‘Steele-ing’ the Stage
MUNCY-It’s not unusual for accolades of appreciation, accompanied by multiple rounds of applause, to bring an audience to its feet following the annual Spring musical. What was unusual was the timing of the ovation-a half hour prior to the performance in the high school auditorium.
Last Saturday, the auditorium stage was dedicated to honor Gary and Mary Steele, former instructors who spent countless hours directing dramas and musicals. Christened the Steele Stage, the couple were presented with a plaque that will be displayed on the left side of the stage wall.
Initially hired in the mid-’70s, the Steeles moved from New York to neighboring Montgomery, passionate about teaching music at Muncy until their retirement. Steele took a sabbatical during 1979-80, returning with a renewed focus on the performing arts. Shortly afterwards, the theatre club, Ars Nova, was formed-and remains to this day, a testament to the Steeles’ passion and commitment.
“This stage and school are blessed to have such a talented and giving man foster a love of the arts in his students,” said Heather Diehl during the dedication. Diehl, a former student who became a teacher herself at the primary level, also directed musicals the last few years.
“Gary brought Broadway to Muncy,” Diehl said, during a brief speech before a nearly-packed auditorium, many of them alumni who’d been under Steele’s influence as students.
“This is a great honor for both of us,” Steele said on behalf of wife Mary, who stood off to the side and out of the limelight. “What we’ve learned is that the children and the school are really the heart of this community,” he said.
Diehl then encouraged audience members to share a story regarding the Steeles, among them, now retired William Ramsey, former K-12 principal.
“Gary often had faculty perform cameo roles in his productions, and one year he persuaded three of us to perform in the musical, West Side Story,” Ramsey said, who estimated that the cast spent hundreds of hours preparing for the production. “The Steeles spent thousands of hours,” Ramsey said, sharing how he personally knew the two worked multiple all-night sessions, designing, creating and then painting sets, costumes and additional tasks involved in presenting each year’s performances.
“Not many people know the amount of dedication involved with theatre productions. These two are the exception. I couldn’t think of a better honor for you two,” Ramsey said.