A packed house witnessed an exciting and moving evening of performances, tributes, memories, and expressions of hopes for the future.

Earlier this month, College of the Siskiyous alumni, faculty, staff, and current students gathered in Weed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Kenneth W. Ford Theater and the Theater Building, home to the performing arts at COS since 1969. The festivities culminated with a two and a half hour Anniversary Showcase on the evening of Oct. 12.

A packed house witnessed an exciting and moving evening of performances, tributes, memories, and expressions of hopes for the future. Dr. Kirby Shaw, former COS professor (1968-1988) and an internationally recognized vocal/choral educator, served as master of ceremonies. Shaw set the tone with reminiscences of how, in the 1960s, the performing arts made the transition from a small shed to the new theater building. He credited the late professors James Witherell and George Mattos with providing the vision and initiative that led to the creation of the new facility. Like other speakers, Shaw noted that the theater became a second home for families in the community involved in the arts; his own daughter, Holly Shaw Slabbinck, grew up there and is now a vocal instructor, and her husband, Dr. Ron Slabbinck, is a professor of music at COS.

David Blink, also a music professor, led dynamic performances by the Concert Band and the Jazz Band, featuring alumni performers who joined the groups for rehearsal earlier in the day. Floyd Van Buskirk, a theater alumnus and Hollywood actor, recalled appearing in productions written and directed by Professor Witherell, and led a group of students and alumni in an improvisation performance that incorporated audience participation. Dan Witherell, the professor’s son, recalled “growing up” in the theater. A highlight of the evening was provided by alumna, Darlene Reynolds-Cooper, who sang a radiant gospel version of “Over the Rainbow” to her own piano accompaniment.

Another highlight occurred when the current performing arts faculty and staff appeared onstage to present a Lifetime Recognition Award to Jan Stensaas, who served for forty years as a piano accompanist, arranger, and passionate community supporter of COS programs. Former faculty members Roger Emerson and David Newnham recalled their time in the theater building. Song dominated the final portion of the evening, which first featured the vocal jazz ensembles SVII and Siskiyou Vibe, as well as alumni, conducted by Professor Slabbinck. Alumni also joined the Yreka Community Choir, the Chamber Choir, and the Weed Concert Choir. All of the choirs assembled onstage to conclude the celebration with a vibrant performance of Shaw’s “We are the Sounds of Singing.”

Rousing ovations brought the curtain down on the evening. Attendees were encouraged to become members of the COS Alumni and Friends organization. Earlier events of the weekend included a gathering at the Mt. Shasta Brewery and music and theater reunions and rehearsals, and a farewell picnic took place on Sunday, Oct. 13.

As the faculty and guest speakers all testified during the celebration evening on Oct. 12, COS has a very rich performing arts legacy which contributes to vibrant arts programs today, and which promises an exciting future for the arts.