By Brandon Hansen/Brandon is the managing editor of the Chewelah Independent and a graduate of Eastern Washington University. If you’d like to send Brandon a Letter to the Editor, shoot him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the TV show “Boy Meets World” there is one character called Mr. Feeney.
In the ridiculousness of TV or perhaps it’s telling how long the show went, Mr. Feeney was a teacher for the main character, Cory, all through middle school, high school and into college as well. Ridiculous right? The writers of the show just had to come up with new ways to get the shows’ “mentor” into the new setting as the main characters aged.
It’s not far fetched for Chewelah kids, however. For many years, kids have been introduced to theatre through StageTime with Don and Janet McLaughlin. Then find their passion in middle school drama with Janet, and work on their skills in high school theatre with Janet and Don.
Then, if Chewelah students were so inclined, they were able to go to Eastern Washington University and continue to do theatre with Don.
When I heard Don passed away last week, I was in a state of disbelief. As so beautifully put in his obituary by the family, he was a force of nature. Don passed away? There’s no way, I thought, I’m pretty sure that guy is invincible.
You see, much like many kids in Chewelah, I was super lucky to learn from the McLaughlins about theatre. And I shouldn’t just say theatre because the kind of lessons they taught reached further than a school subject. Professionalism. Responsibility. Working with others. And perhaps most importantly being creative with talent.
In middle school, Janet put up with a hyper ginger kid that was thrilled to learn he got to swing a sword around the stage AND PEOPLE WOULD COME AND WATCH.
In high school, Don was always working what I can imagine were 23-hour days. He’d do his normal workday in Cheney as a professor then drive back to Chewelah and help us high schoolers build our set for the latest production with Janet.
(We even got Don to sigh heavily when my friend and I drained out all the transmission fluid in my friend’s girlfriend’s car – while trying to change the oil.)
I remember in my first year of college at EWU, my roommate Cody Garner (same friend) came into our dorm room and informed me that Don and the theatre department needed more bodies for the epic Shakespearean production of Henry VI. I agreed, thinking it would be cool to say I was in a play by Shakespeare, winging it as “Bar fly background guy No. 3.”
Nope, Don had other plans. Since he knew I was a Chewelah kid, he immediately tasked me with learning French so I could be on the surrendering end of the sword that my roommate would swing at me. This for a college freshman who barely passed Mr. Monasmith’s Spanish class in HS (Thank goodness he let us recite coloring books for bonus points).
Even though I majored in journalism at the EWU, I kept hanging around the theatre department because there were a lot of Chewelah kids and just great people in the program and it was always fun striking up a conversation with Don, sometimes for a newspaper article, about the latest show coming on.
Then I moved to Montana, and guess what… when I mentioned the McLaughlins to the local theatre group in Polson, their eyes lit up and they knew who I was talking about.
When I moved back to Chewelah to be Editor, the first person through the door to say welcome back was Don. Talking to him about the historical aspects of Chewelah and Stevens County was a joy, and his passion for things like the PACA building and the Indian Agency Building was refreshing.
When he passed away, my Facebook timeline got flooded with people posting memories, thoughts and well-wishes to the McLaughlin family. People from all across the country, all walks of life and all ages. A big group of current and former students began a group chat trying to figure out what they could do to help or pay their respects. It’s easy to see that Don and the McLaughlins have made a huge impact not on just this community but on many others as well.
He will be missed. Rest well, Mac.