Sheer joy and gratitude beamed from University legend Richard Schiefelbusch and the faces of more than 100 celebrants July 28, when KU’s guiding light of teaching and research in human development marked his 100th birthday. His daughter Jeanie Schiefelbusch and the Alumni Association hosted the afternoon event at the Adams Alumni Center.
Dick Schiefelbusch, g’47, became a pioneer in the study of speech, language and hearing after surviving two years in a World War II German prison camp, where he found his calling: a life and career dedicated to helping others. He established KU’s Speech Language Hearing clinic, which bears his name, and for more than 50 years served as a mentor to some of KU’s most accomplished researchers, many of whom attended the party. Schiefelbusch, who grew up on an Osawatomie farm and attended a one-room schoolhouse, earned numerous honors throughout his career, including the Distinguished Service Citation from the Alumni Association and KU. The University’s renowned Institute for Life Span Studies is also named for him.
Seated in front of an array of flags presented by KU’s ROTC units, Schiefelbusch laughed, smiled and made silly faces for countless photos as well-wishers took turns greeting him. A sign on the dessert table hailed him as “The Wise Man of the Prairie” as his three children and representatives from KU’s Veterans Alumni Network (VAN), the Kansas National Guard, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and Haskell Indian Nations University shared tributes. Mike Denning, c’83, director of military graduate studies at KU and president of the VAN, presented Schiefelbusch a framed commemorative challenge coin, and Randy Masten, g’03, assistant director of military graduate studies and secretary of the VAN, read a congratulatory letter from fellow WWII veteran Sen. Bob Dole, ’45, who turned 95 the day before Schiefelbusch turned 100.
Daughter Carol Schiefelbusch McMillin, ’79, said Dole’s letter was especially touching because the longtime Kansas senator, who suffered grave battle wounds in Italy during WWII, had long championed the research led by Schiefelbusch and other KU scholars. “It just means the world, because his support was so important to Dad’s work and the work of so many others,” she said. In the 1980s, Dole helped secure federal research funding for KU, including a pivotal $9 million grant, and later that decade KU dedicated the Robert J. Dole Human Development Center on Sunnyside Avenue to honor his leadership.
Jeanie, d’80, g’90, said she is grateful “every single day” to her dad, and her brother, Lary, c’65, g’65, described his father’s gratitude to the German citizens who rescued him from the Baltic Sea after his fighter plane was shot down. He echoed his sister’s praise for their dad. “I never knew him to fail me, and I never knew him to falter in his support,” he said. “He gave us something to reach for, but there was never pressure. … He always spoke well of the people he worked with, and he always taught us the importance of collaboration, collaboration, collaboration.” As he repeated one of his father’s favorite words, the crowd joined in the refrain.
When it was his turn to speak, the guest of honor heaped praise on others. “It seems to me that I’ve arrived in the right place in the United States and this world to live my life,” Schiefelbusch declared, “in the company of such helpful people, such rewarding people, such creative people. It is a privilege to be right where I am.”
Sir, the privilege is all ours.
Dick Schiefelbusch graced the cover of Issue No. 6, 2009 of Kansas Alumni magazine for a feature story by Julie Mettenburg titled The Particular Genius of Richard Schiefelbusch.
The importance of mentors and the rise of e-sports highlighted a lively discussion June 21, when eight Kansas City-area professionals in the sports industry shared their varied expertise, career journeys and advice during a Jayhawk Career Network event at the headquarters of Populous in Kansas City. The Association’s Greater Kansas City Network hosted the panel discussion, which drew an audience of more than 50, including alumni and students.
Association President Heath Peterson, d’04, g’09, encouraged participants to join the KU Mentoring digital community at mentoring.ku.edu or through the Association’s mobile app. KU Mentoring is the first phase of the Association’s Jayhawk Career Network, a multi-faceted strategy to connect students to the powerful network of Jayhawks worldwide and connect alumni across industries, he said. Kristi Durkin Laclé, c’99, assistant vice president of the Jayhawk Career Network, leads the program.
Program and panelists
Introducing the panelists was Jordan Bass, KU assistant professor of health, sport and exercise science who directs the sport management program. Panelists included:
Bill Hancock, executive director of the College Football Playoff
Earl Santee, a’81, a’82, Americas managing director and founder at Populous
Andrea Hudy, KU assistant athletics director for sports performance
Stephen Hopkins, a’05, president of Shield Healthcare and Sport
Kathy Nelson, president and CEO of the Kansas City Sports Commission and Foundation
Matt Baty, d’07, KU associate athletics director, Williams Education Fund
Kim Hobbs, j’94, vice president of corporate partnerships and premium sales for the Kansas City Chiefs
Zach Mendenhall, c’05, j’05, director of client engagement at VML
Santee, who in his 33 years with Populous has helped design stadiums, arenas and other event spaces nationwide, says architects and designers must collaborate to create not only inviting spaces but also great experiences for the public—and that extends to the new trend, venues for e-sports.
Mendenhall manages sports marketing partnerships, including the digital campaigns, for Wendy’s, a VML client. “We are challenged to not just slap logos on ads but to do a lot with social media activation and trying to find relevant, fun ways to bring sponsorships to life,” he said. As for the e-sports craze: “We all rolled our eyes at first, but it’s amazing how many people watch these competitions. It speaks to the fact that advertising in sports is constantly evolving.”
Hancock, who began his career in the athletics department at his alma mater, the University of Oklahoma, and went on to lead the NCAA Final Four and the Bowl Championship Series before launching the College Football Playoff, said the fervor for college sports is intrinsically tied to school loyalty: “A triple-A Lawrence team in the NFL or the NBA would not have nearly the passion that the Jayhawks have, and it’s because it’s a part of higher education.”
When the discussion turned to mentors, Hancock named three: former North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith, d’53; Oklahoma football coach Barry Switzer; and longtime KU Athletics Director Bob Frederick, d’63, g’64, EdD’84. “If you’re lucky, your mentors also become your friends,” Hancock said.
Find out what fellow Jayhawks are up to in our weekly edition of “In the News.” It’s like an online version of Class Notes.If you’ve seen Jayhawks in the news who should be featured, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Labette County District Judge Jeffry L. Jack has been appointed to sit with the Kansas Supreme Court to hear oral arguments in one case on the court’s Tuesday docket. Jack was appointed a Labette County district judge in 2005. He graduated from the KU School of Law in 1987. Read full article.
Gregory Benefiel was confirmed as the next McPherson County Attorney Thursday evening. Benefiel, l’06, is currently an assistant attorney general for the state of Kansas in the criminal litigation division. Read full article.
Mahesh Daas, dean of the University of Kansas School of Architecture and Design (Arc/D), and the school’s Dean’s Advisory Board have announced the names of Arc/D’s inaugural Distinguished Alumni Awards. They are furniture designer Wendell Castle, designer and community planner Silvia Vargas, and architect Jim Walters. The Young Architect-Designer Award recipients are architects Justin Cratty and Kenneth Simmons. Read full article.
Visual artist Nick Strange’s life revolves around his art. Strange, a University graduate who majored in visual art with an emphasis on printmaking, recently returned to his alma mater to design the solar eclipse promotional posters seen around campus. Read full article.
Andy Hyland didn’t win when he appeared on “Jeopardy!” and in a way, maybe that’s a good thing. Hyland, who is an assistant director of strategic communications at the University of Kansas, was a contestant on the game show episode that aired Monday, Sept. 18. Read full article.
A new restaurant opened on Mass Street in downtown Lawrence recently. Stonewall Restaurant and Pizzeria features a unique combination of authentic New York-style pizza and home-cooked classics like fried chicken options. Joe Kieltyka, a University alumnus from New York City who opened and operated the original Stonewall Pizza in Lenexa in the late ’70s, co-owns and operates the restaurant. Read full article.
Bill James, baseball historian and analytics pioneer, and his daughter and researcher Rachel McCarthy James, chronicled a 15-year killing spree in small-town America that they believe was committed by one serial killer who hopped on and off trains. Read full article.
Stephen McAllister, a distinguished professor at the University’s law school, was nominated to serve as the United States Attorney for the District of Kansas by President Donald Trump on Sept. 8. McAllister earned his bachelor’s from the University in 1985, and went on to graduate from the University’s law school in 1988. Read full article.
The University of Kansas has changed significantly over the past 20 years. Alumni, including Alumni Association staff member Jennifer Sanner, reflect on the changes in this feature from the Kansan, part of a larger special feature about the decade. Read full article.
Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises has named R.J. Melman as the new president of Chicago’s largest restaurant group. His father, Rich Melman, founded the company 46 years ago. The younger Melman earned a degree in political science from KU in 2001. Read full article.
Allen County, Kansas, has been named as a 2017 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Culture of Health Prize winner. Dave Toland, executive director of Thrive Allen County and a graduate of the university, shares more about what the prize means. Read full article.
Have you heard news about a fellow Jayhawk, or maybe you have news of your own to share? Email us at email@example.com, or fill out our Class Notes form to be included in a future issue of Kansas Alumni magazine. Read more about newsworthy Jayhawks.
As 14 Flying Jayhawks prepared for our trip to Cuba Jan. 6, tour director Antoinette Ford of Gohagan & Company wisely urged us to “be flexible and have open minds and hearts” during our visit to the island nation, which is struggling to accommodate the dramatic influx of tourists from the United States. We soon learned that the Cuban people welcome Americans with open arms, eagerly sharing their extraordinary culture and history. But Cuba’s aging infrastructure, dual currencies and years of isolation from the United States make for an unpredictable, challenging adventure. One of our local guides joked that the unofficial motto of Cuba is, “It’s complicated.”
Joining us on our journey were 26 Traveling Owls from Rice University and 12 alumni of Vassar College. In addition to making new friends from across the United States, we treasured the opportunities to meet and talk with Cuba’s citizens, including our local guides, musicians, dancers, artists, community leaders, farmers and the owners of several paladars, local Cuban homes that have become restaurants.
Our adventure began with six nights on the majestic M.Y. Le Ponant, a three-masted French sailing ship making its first Cuban voyage. For three nights, the ship remained in Santiago Bay, on the southeast coast of the island, as we enjoyed daily excursions. We visited San Juan Hill, the pivotal site of the Spanish-American War (known to Cubans as the Spanish-Cuban-American War). A lively performance by local musicians and dancers provided the perfect introduction to Cuban culture. We also toured the magnificent Cementerio Santa Ifigenia, which includes the mausoleum of José Marti, Cuba’s national hero and a literary legend in Latin America, as well as the grave of Fidel Castro. We were fortunate to witness the changing of the guard.
Other sites in Santiago included the cathedral and shrine of Our Lady of Charity, the patron saint of Cuba. Outside the city, we visited the 16th-century Castillo de los Tres Reyes Magos del Morro, a Spanish fort more commonly known as The Morro. Brilliant sunshine made up for the buffeting winds as we enjoyed the breathtaking views of Santiago Bay and an exquisite a cappella concert in the fort’s chapel by four Cuban women, Vocal Vidas.
As Le Ponant sailed from Santiago, the ship’s crew hoisted the KU flag and we enjoyed a glorious day at sea before arriving in Cienfuegos. Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, the city features a picturesque square bordered by the historic Teatro Tomas Terry, where famed tenor Enrico Caruso and other legendary stars performed. We also visited Santa Clara, where we learned the danzon, a traditional Cuban dance, from senior citizens at Abuelos de Fiesta, and toured the Che Guevara Monument and the History Museum of the Revolution.
After leaving the ship, we traveled by bus to Havana, the highlight of the first day was a visit to Finca Vigia, Ernest Hemingway’s stunning home, which boasts lush gardens and spectacular views. While our guide enjoyed telling us that actress Ava Gardner once skinny-dipped in Hemingway’s pool, most of us were more interested in seeing the famed author’s retreat, with its hunting lodge décor, historic photos and, of course, his typewriter.
The next morning began with a tour of the city in the vintage U.S. cars that local drivers have carefully and painstakingly preserved. Riding in a ’57 pink convertible Chrysler New Yorker sure beats a tour bus. We then walked the cobblestone streets of Old Havana, including the Plaza de la Cathedral and other squares where restoration of the UNESCO World Heritage Site’s colonial structures will continue for years to come. In a Havana suburb, we marveled at the wondrous, whimsical mosaics by artist Jose Rodriquez Fuster, who has adorned not only his home and studio but also his neighborhood with joyous, colorful sculptures in all shapes and sizes. Fuster’s eye-popping art lifts the spirits of residents and tourists.
From Havana we ventured to the Vinales Valley, which sits amid dramatic hill formations that are part of the Sierra de los Organos mountains. A local organic farm has become a favorite tourists’ lunch spot, known for tasty all-natural smoothies (rum optional) and delicious family-style meals. Our last stop was a tobacco farm, where Senor Benito explained the process for growing, drying and rolling the leaves that become Cuba’s famous cigars. A few travelers shared a smoke with Benito, who also welcomed us into his home for coffee.
After a long day, a few of us rallied for an evening at La Tropicana, the famous night club where extravagant (and decadent) entertainment first flourished in the 1940s during Havana’s heyday as the forerunner of Las Vegas.
As U.S. tourism continues to soar, Cuba no doubt will change drastically in the years to come. The Flying Jayhawks counted ourselves fortunate to visit the island as a new era begins.
—Jennifer Jackson Sanner
Jennifer Jackson Sanner is senior vice president of strategic communications and advocacy and editor of Kansas Alumni magazine. View more pictures from the trip on Flickr.
A colossal building—280,000 square feet—and the largest KU expansion in nearly 100 years demanded a massive celebration. A measly groundbreaking simply would not do.
So KU leaders nixed the shovel-and-dirt ritual and thought bigger. To mark a milestone in construction of the Integrated Science Building, which will anchor the new Central District taking shape on the Lawrence campus, KU staged a “topping out” ceremony Nov. 10. Beneath a brilliant sun and cloudless blue sky, a giant crane hoisted the final beam atop the frame of the three-story building. The task concluded with a raucous “Rock Chalk!” plus plenty of cheers and cannon bursts of confetti.
About 500 guests attended the celebration, including 300 craftsmen and women currently working on various aspects of the Central District. As the event began, guests took turns signing the final beam before gathering for speeches and a barbecue buffet at long tables on the open-air first floor of the ISB. Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little began by tracing the origins of the project from KU’s 2014 master plan. The plan put KU’s aspirations on paper, envisioning the Central District as “a new hub for education and research that would enable us to address urgent needs here at the University and position us for excellence in the years to come,” she said. “After years of hard work, that vision is becoming a reality.”
Jim Modig, University architect, told the crowd that the Integrated Science Building meets a longstanding need by providing a proper home for teaching and collaborative research in chemistry, medicinal chemistry, physics, molecular biosciences and related fields. The structure will include:
35 modular research labs
18 class labs
a 352-seat lecture hall
3 smaller classrooms
an open atrium
additional core labs and clean rooms
The atrium and other features of the building will showcase “science on display” with open corridors and large interior and exterior windows, Modig explained. The structure’s energy performance will be comparable to LEED Gold standards to support KU’s commitment to a sustainable environment.
Modig, a’73, also narrated a video flyover tour of the Central District. The district will include:
a new student union
student apartment complex
residence hall and dining facility
600-space parking garage
central utility plant
A walkway known as the Jayhawk Trail will connect the Central District to West Campus, and the area will include a plaza and green space, as well as playing fields between the student apartment complex and residence hall. The parking garage will open in early 2017, and the residence hall and dining facility will be completed in summer 2017. The remaining structures will be finished in 2018. During peak construction, about 600 craftsmen and women will work on the various projects.
A transformative project
After years of study, KU created a public-private partnership to launch the $350 million project. The Kansas Board of Regents approved the concept in late 2015, and construction began 10 months ago, following the demolition of McCollum residence hall, the Stouffer Place apartments and the Burge Union. The University established the nonprofit KU Campus Development Corporation, which collaborates with Edgemoor Infrastructure and Real Estate LLC to oversee development, construction, operations and maintenance of the district. Chief contractors for the project are Clark Construction and McCownGordon.
Gray-Little declared that the Central District will “fundamentally transform this university and the way we educate leaders and conduct research,” moving KU closer to its goal to become one of the nation’s premier public research universities. Ultimately, the Integrated Science Building is more than an immense building, she said: “Remember that this is not just about physical space. It is not about a building. It’s about the students, and the way that they will learn in this new space. It’s about our faculty and staff who will educate our students and who will make discoveries that improve our world.”
—Jennifer Jackson Sanner
Adorning the beam were the signatures of event guests, including construction workers, students, faculty and staff, and U.S. and KU flags. In keeping with tradition, two small trees atop the beam signify that no lives have been lost in the project, and they honor the natural resources used to build the structure.
Lou Pecci spent only two years at KU, but he has cherished that time ever since. “You go to school there, and it gets in your bones,” he says. “Your bones belong to KU.”
So when his family told him to pack his bag for the surprise trip of his dreams, Lou easily guessed the destination: “Are we going out to Kansas to see a game?”
Yes, after 36 long years, the diehard Jayhawk in Flanders, New Jersey, would finally return to the Hill. His family says he has talked of nothing but KU, worn Jayhawk regalia and collected KU tchotchkes for as long as they can remember.
“Obsessed is an understatement,” says his daughter, Teresa Pecci Sedore, who with her husband, Tom, planned the trip as a gift to her parents for hosting the young couple’s wedding in February.
When they arrived in Lawrence Oct. 7, the family’s first campus stop was the Adams Alumni Center, where the Alumni Association staff had offered long-distance advice to Teresa and her mother, Donna, as they planned the adventure.
Lou says he originally left New Jersey for KU because of “itchy feet. Go fever. Get in the car.” Now he rarely leaves home—“They had to me put on the plane with a crowbar,” Lou concedes with a laugh—making the family journey to Lawrence all that much more special. Though his beloved McCollum Hall no longer towers on Daisy Hill, Lou’s stories of antics with his 3-West buddies have stood the test of time.
Always an outlier when decked out in his KU gear back home and ceaselessly extolling the virtues of all things KU to family and friends, Lou finally won over the skeptics in his clan with two days of touring campus and enjoying the food and nightlife downtown. A thrilling football game against Texas Christian—a one-point loss that KU had a chance to win with a last-second field goal attempt—didn’t hurt, either.
“During the game,” Lou says, “my daughter turned to me and said, ‘Dad, now I totally get it. All your Kansas stories over the years. I totally understand.’ That says it all.”
Thankfully there won’t be any more long gaps between visits to Mount Oread: The Peccis and Sedores are already planning their return trip in 2017.
—Jennifer Jackson Sanner
The Wheel, the Hawk and Louise’s West were among the stops on Lou’s whirlwind tour.
Donna and Lou Pecci and their son, Billy; daughter, Teresa; and son-in-law, Tom Sedore, reveled in the KU-TCU game Oct. 7. Donna ordered custom T-shirts for the family for the trip.
Putting together an entire magazine devoted to food and drink has been great fun for us at Kansas Alumni, and we’ve heard (through the grapevine, mostly) that our look at cuisines past, present and future in issue No. 4 has been a big hit with readers as well. We’d love to hear that feedback directly from you: If a story from the current issue jogged a food memory or whetted your appetite for more culinary adventure, email us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Of course, culinary topics have long been an abiding interest of ours. The adventure, passion and life’s work that food so often inspires seems to produce a cornucopia of fascinating characters and tasty storylines, which we’ve happily celebrated in our pages over the years. Here are a few of our food favorites from issues past. Enjoy!
Jayhawks of all ages turned out in force Aug. 21 for the annual KU Kickoff at Corinth Square in Prairie Village, hosted by the Alumni Association and Kansas Athletics. Taking advantage of a cool August night, KU families filled the shopping center’s parking lot to share Jayhawk spirit and enjoy performances by the KU Band and Spirit Squad, a fun zone and face painting for the children, and rousing remarks from KU leaders.
Heath Peterson, interim president of the Alumni Association, welcomed the crowd to the annual finale of the ’Hawk Days of Summer and the start of a new school year and football season. “We are ready for a fun fall, and there is no better way to kick it off than in the heart of Jayhawk Country,” said Peterson, c’04, g’09. He thanked alumni and friends for their loyalty as Association members and volunteers.
Athletics Director Sheahon Zenger, PhD’96, encouraged alumni to visit the new DeBruce Center, which will house James Naismith’s Rules of Basketball and host numerous student activities. He praised new football coach David Beaty and new women’s basketball coach Brandon Schneider as “blue-collar, roll-up-your sleeves Kansas guys who speak from the heart.”
Schneider said he had “never been around a university and an athletics department that approach every day with more pride and more passion than we do at the University of Kansas.”
Beaty praised the energy of his young football team, which opens the season Sept. 5 against South Dakota State, and he urged alumni and friends to pack Memorial Stadium. “You are the magic,” he said. “We need that stadium loaded and rockin’.”
Following the Alma Mater and Rock Chalk Chant, the event continued to rock, thanks to a performance by the Lawrence band Coversmith.
In 1966, 12 KU Theatre students left Lawrence and drove to Creede, Colorado, a flailing mining town in the San Juan Mountains, never dreaming that their trip would become one of a lifetime for themselves and the town.
Steve Grossman was a junior at KU when a flier posted on a Murphy Hall bulletin board titled “Operation Summer Theatre” caught his eye. He made the call, took an initial visit to Creede and shook hands to commit to return for the summer with friends in tow.
Upon returning to Lawrence, Grossman, c’67, g’97, recruited 11 fellow theatre students to found the now “legendary” Creede Repertory Theatre. Founding members include: Shari Morey Lacey, ’69; Pat Royse Moynihan,c’67; Steve Reed, c’70, c’70; Kay Lancaster, c’66, g’70; Gary Mitchell, c’66, g’72; David Miller, c’69; B.J. Myers, c’69, g’71; Connie Bohannon-Roberts, d’66; Earl Trussell, c’70; Joe Roach, c’69; Lance Hewett, c’70; and Grossman.
“Creede Repertory Theatre is a shining example of how the arts can invigorate and sustain a community,” said Henry Bial, director of KU School of the Arts. “We are proud of CRT’s KU roots and were honored to participate in the celebration of its Jayhawk founders.”
Lawrence and the University of Kansas are still legendary in Creede, and the Department of Theatre was honored to be a part of the celebration. Mechele Leon, chair and professor of theatre; Kathy Pryor, managing director of University Theatre; and Bial attended the anniversary festivities, which included a KU alumni event, a talk back with the KU founders and a dedication of the Founders Lobby.
The Department of Theatre’s connections to Creede are far from over. Lily Lancaster, a KU theatre student, is finishing up a summer internship, and KU theatre alumni return each year to see and star in productions—not to mention the many alumni who have set up permanent roots and careers in Creede as well.
“It is clear to me that Creede Repertory Theatre and KU Theatre share a legacy founded on a devotion to making great theatre, developing and supporting theatre artists, and celebrating the communities that support us,” Leon said.
—Heather Anderson, marketing & communications coordinator, KU School of the Arts
The KU connection to Creede was chronicled by Jennifer Jackson Sanner in Issue 5, 2005, of Kansas Alumni magazine during the theatre’s fortieth anniversary year. Click here to read the feature from our archives. We hope you enjoy the nostalgic look back at a piece of Jayhawk history!
Above: The twelve founding members and KU theatre alumni the first summer in Creede, Colorado.
Above: Seven of the founding members of the Creede Repertory Theatre at the dedication of the Founders Lobby during the 50th anniversary celebration this summer.
Top photo: Mechele Leon, chair and professor of theatre, in front of the Creede Repertory Theatre.
Like many close friends, Sara Stotts and Julie Thies Dunlap can finish each other’s sentences. They also finish each other’s songs—much to the delight of audiences who have seen their irreverent musical, “MotherFreakingHood!” (Maternal Discretion Advised), which makes its Kansas City debut May 29-June 14 at the Goppert Theatre at Avila University.
The two began creating music—including Rock Chalk Revue productions—as Kappa Alpha Theta sorority sisters and roommates at KU. Like true collaborators, each credits the other for their successful partnership.
“I’m not a singer,” Dunlap says. “Sara’s a phenomenal singer. I can play the piano and barely carry a tune to get my idea across to her. She’s really fantastic.”
Stotts, d’95, a physical therapist in Chicago, has performed with comedy troupes, including The Second City and Annoyance Theatre. Improvisation helped her hone her comedic skills, she says, but Dunlap “helped me find my funny bone. I was a lot funnier after I met Julie. Before her, I was boring.”
Dunlap, c’98, hatched the plot for “MotherFreakingHood” following Stotts’ 40th birthday party, when Stotts’ husband, Bill Vellon, booked a comedy band to perform. The party triggered Dunlap’s creativity. “I started thinking about when we were roommates, doing Rock Chalk Revue. We wrote stuff all the time,” she recalls. “I thought we should make a show about motherhood, so I called Sara and suggested we write this musical and make it about three moms—and she didn’t call me back for probably three months. I thought, ‘Well, I guess we’re not going to do that.’
“I had written a couple of songs just for fun, and Sara finally called me one day and said, ‘OK, I’m in. I’ve written three songs, and I’m ready. Let’s go.’ So we did.”
When they began the project, Stotts’ children, Steven and Lauren, were 3 and 1, and Dunlap, who lives in Lawrence with her husband, David, c’92, m’96, was guiding her four children through grade school while writing a weekly column for the Lawrence Journal-World.
After sharing songs and ideas long-distance and holing up at hotels in Lawrence and Chicago for weekends of writing, the two finished the musical (originally called “Mother%$!#hood”), and it sold out in fall 2013 at the Lawrence Arts Center. Their work caught the attention of producer Seth Eckelman and Moonshine Variety Co., which is staging the Kansas City premiere.
The show tells the stories of three mothers, Rachael, Angie and Marcia, whose children range in ages from infants to teenagers. “We had very few rules, but one of them was that everything had to be funny,” Dunlap explains. “There cannot be anything sad and nobody dies in the show. Motherhood is stressful enough; you don’t want to go to a play and cry about it. And it had to be truthful—and I mean the truth in your head. The truth you might not even tell your best friend.”
For the musical’s Lawrence debut, Dunlap directed and Stotts played Marcia, the oldest mom in the show who is surprised to learn she’s having a “bonus baby.” Now the two are watching director Heidi Vann and new actresses interpret their work for the Kansas City production. “It’s really fun to see their instincts and their chemistry,” Stotts says. “It’s not like I didn’t know the show, but they brought things to the songs that I didn’t expect.”
The two friends hope a successful Kansas City run will lead to performances in Chicago.“The ultimate goal is to see this do for moms what ‘Menopause The Musical’ did for menopausal women,” Dunlap says. “It is a voice and an anthem and a celebration—and we want it to take over the world.”