Memorial to be held May 7 for longtime theater faculty member George Poletes
A service will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday, May 7, in Frey Theater at the College of St. Catherine, in memory of longtime theater faculty member George Poletes.
Everyone – especially theater colleagues, students and alumni – is invited.
Poletes was 76 when he died Jan. 3 in Seattle from complications of hydrocephalus. He had taught at St. Catherine and the University of St. Thomas for 46 years.
A Sioux Falls, S.D., native, Poletes reflected on his Midwestern roots in 1980, when he won an Outstanding Faculty Award from St. Catherine. He had opportunities to "dabble in everything," he said. "Summer theaters were rare in our area, so we built our own. A combination tent and wooden stage house. Instantly I became an actor, director, playwright, propsman and also sign-painter. Huge highway signs to advertise the theater." He used old billboards left behind by defunct businesses.
As director of theater and a teacher at Hamline University (1957-58) and at St. Catherine and St. Thomas (1958-2004), he directed hundreds of productions of plays, musicals and pageants. He wrote for radio, the stage, televison and newspapers. For 20 summers beginning in the 1970s, his original or adapted plays for children became an annual tradition on the campuses, employing college students to supervise budding young "stars" from the neighborhood.
While Poletes received his bachelor’s degree from Augustana and his master’s degree at North Dakota State University, he picked away at Ph.D. studies at the University of Minnesota while teaching at St. Catherine. He finished the course work but never got around to finishing the dissertation. He and his first wife, Sally, were busy raising five young children, teaching and putting on plays.
"In those early years George directed the show, designed and built the sets, did the lights and sound and many times was in the show many times as the lead," recalls his longtime friend and colleague JoAnn Holonbek. "His wife did the costumes!"
As a young actor Poletes had worked off Broadway, in summer stock productions and even on the Minnesota Centennial Showboat before starting a teaching career. By the mid-1970s he became interested in film studies and filmmaking, eventually winning a $12,000 grant from the Jerome Foundation for these programs at St. Catherine and St. Thomas.
Poletes was active in the American Theater Association, the Minnesota Theater Federation and other organizations. His many awards included the first McKnight Award for playwriting (1959) and the Amoco Gold Medallion Award of the American College Theater Festival for excellence in academic theater.
Most of all, UST and CSC alumni will remember Poletes as an energetic, irreverent, envelope-pushing, forward-thinking professor who took a special joy in adapting ancient Greek classics for contemporary audiences and employing the theater as an agent of social change.
Poletes retired as professor emeritus in 2004 and moved to Edmonds, Wash., where he continued to write plays. He is survived by his wife, Roberta, and his five children.