Excellent Educators: A farewell to Professor Ron Mielech ’57 (March 28, 1937 - Sept. 16, 2018)

Excellent Educators: A farewell to Professor Ron Mielech ’57 (March 28, 1937 – Sept. 16, 2018)

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
they have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts
As You Like It, William Shakespeare

We lost a legend. For those who didn’t know Ron, this is hard to explain, but Ron did something for each student and even more for those who grew from that role into his true friends in life.

Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore,
So do our minutes hasten to their end;
Each changing place with that which goes before,
In sequent toil all forwards do contend.
Sonnet 60, William Shakespeare

As a teacher, Ron seemed to provide to each student exactly what they needed at that moment, challenging them, urging each to find their potential, to find their dream and understand how the puzzle pieces fit. In the theatre this brought out the best and in life you wanted to make him proud.

To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled o this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life.
Hamlet, William Shakespeare

Ron and I had been working on bringing an old script to life. He wrote an adaptation of “The Mouse that Roared” and I have been scoring it. After learning of his condition, I opened his script and even at the edge of death, Ron was speaking to me:

The nightbirds in the dell
Are whispering farewell
And telling us it’s time to part. Among our souvenirs
There’s not a place for tears.
Let memories be sweet, sweetheart.
Ron Mielech

I have questioned much in life. Ron knew that my path led far from my dreams. Although he never mentioned it, every meeting, phone call, conversation included a thread that kept a dream tied to a piece of his soul. I was able to share with him what he meant to me and so many others. Steve and Nancy (Ron’s son and wife) gave me a gift I can never return. The gift of so much time as he hastened to the steps of heaven. An unimaginable gift I did not deserve. Time.

If you read this line, remember not
The hand that writ it; for I love you so
That I in your sweet thoughts would be forgot
If thinking on me then should make you woe.
Sonnet 71, William Shakespeare

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In the short four (or five) years a student spends in the college classroom with a professor, the effect can be profound for the rest of their life. This past summer, Thomas More lost an alumnus and professor. Dr. Ron Mielech touched many lives during his tenure as student and faculty member. Below are just a few of the outpouring of memories that took place on the Villa Players’ Facebook page:

“He always had a way of explaining complicated things in compact and usable ways. Like when he knew I would struggle reading King Lear, he said simply, “Just keep reading” and I did, and it worked! I may not have gotten all the nuance, but the power of the story was not lost on me. Or how he compared the impact of straight theatre to musical theatre as often nothing more than “leaving the theatre humming a tune and tapping your toe.” I remember when he visited NYC and was so disappointed that he waster time and money seeing, Cats! Thanks to him, I am able to discriminate between fluff and spectacle, substance and value. I love that man.” – Mandy Stephenson Volpenhein

“Doc meant so much to Lynda and I. He taught us, inspired us, and read scripture at our wedding. He had a genius for simplifying the complex. Perhaps you remember these statements: ‘The true test of acting is to say “please pass the salt” and be believable.’ Or ‘the chief aim of writing is to tell a good yarn.’ He was a master director. It was a priviledge to be in his Directing class. No one could stage a show like Doc, and when he showed you how to do the scene, you were both inspired and disappointed. You could see at once how to do the part. But you knew your performance would never match the elegant simplicity of his demonstration. … Dr. Mielech was the master of the sheepish grin. He’d flash it when he forgot where he parked or on days when he couldn’t remember if he drove himself or not. If you disappointed him, you felt awful. You’d vow to do better, to be better. But when he gave you a compliment you cherished it and stored it in the secret treasure room of your soul. After graduation, he wanted you to call him Ron, but you just couldn’t. He was Dr. Mielech. If you felt brave and wanted to be familiar, you might call him Doc. So we say, rest in peace Doc, than you for everything you did for us. We will remember you always.” – Steve and Lynda Ewing

“Just today I told one of my sisters about Doc’s death and I said, “I don’t know if you remember Dr. Mielech.” And she said, “of course, you talked about him all the time!” Then later I was telling my son that one of my favorite professors had died, who directed me in some plays, and who was one of the best teachers I ever had and a fine person, and I mentioned his name. My son Matthew said, “Well of course, Mom, you talk about Dr. Mielech a lot!” And I said, “I do? I still do, I guess.” – Ann (Hair) Birkenhauer ’81

“Ron asked me one day, after I auditioned for all the male roles in Earnest, if I would – just as an exercise – audition for Lady Bracknell as he wasn’t quite getting what he wanted from the ladies during auditions. A few days later he called me into his office and asked if I would play the role. It took me by surprise, I was hesitant, butI said yes…and I am so glad I did. I learned more from playing that woman and Ron’s direction that I had ever learned before.” – Paul G, Bens Jr. ’84

“I last saw Doc about four years ago at a TMC performance of Complete Works of Shakespeare (abridged). He and Jim were in the audience. I approached Doc and said, “I’m sure you don’t remember me, but I wanted to tell you how much you have influenced my life. I have been involved with a Commedia d’ell Arte troupe for 10 years; writing, directing and acting. And I am set to direct my first community theatre show next year. I WAS terrified, until I looked over and saw you, and I thought to myself ‘You can do this. Doc taught you.’” He responded with “Of course I remember you, Paula. You still owe me a paper.” – Paula (Cain) Brinkman ’94

“Godspeed to a great teacher and a great man. He will be missed by us all.” – Richard (Duffy) Hudson ’80

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Remembrances of Doc, submitted by Rob Langenderfer
 
When I think of Doc Ron Mielech I can’t help but recall the quote of Shakespeare’s Hamlet referring to his father, “He was a man, take him for all in all, I shall not look upon his like again.”  He was a brilliant, compelling teacher who taught me Shakespeare, Development of Drama I, and Development of Drama II and also directed me in The Good Doctor, but this mere list does not do justice to the man. Perhaps out of all of his lectures, the one that has stuck with me the most was the one in which he analyzes Shakespeare’s King Lear through the words and sentiments of the philosopher Montaigne and uses that not only as a means through which Shakespeare’s scientific understanding of the world could be seen but also as a way to demonstrate that, for all of his focus on kings and princes and the nobility, Shakespeare had a heart for the common people and truly felt that they deserved better than they often got in life. 
 
He would sometimes get upset with critics who put their own modern interpretation of a text on a work that demonstrated concerns that would never have crossed the mind of an author writing nearly 400 years ago.  He commented on my analysis of The Tempest when I noted that a critic had commented on something about how Miranda felt after Prospero had taken some action or other related to Caliban: “This is feminist propaganda.” 
His lectures were always energized with frequent readings that he would do from the text that we were examining.  His comments on papers were insightful, yet he would not push us to state theories that could not be clearly backed up from outside analysis. When I had him he had already been a full-time professor at Thomas More College for more than 25 years and had earned his doctorate 20 years ago in dramatic criticism and knew how tempting it could be to want to make a unique contribution to knowledge but also realized that scholarship was not the only goal of life. 
He, along with Dr. Ray Hebert and Dr. Chris Lorentz, were the only full-time faculty members to twice be awarded Faculty Member of the Year, and Dr. Mielech received his awards in 1972 and 2002 (his final full-time year at the college). He was the first recipient of the Student Government Association Faculty Member of the Month. I was glad to be able to make the case for him and push it through.
On the stage he could block scenes in his head before actors were even present. He had a way of being able to coax fantastic performances out of people. He had a temper that could unleash volcanic fury if he realized that some kind of foolishness was occurring, like us losing props consistently during 1995’s The Good Doctor, but his anger was generally justified.   
In some ways, his most meaningful contribution for me in my life was something that he did for me nearly 15 years after I graduated from Thomas More College when I was going through a faith crisis.  His Catholicism infused his teaching and his actions. He was a fantastic teacher and a real model for all future drama instructors and in fact all future Thomas More faculty to live up to and strive to imitate. Yet, he can’t truly be imitated. He had a style all his own, and for that I, along with the many hundreds of students he had over the years, will be eternally grateful.  

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