Students show love for their queen

Opera theater


She was a stage queen in the best sense of the word, regal robustness and effortless effervescence, a tall, sociable woman who didn’t demand so much attention as to dance with her.

Joan Kent taught theater arts and drama for 23 years – first at West Mesa High School from 1970, then at the newly built Cibola High School in 1975 – but what she taught, who she was, what that she represented for her students went well beyond The stage.

“We were the Kent’s Kids and she was a teacher, mentor, counselor,” said former student Kathy Wimmer. “I called her my surrogate mother. She was the one you went to with your problems and for comfort, or to hear her tell you to suck. Many of her students say she has changed their lives. Many say she saved their lives.

Kent was killed on August 11, three days after his 93rd birthday. A memorial in his honor and the official launch of a fundraiser for a scholarship in his name takes place on October 9 at the Cibola campus theater that bears his name.

Joan Kent was not only a bright light and a drama teacher for her students, she was also a mom, counselor, coach and lifeguard. She is pictured here on her 80th anniversary gala in 2008, in the presence of dozens of former students. (Courtesy of Erica McFarland)

The theater, in which Kent helped design and direct the first performances, is so named thanks to its students, who pushed for the honor.

“And I’m not even dead yet,” she joked at the theater’s dedication in 1991.

Kent joked a lot like that, and his students were often involved. Her full name was Joan Edith Rance Kent, and she proudly and celebrated her initials JERK.

“Besides the fact that some of us are known as the Kent’s Kids, we were also students of JERK,” Wimmer said.

Their little inner joke is even surreptitiously included in his obituary. She would have smiled, they think.

Among Joan Kent’s biggest fans was her husband, Hal Kent, who attended and criticized her shows even after he went blind in his 50s. (Courtesy of the family)

Then again, she was almost always smiling, toothy and broad, her head thrown back, her only good arm arching elegantly in a dramatic gesture or a jazz hand.

Few have noticed his other arm, atrophied from an episode of polio as a child, though it has remained an eternal reminder of the tragic side of a life blessed with comedy.

“She was a child of the Depression and Divorce, and spent several years in the hospital with polio,” said daughter Connie Kent Friedrichs. “Her mother was a model, her sister was a model, but she was not given the same model look. I suspect that’s where some of his dramatic flair comes from.

It was a way for her to get noticed.

Kent was 6 when her parents divorced, throwing her, her mother and sister out of the family home that encompassed almost an entire block of Chicago and forcing Kent to be sent to her father to beg for money. , said Friedrichs.

Another tragedy arose when her sister passed away at the age of 21 and Kent was left with the demoralizing thought that the wrong child might have passed away. That, however, was not holding her back, and maybe it was because by then she had learned to embrace happiness before it escaped so easily.

“She was a rock,” Friedrichs said. “She had a zest for life. She was never, ever a “poor me” person.

She graduated from college with degrees in English and Chemistry, married street vendor and biggest fan Hal Kent, and raised their three children in Chicago, immersing them in the arts, taking them to New York City for attending the theater and filling their house with opera radio. emissions.

In 1964, the Kents moved to Corrales, Friedrich’s mother exchanging her flamboyant gloves and heels for jeans and boots. When her children grew older, she returned to school, earned a master’s degree in education from the University of New Mexico, and found the foundation for what has become a fabulous and fulfilling career.

“His acting classes weren’t just ‘Here’s a play, learn your lines,’” Wimmer said. “She helped you find the reality of work. When she invited you into a room, she would say “You are mine now”. She demanded our best, our everything. And she would let you know when she thought you hadn’t done your best, which could be overwhelming. But you wanted to be good for her.

And they were good – so good that, among the accolades her students won during the year, she was invited to perform at the Great Canadian Theater Festival in 1988.

Kent was known to take classes in theater and opera, and in places relevant to the plays they performed. For “Sous le sycamore”, which involves an ant colony, she took her students to the dwellings dug in the earth at the Bandelier national monument. For “Riders to the Sea”, she imbued her students with Irish music and culture. For “Rhinoceros” it was a trip to the zoo.

Kent didn’t just teach his students to perform on stage; she taught them to be themselves in life.

“She accepted me as I was, am and want to be,” former student Erin Hulse wrote in a tribute on Facebook.

Her students sent her Mother’s Day cards and celebrated her birthdays. Friedrichs recalled the large number of them who gathered for Kent’s 80th Night in 2008.

“It was bumper to bumper, so many students over the years there,” she said. “Her children were her everything, and my brothers and I always knew we shared her.”

For her 90th birthday in 2018, Joan Kent was celebrated with a trip to Nashville, Tennessee, by former student Michael King, owner of Monell Restaurants, and in the presence of former students, friends and family from across the country. Here Kent, in a tiara, watches King cut a cake in his honor. (Courtesy of Kathy Wimmer)

For her 90th birthday, former student Michael King flew her to Nashville, Tennessee, for dinner at his restaurant, Monell’s at the Manor, and invited friends, family and other students. It was a royal affair, Kent wearing a tiara, arriving in a Rolls Royce, walking through a crowd giving him nine separate bouquets of 10 roses, one for each decade of his life.

It was a celebration fit for a drama queen. And she loved it.

Although she left this earthly scene, her students still love her.

UpFront is a front page news and opinion column. Contact Joline at 730-2793, [email protected], Facebook or @jolinegkg on Twitter.