote letters expressing their desire for him to receive the “Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award for 2001-2002,” his final year as a full-time teacher. “Doc” has the personal and professional respect for his students that all conscientious and dedicated professionals dream of as a career goal ”(Dr. Patricia Lynch, Faculty Assessment of Dr. Ronald Mielech, May 2002 – submitted to the Vice President for academic affairs, TMU Archives).

If there is anything that stands out in memory of Dr Ronald Mielech, it is how much he was loved by his alumni and students and by the group of faculty and staff known as the Dixie Chili Club. . During that last full-time year, one student wrote “Don’t go! The next generation needs you to stay ”(Student Assessment, Dr Ronald Mielech, Spring 2002, TMU Archives).

Production Villa Players, 1980. (Thomas More University Archives)

As Philip Hahn concluded, in his Utopian article some fifteen years earlier (1987) but just as relevant in 2002: “The theater department and the players in the villa are two things of which the whole college can be (and is in fact) proud” (article by Hahn , Utopian, 17/02/1987). Dr Ron Mielech was the founder of Thomas More’s drama department, a Yale graduate scholar, an award-winning professor and, most importantly, a friend and mentor to many.

Dr Raymond G. Hebert is Professor of History and Executive Director of the William T. Robinson III Institute for Religious Freedom at Thomas More University. He has just completed his 46th year at Thomas More and, with this training, he will now serve as the official history editor of Thomas More College / University from 1971 to 2021. With a projected title of RETROSPECT AND VISTA II, he will serve following on to RETROSPECT AND VISTA by Sr. Irmina Saelinger, the story of the first 50 years of Thomas More College (formerly Villa Madonna College). He can be contacted at [email protected]

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