As Janice Hopkins Malchow traveled from Mississippi to Chicago in May of 2022 due to her brother becoming gravely ill, she found herself contemplating her life experiences, recalling her time spent in several productions in the North White Auditorium under the leadership of special director Jon Clevenger “Clev,” as many know him.
“North White Auditorium,” what a simple name, she thought. The name was not reflective of those who gave their time to the productions of musicals and plays held there, not to mention the lasting friendships built and memories made. The idea of naming the auditorium after Clevenger, whom she called a legend in the North White School community exploded in Malchow’s mind. She reached out to Deb Elmore Vandervort, a former thespian at the school, and Julie Gutwein, who has been dedicated to musicals in the past.
Clevenger began teaching English at North White during the 1968-69 school year, his first teaching job after attending Ball State University. He and his wife and 3 children lived in Monon, where they owned a local flower shop, Flower Fancy.
During his 33 years with the school corporation, Clevenger was much more than simply a teacher; he was a humble man as he never wanted to come to take a bow after his productions. He was a dedicated educator, who cared for his students and their success.
He had a passion for theatre and dedicated many hours to every aspect of productions as he practically lived at the school during the summertime, former students said.
He brought theater to life in the small community of Monon with his creation of the “Summertime Players.”
Vandervort, Gutwein, and Malchow reached out to North White’s superintendent, Nick Eccles. Eccles, along with School Board President Jim White, agreed to meet to discuss the proposal. The ladies then sent a Facebook request to former students and colleagues of Clevenger in support of naming the theater after him.
In all, 63 testimonials were submitted in just four days recommending the North White Auditorium be named in his honor.
One former student noted that Clevenger had a profound impact on those he met, leaving lasting and forever cherished memories. He put his heart and soul into everything he did, apparent by the overwhelming show of support after being retired for nearly 20 years.
“(Clevenger) was the first teacher that listened like our thoughts mattered,” said Darla Allee Vail, a 1993 graduate of North White.
Class of 1994 graduate Katy Hines wrote, “Little did I know how profoundly this brilliant, soft-spoken, humble man would challenge me. Mr. Clevenger helped transform a simple love of the written word into a portal of personal growth.”
“You would have thought that he taught some super subject the way kids looked forward to having him as a teacher,” said Darla Allee Vail, North White Class of 1993. “When you walked into his class, it was just automatically a different vibe.”
Clevenger was passionate about teaching and was known to challenge his students to read works of serious literature, encouraging them to openly discuss and express their views on issues in the works. Many former students noted that Clevenger went above and beyond the expectations of a teacher, helping to encourage them through difficult times, often when they had nobody else to support them or turn to. Testimonials submitted by former students seem to echo a common message about Jon “Clev” Clevenger, he was caring, supportive, and could pull the best out of everyone.
“In the classroom, he was funny and kind and made students feel like we mattered,” said Angelique (Cooley) Kilmara, a 1987 graduate. “To be clear, he was not a pushover, and he had a gentle way of getting the best out of his students.”
Community members who participated in the Summertime Players echoed the students’ sentiments. Clevenger started Summertime Players in 1988, a theatre program consisting of musicals, comedies, drama, and more. The program brought together talented people from all walks of life, both from the community and the surrounding area. It created an outlet for those to share their talents with the community, offering a theater experience that cannot be found nearby. Every community has hidden talent, and Clevenger had the knack for finding it.
“I came to realize how unusual and unique this was for a small high school in rural Indiana to produce such wonderful plays and musicals,” said Margaret (Peggy) Horton. “(Clevenger was creating opportunities for adults and children of all walks of life to experience the theatre, all the while drawing audiences from such a large geographical area.”
“Jon is the best kind of theatre director,” said Twin Lakes’ theater director Susan Willbanks. “He was never about garnering attention for himself, instead, he poured all of his energy into bringing out the best in his actors and giving them a place for creative expression.”
For Craig Schaeffer, an English and Creative Writing teacher at West Lafayette Jr./ Sr. High School, Summertime Players not only allowed him to express his love for theater but also to his future wife.
“Summertime Players is where I met my amazing wife,” he said. “Without Jon, I not only wouldn’t have had the opportunity to play Prince Charming and Captain Von Trapp, but I also wouldn’t now have my wife and three children.”
Eccles and White read each of the submissions. In the end, Eccles was impressed, commenting that Clevenger was the type of teacher he would like for all North White students to have.
The decision was made to bring the proposal to the school board on June 13, where the board announced their unanimous decision to name the auditorium for Clevenger.
Clevenger now resides near his daughter in Illinois due to declining health, so Gutwein, Vandervort, and Malchow decided to visit him, showing him in person the testimonials received and giving him the exciting news of the auditorium being named after him.
“This is quite an honor,” he said. “I’m moved and grateful to everyone one of you who took the time to write your feelings down. The Auditorium is dear to my heart. Nearly 100 shows by the time of my retirement in 2002, 15 years of Summertime Players, so many talented student actors and actresses, technicians, and behind-the-scenes helpers, sometimes pulling off the impossible right up to showtime.
“As an educator, you never really know the impact you’ve made on someone. We’re together for a short time. We laugh, joke, cry, argue and work, and just like that, it’s over, with barely a moment to bask in the success of weeks of work that culminate in only a few precious performances. People move on. Life moves forward. And then one day. Out of nowhere, you’re presented with the grandest surprise!
“To receive this honor is a wonderful validation of 33 years of teaching and directing at North White. Words cannot express my gratitude to everyone who felt compelled to make it happen. To be thought of in such a way, by so many, is truly humbling.”
Hi daughter, Andrea Ray, was equally honored.
“I’ve always thought my father is pretty great-gentle and kind,” she said. “Great educators are an asset to a community. My father was just that, an asset to Monon and the North White community.”
A date for unveiling the Jon D. “Clev” Clevenger auditorium has not been set due to the ongoing construction of the school.