And lots of high school drama – literally. Those are some of the things Karen Brathovde is leaving behind as she retires from 35 years of teaching high school drama and English.
And her “cherubs.” Those are some of the things she’ll miss the most.
Brathovde taught at Ferris for 15 years and at Mead for 20.
She said she knew teaching was where she belonged, and her first production of “Bye Bye Birdie” at Ferris cemented her commitment.
“The kids were fabulous. They worked so hard.” she recalled. “I love teenagers. I call my students my cherubs. I’m known as the ‘Cherub Queen.’”
And she loves the sense of belonging theater classes and productions promote.
“Theater attracts all kinds of kids, sometimes kids who don’t feel like they belong anywhere else,” she said.
Even nonperformers can find a place to fit in.
“My little techies do lights and sound – you couldn’t pay them enough to be on stage, but they paint sets or do lights,” Brathovde said.
One of her favorite productions at Mead was “Twelve Angry Jurors.”
“I took some of the male characters and turned them into women,” she explained. “We did it as a theater in the round – as if the audience is part of the jury room. It got great community response.”
Over the years, she’s seen many of her students launch professional theater careers in Hollywood or Seattle. Some, like actress and singer Abbey Crawford, have stayed in Spokane.
Equally thrilling to Brathovde are those who’ve pursued careers teaching theater, like Jessica Rempel at Mt. Spokane and Sydney Baird Childers, who taught drama at North Central last year and will be at University High School next year.
“It’s very rewarding to see these kids become drama teachers or just continuing their love of theater,” Brathovde said.
Childers said she was a senior when Brathovde took over the drama department at Mead.
“She immediately changed the vibe of what the department had been,” Childers recalled. “I’d been kind of on the outside looking in, but something about Karen pulled me in. She just saw me – really saw me.”
Both of Childers’ parents were educators, and she’d resisted that path for herself, but meeting Brathovde changed her.
“She has this big booming laugh. She brought so much joy into the space,” Childers said. “I just really thought I want to be a drama teacher – I want to be this woman.”
As Brathovde reflected on her 35-year career, she said, she has relished the opportunity to practice her art.
“My paintings, my drawings, happen on the stage.”
Now she’s looking forward to traveling and spending more time with her two adult daughters and her husband, Barry.
She’s also looking forward to being on stage again.
“I’m going to immerse myself in the Spokane theater scene,” she said. “Eventually, I’ll do some directing, but right now I’m looking forward to having someone else tell me what to do.”
Her retirement leaves a big hole at Mead High School.
“It’s not easy to say goodbye to her,” principal Jeff Naslund said. “She’s not just a play producer, she also oversees the drama and improv clubs. She sees drama as a place for kids to find their niche in a big high school.”
As Mead parent Donelle Shultz wrote, “Mr. Naslund, you will have big shoes to fill when you have to hire her replacement.”
That’s something of which he’s keenly aware.
“We simply can’t replace someone as integral as Karen,” Naslund said. “So we’re going to build on and honor her legacy.”
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