Musical’s co-writers renew teacher-student bond

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-115394486531903.jpg’, ‘Photo provided’, ‘After 43 years, high school teacher Leslie Gilkey (left) and student Carole Ryan Sullivan joined forces to write Blessings to Share.‘);

GALENA—Forty-three years ago, Carole Ryan Sullivan graduated from high school in Waukegan, Ill., and entered Northwestern University, where she went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in theater and a master’s degree in performance studies. She would not see her high school music teacher, Leslie Gilkey, for four full decades.

While acting at Timberlake Playhouse in Mt. Carroll in 1973, she met set designer and technician Jan Lavacek, originally from Yonkers, N.Y. They married in 1975, and—choosing to live in the peace and beauty of rural Galena—built a homestead, log by log and stone by stone, and added a barn for dairy goats, a “chicken palace” for chickens who provide fresh eggs and a workshop for him to build theater sets. Sullivan sang six nights a week at the legendary Raleigh’s restaurant in Galena, while Lavacek developed his own construction company, focusing on historic home renovation. In 1986, the couple joined forces with Ronn and Alice Toebaas to found Main Street Players Theatre Company.

An actress, director and playwright who was Main Street Players’ artistic and managing director for many years while Lavacek was technical director, Sullivan has directed productions for Main Street Players as well as for the University of Dubuque and for Dubuque’s Grand Opera House. She has written and produced nine plays, including the interactive comedy Uncle Jake’s 90th and the mixed-media program In Celebration of Womanhood.

When she reconnected with Les Gilkey a few years ago, he was almost 90 but still passionately involved in composing and music education. Now a lively nonagenarian, he was the winner of the 1998 Hoosier Musician Award from the Indiana Music Educator’s Association and the Meritorious Service Award from the governor of Indiana. Gilkey has composed choral works that have been performed in many parts of the world, and he has also created numerous compositions and arrangements for flute choir, as well as many band and orchestral works and arrangements.

July 27, their collaborative effort, Blessings to Share, premieres in Galena.

From the July 26-Aug. 1, 2006, issue

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