Way high on the long list of things I got totally wrong would be the likelihood that boys in middle school could be cajoled into taking to a stage and singing in front of girls.
“Well that won’t happen in a million years,” I said when presented in 1985 with a pitch to cover the creation of the CAST program at Percy Julian Middle School. Luckily, I wasn’t the only person picking the stories we covered in the Journal. We have since written one million stories about CAST.
Not a single one would have been written if it wasn’t for Jill and Michael Poehlman, the husband-and-wife founders, instigators, collaborators, champions, visionaries behind CAST.
Last week we carried the obituary for Michael. He was 60 and died at home early in June. Jill died six years ago.
The pair left CAST in 1997, a dozen years in. They moved on to resuscitate the theater program at Dominican University with Donna Carroll, the now, I think, former president of the school lavishing Jill with praise upon her death in 2015.
In recent years Michael took his stage production talents into home remodeling, finish carpentry and furniture building.
I got to know the two of them, so perfectly matched and so remarkably dissimilar, when I was drafted, along with Randy Blaser, editor of the Oak Leaves, into fronting the annual fundraising performance put on by the adults — parents, teachers, principals — who had waited their whole lives to get on a stage in front of an enthused audience. Always assumed Michael and Jill found this annual rite the least interesting thing they did each year. But it brought in cash, scratched some itch for many of us and built buzz in town for CAST.
Then a couple of years later, the hardest working couple in show biz, were running the CAST summer camp and our boy Ben, now 36, was cast in Peter Pan as Michael, the youngest of the Darling family. This was a gargantuan production, held outdoors in the back 40 up at Mann School. I remember two things. Ben flew. He really flew. High and wide thanks to the pros the Poehlman’s brought in to stage the flying apparatus. And I remember Jill’s pure joy as the performances began in front of rapturous audiences.
Michael was well described in our obit last week by Roberta Heinrich, a retired Percy Julian language arts teacher. “There was something golden about Michael. His way was to be fierce and gentle at the same time. He believed in people’s children and in people’s talents and in doing the work to realize them.”
While the performances were strong and the Poehlmans worked so hard to draw the talent out, it never quite seemed to be the point of all the work. The point was to reveal these kids to themselves. Not likely as future performers but as people full of surprise, outward facing into the world.
This is a better village for the Poehlmans.
Who’s next? Keeping a running tab here on high-level departures (though still alive) from Oak Park and River Forest. If the COVID effect is that 40 percent of people want a new job, we’re ahead of the curve.
Adding in Oak Park Village Manager Cara Pavlicek’s coming move to Northbrook, we have Eric Palm leaving River Forest to run Hoffman Estates. There are the two school superintendents – OPRF’s Joylynn Pruitt-Adams and District 97’s Carol Kelley. Dominican President Donna Carroll has retired. Bruce Elegant is about to leave Rush Oak Park.
Makes Ed Condon of River Forest’s District 90 the senior educator. Park district leadership seems stable. Anyone else shopping their resumes?