Valerie Gerstenberger kept a necklace with a charm for each theater production she was involved in.
Over the years, it got so heavy, she couldn’t even wear it anymore.
That was one of many memories shared Saturday as the Workshop Players Theater on Middle Ridge Road in Amherst Township was dedicated to the late founder and a plaque bearing her name was unveiled inside the theater’s front door.
Gerstenberger passed away at age 104 on Christmas Day.
In 1947, she was teaching at Clearview High School and directing its theater program when alumni begged her to head a show outside of school. That first show was “Western Union, Please.”
The colors of the stained glass window above the front door of the Workshop Players Theater are blue and gold in honor of the Clearview students who helped Gerstenberger found the theater.
She directed nearly every show put on by the Workshop Players until 1954 and wore many hats over the ensuing decades as a writer, choreographer, actress, and costume designer, said board president Dave Stacko.
“Valerie lived in the community her whole life and we’re here in this venue today because of her,” he said. “It’s hard to find someone in the shows around here who wasn’t touched by her in some way, whether that was on stage or behind the scenes.”
The Workshop Players presented shows in the old Hickory Tree Grange Hall on Milan Avenue until 1953, when activity was moved to the current theater, which is a repurposed church.
After teaching English, speech, and drama at Clearview High School in the 1940s and 1950s, Gerstenberger served as the Amherst school system’s library coordinator for 23 years and as its drama director for six years.
Theater manager Dawn Watson recalled Gerstenberger’s strict rules for staying in character while on stage.
“We had a show where I had to play someone who was constantly popping pills,” she said. “We used Tic Tacs and M&M’s for effect. After the show, she came up to me and said, ‘I could tell those were not pills. You didn’t swallow. You chewed.’ So, for the next performance, I tried to swallow and they ended up getting stuck.”
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.