Athens Arts Community Remembers Bob Winters

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The Athens arts community has lost one of its biggest supporters.

Ohio University Professor Emeritus Robert Winters, who passed away on Aug. 12, made an impact on thousands of students, friends and colleagues as an educator, artist, administrator, theater director, mentor and tireless advocate for the arts.

For decades, his name was synonymous with Ohio Valley Summer Theater. Countless OU students knew him as a director of the School of Theater.

Many Athens residents simply knew him as a lover of the arts, whose ubiquitous presence at local events reminded us how fortunate we are to live in this culturally fertile region of Appalachia.

WOUB reached out to those whose lives were changed in some way by Winters.

Bob Winters
Bob Winters (Ohio University

When I started college at OU, all freshman had to take a course taught by Bob Winters. It was some sort of “weed them out” big lecture class. I’ll bet you every single 18 year-old in that class thought “that old dude is full of ____.” I know I did. He also taught our first scene design class and I thought that just confirmed my original impression. Of course, I already knew everything.

But every minute of knowing Bob–every crossroads, every bad decision he let me make–finally hammered into my thick skull that he was right. Not about everything, mind you, but almost everything related to theater.

I worked with Bob in the School of Theater and through OVST for four years. Still thinking he might be a little bit of a kook, I let him give me some advice before I moved to New York. He told me to call Michael Parva at the Directors Company as soon as I got to the city. I thought “Yeah, right. I’ll do that…kook. I’ll just call up a New York City artistic director. Sure. Thanks for the tip.”

Well, I did it. And I got hired the day I called. Because Bob recommended me. And every job I ever worked in professional theater was because of or had some tie to Bob Winters. Because his impact is that broad. Because he touched that many lives. Because people knew who he was. He was a teacher. He cared about his students. He cared that they got proper training. He is irreplaceable.

– Emily Prince, Stuart’s Opera House

Even though I grew up in the Athens area, I did not have the pleasure of meeting Bob until I became the program specialist at ARTS/West in 2013.

Prior to meeting Bob, I had several people “warn” me that he would stop by and talk my ear off about the arts in the area, and his association with ARTS/West and the rest of the arts community.

It took several weeks for us to actually connect, because he would stop by ARTS/West and I wasn’t in for one reason or another. Eventually we did meet and what I was “warned” about rang true. What I was anticipating was how caring, knowledgeable, and personable he was, on top of being so passionate about the arts and the Athens area.

His only introduction to me was my resume that I sent in for my current position and he welcomed me into the Athens arts family with open arms, no questions asked.

In the short time that I knew him, he taught me so much about advocating for the arts, networking in the area and just being a better person. He was also a great listener and always, always asked me, no matter how he was feeling personally, “How you doin’ kid?”

He was a genuine person and he will be missed greatly. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, whom he loved dearly, and to everyone that was touched by him one way or another.

– Chelsa Peterson, ARTS/West

On behalf of Passion Works, I would like to say goodbye to a true art hero–my friend and colleague, Bob Winters. Bob endlessly pounded the pavement by day and then burnt the midnight oil by night promoting and advocating for the Athens Area Citizens for the Arts (he was our Executive Director).

I’ve had the pleasure of working very closely with Bob over the last couple of years. He wanted to make sure that Passion Works and those we serve were included in all things “art.”

An example of Bob’s zeal is his itinerary for yesterday, which included lunch with Donna Collins (executive director of the Ohio Arts Council) Linda Woggon (executive director of the Ohio Citizens for the Arts) and Joy Padgett (director of Government Relations and Grants at Central Ohio Technical College).

He arranged this and he was taking them to The Dairy Barn, the Kennedy Museum of Art, Passion Works, Wayne National Forrest, the Nelsonville Emporium and Stuart’s Opera House.

At these stops, Bob arranged for them to meet directors, program coordinators, scientists, artists, etc. That was Bob: He worked so hard on this day and then didn’t live to see it. The day was canceled. Bob would’ve wanted it to go on but it just couldn’t.

I am thankful for the two years I had the pleasure of knowing Bob and wish I had met him many years earlier. Bob was a leader by example and a visionary who taught me that you can make anything happen by bringing people together.

Rest in Peace, Bob. Rest in our love and respect. You have most certainly earned it.

– Wayne Gerard Savage, Passion Works Studio

We met in 1970. He became my advisor in 1971 and motivated me to return for graduate study in 1992. Along with Dianne Palmer, Dean Anderson and Connie House, we spent fun days on his boat. He advised me, screamed at me and suggested that I had something to offer artistically.

He (alone) decided to do The Great White Hope for OVST and give the black students a chance to play characters from our own culture. I was a tech major and wanted to be a lighting designer; he forcefully explained to me that I was going to be an actor that summer and cast me in a major role.

I don’t know if he even understood what that meant for everybody, pro or con…he just did it! OVST received racially charged letters that summer. Again, I don’t think he cared about the possible prejudiced effects. He realized that racism had no place in the arts, from anyone’s view.

Bob introduced to me the concept of directorial imagination. I was just 17 and looked at him as a wild theatrical force, flashing unimaginable dramatic concepts in front of me.

We kept in contact over the years, and I eventually returned to OVST in 2012 to direct Ragtime. He pulled me aside after a performance, expressing that I had done a good job, but that were “a couple things” that I must consider! I just sat there and was 17 again. By the way, eveything came full-circle when his son, Daniel, became the lighting designer for my OVST directorial debut.

I was blessed to have him as a professor, mentor and friend. Bob, Dennis Dalen and I had the opportunity to discuss Ragtime during a WOUB radio interview in 2012. Dennis and I roasted Bob in grand style. They had to stop us from laughing in the hallway and get us into the studio.

I cried yesterday. While reading everything that has been posted about his passing, the tears just fell out of nowhere. I will miss him. I find it hard knowing that he is no longer here.

Bob gave me a metaphor for creating a directorial concept. He tagged it “my wild bird.” I have passed the term on to my students, sharing the tradition of motivating them to dream. I know he is a “wild” creative free “bird” now. No goodbyes…fly free, Bob!

– Dale Shields, director, Project1Voice

Ohio Citizens for the Arts mourns the loss of our good friend and partner Bob Winters. Bob’s vision, passion and dedication to the arts will be remembered by everyone he touched. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and the members of Athens Area Citizens for the Arts.

-Ohio Citizens for the Arts

We all share in our grief today at the loss of Bob Winters. He was a remarkable man — father, husband, teacher, director, mentor, administrator, photographer, arts advocate, raconteur and all-around mensch.

One of my favorite memories of Bob has to do with his response to the turmoil I went through during the tenure process a few years back. I ran into him outside the elevator on the third floor of Kantner Hall. He looked at me in the depths of my misery, and asked “Everything okay?” I remember mumbling, “Yeah, just crawling my way through this ridiculous tenure process. I’m up to three-or-four fat volumes of nonsense at this point.”

He got a twinkle in his eye and murmured, “Would you like to hear about how I got tenure?” I could tell he really wanted to give me some much-needed perspective, so I said, “Sure, Bob. Lay it on me.” He smiled that knowing, sardonic smile of his and continued.

It seems that he was in the Kantner elevator all those years ago with a colleague and the individual who was director of the School of Theater at that time. They were going down to street level, and the director turned to him and said, “Bob, we’ve decided to give you tenure.” Bob smiled and said “Thanks.” The elevator door opened and the director stepped off into the hallway and disappeared. As the elevator door closed, Bob slowly turned to his friend and said, “What the hell is tenure?”

As my jaw dropped, Bob stepped into the elevator and smiled as the door closed on him, leaving me tortured but very amused by how things have changed.

We all have a dozen such memories of Bob, and we must pay tribute to his long, storied career here at the (former) School of Theater. Rest in peace, Bob. You will be missed.

– Dennis Delaney, Theater Division, Ohio University School of Dance, Film, and Theater

As an undergrad in the ’90s, I was in a production of Red Noses with Bob in the Forum Theater. One of my roles in that play was that of the Herald and I had to introduce the Pope, played by Bob.

I would do my whole thing and Bob would then be lowered–sitting in a glass box and wearing full Pope regalia–from the grid above the stage and he would hang there throughout his scene. The whole thing was a huge hit with audiences and Bob, of course, nailed it every time.

I remember asking Bob what it was like to enter a play like that and he said, “at first it’s scary because I have to walk above the stage. Then, it’s even scarier because I can’t see out of the box–all I can see is myself.”

– Tyler Whidden, BFA 1999, MFA 2016, Ohio University

On behalf of the Ohio Valley Summer Theater board, I extend our deepest sympathies to Bob’s family. Of course, OVST would not be the outstanding performance art organization it is today without the guidance, wisdom, creativity and grit Bob Winters contributed to it for decades.

His contibution touched the lives of thousands of Ohio University students and community members who, through his gift as an outstanding director, learned more about who they were as people and as performers. That’s what great directors do and Bob, you were one of the best.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and to all who benefited from his gift.

– Kelee Riesbeck, president, Ohio Valley Summer Theater

Bob Winters was a tour de force. His presence in a room demanded attention, and those of us lucky enough to know him were happy to give it to him. When Bob spoke, you couldn’t help but hang on his every word, and it didn’t matter what it was he was saying.

He passed along his wisdom, opinions, and oft-humorous side-notes to a fully engaged audience. I say “audience” because down to his core, Bob was a performer. As a professor, his lectures were finely crafted monologues; as a director, his notes were like engaging in dialogue with a scene partner; and as a friend and mentor, conversations were witty, charming episodes from your favorite sitcom.

There was always a lesson to learn, even if you were unaware he was teaching you one. The last time I saw Bob was the day before I moved to New York City to pursue an acting career. His words of encouragement are too off-color to quote directly, but here is the general idea: “Take a bite out of the Big Apple, and never look back.”

I am happy and proud to be a working actor, and I owe a great deal of my success to Bob. There is comfort in knowing he now has the best seat in the house.

-Ryan Wonnacott, BFA 2008, Ohio University

Teacher. Friend. Family. Bob.

Helped me make sense of my Masters. Helped me leave Athens with a degree. Helped come back to Athens for my PhD. Helped me stay in Athens working for ARTS/West. Helped me go to NYC. Helped get my first teaching job in Florida.

Bob unraveled Ophelia for Tamara Winters, Daniel Winters and I. He introduced me to one of my dearest friends, Emily Prince, and all the extraordinary projects we did together. He showed me worlds on-stage, and changed my life.

Thank you. You will always be with me. All my love to the Winters family.

– Carolina Conte, Big Ten Network

Like many others I know and love, my heart is heavy with a great loss. Bob Winters was a force in this community, a man who believed so much in the power of art that he could convince anyone of that power. An advocate, supporter, patron of the arts and a wonderful friend, father, husband and mentor.

I found myself always wanting to learn as much from him as I could. I always hoped he thought I was doing a good job. He lived what he practiced and believed in what he did.

One of the first times I met Bob (probably back in 2007 or so) he was at ARTS/West for one of the first Aquabear Legion events. I remember looking at the audience, seeing him and wondering “who is this guy?” I knew Emily (Prince) knew him but we hadn’t met yet.

He came up to me and in that voice of his (which I shall hear in my head for the rest of my life) said something along the lines of “I really love the work you are doing with this Aqua…bear…legion, Brian” which was all confusing to me because I had never met him. But he had already found out all about me. After we got to know each other, Bob was a fixture at Aquabear events. I was always amazed at the range of art he supported.

Rest in peace, Bob, and we’ll keep doing your work here in Athens.

– Brian Koscho, Aquabear Legion/Stuart’s Opera House

Bob told me his doctors called him “The Miracle Man” because he lived on where others did not. His time was a giant gift to all who knew him. He was one part-wisdom and another kindness.

He was one of the few teachers who taught by example. Athens, its arts community and OU were blessed by his contributions.

– David Gustafson, Gustafson Glass

Bob Winters took a chance on me when I was 16, casting me in the musical Big River. From there on, I was, as they say, bitten by the acting bug. I went on to do The Wizard of Oz, Damn Yankees, Annie, Annie Get Your Gun, Peter Pan, The Music Man, and The Secret Garden with him as the director.

Because of Bob, I met some of the greatest friends and most talented people I’ve ever known in my life. Working with Bob Winters was more than taking a masterclass in acting–you couldn’t help but be inspired and transformed as a person because of his talent and vision.

The Athens community has lost such a champion of the arts; a true talent at the helm of a show. The world itself has lost yet another giant. Rest in peace, Bob. You will be sorely missed.

– Jen Edwards, B.A. 2003, M.A. 2007, Ohio University

UPDATE: A memorial service will be held for Bob Winters at 4 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 31 at ARTS/West. A reception will follow.