Friday, October 09, 2015

Undercurrents: Honoring Rosie, establishing a legacy

  • The Amelia Center Honors: Rosemarie O’Bourke
  • When: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 17
  • Where: Amelia G. Tapper Center for the Arts, Gulf Coast State College, 5230 W. U.S. 98, Panama City
  • Tickets: Free admission; online reservations at suggested to guarantee seating
  • Details: Call 850-872-3887 or email

PANAMA CITY — I first met Rosemarie O’Bourke, or “Rosie,” many years ago, when I started reporting on education for The News Herald and the Gulf Coast State College theatre was undergoing a massive renovation. But I finally got to know her when my son entered the college’s Performing Arts track.

Next week, Oct. 17, the college will celebrate Rosie’s career and legacy following her recent retirement as chairwoman of the Visual and Performing Arts Division — a department that started when she first arrived at the college, about 30 years ago.

“The Amelia Center Honors is an event celebrating the numerous contributions Rosie O’Bourke has made to arts and education in this community and the positive impact she has had on so many students during her career,” said Jason Hedden, who assumed his role as chairman of the GCSC Visual and Performing Arts Division upon Rosie’s retirement. “The entire community is invited to share in this exiting evening of entertainment.”

The special ceremony will feature performances and tributes by students, alumni, colleagues and community members. NYC-based performer and alumnus Matthew Holtzclaw will serve as guest emcee. Formal attire is requested.

The Amelia Center Honors, as it goes into the future, will become an event to honor others who contribute extraordinary value to the area’s cultural life.

In 2013, I sat down with Rosie in her office, which was decorated with University of Florida and Gator items, and we talked about her life and career.

Born in Cuba, she came to the U.S. in 1961 at age 13 as one of the “Peter Pan” children. The Miami Catholic churches had arranged passage for Cuban children and placed them in foster homes and orphanages to get them out of Castro’s regime.

“I didn’t speak any English or any such thing,” she said. “My brother and I went to live with a family we knew, friends of our parents. We were lucky.”

Rosie completed high school and college in St. Petersburg, graduated from UF with a master’s in music, took a second master’s degree in theater from St. Louis University, worked in a playhouse in Cleveland while getting her MFA, married and had three kids.

The first show she produced at GCSC (still “Community” College at the time), was “Bye Bye Birdie,” with choreography by her longtime collaborator and friend Jenny Freed. The last one she directed, a career-long dream, was “Les Miserables.”

But retirement doesn’t mean she’s far from the footlights. She plans to spend more time at a family cabin in North Carolina, but also to work with children, teaching and producing children’s theater and choral performances. Arts education is as important to her now as ever.

“My soapbox is keeping the arts in our schools,” she said. “Kids really need it, and research shows they do better in all the other subjects if they’re (exposed to) the arts. My students have gotten so much from the arts — self concept, energy, compassion. They had to learn to be team players, to accept other people, and no matter what field you go into, you have to be a team player.”

As the team gets together next weekend to honor its coach, mentor, and fellow player, they’ve had occasion to reflect on how they got where they are — and who helped guide them along the path.

“Rosie has had a profound impact on my life and career,” Hedden said. “For over 20 years, she has believed in me, more than I believed in myself. That unwavering support has given me a confidence that has led to many of the personal and professional successes in my life.”

That’s a legacy anyone would be proud to count. Congrats, Rosie, for a career well spent, and best wishes for many years of creativity and inspiration to come.

Post a Comment