Robert E. Kauffman, college drama teacher, dies

Revered educator led Anne Arundel Community College's theater and performing arts department

  • Robert Kauffman
Robert Kauffman (BUD JOHNSON )
March 07, 2011|By Jacques Kelly, The Baltimore Sun | Baltimore Sun reporter

Robert E. Kauffman, who led Anne Arundel Community College's theater and performing arts department for 30 years, died of cancer Thursday at Anne Arundel Medical Center. He was 73 and lived in Arnold.

"We called him 'chief,'" said Peter Kaiser, the school's events manager, a former student and a friend. "You looked to him as a leader. He was articulate and held the bar high. You rose to meet it."

Mr. Kauffman was associated with about 65 productions of the school's Moonlight Troupers Drama Club. School officials said he worked with more than 2,000 cast and crew students, as well as with members of the community who auditioned for him.

"Chief inspired countless members of the Moonlight Troupers Drama Club, his students and his colleagues while taking the AACC performing arts program to higher and higher levels," said Martha A. Smith, the school's president.

Born on a family farm near Manheim, Pa., he was a 1955 Manheim High School graduate. He earned an English degree from Franklin & Marshall College and had master's degrees from Bread Loaf School of English in Vermont and the University of Maryland, College Park. He studied for a doctorate at New York University.

Mr. Kauffman taught high school English in Lititz, Pa., where he met his future wife, the former Dorothy "dotti" Detwiler, when they both taught along the same corridor in the school.

While at College Park, he heard about an opening at Anne Arundel Community College. He joined the faculty in 1972 and taught technical theater, speech and play production courses. Friends recalled that when he arrived, the college had a small drama club producing two annual plays in a lecture hall. His early productions included "Our Town," "A Midsummer Night's Dream, "The Lesson" and "The Chairs."

"I was looking at his drawings for set design today and I was amazed at his engineering detail and the fine finishes he stipulated," said Mr. Kaiser, who is an Annapolis resident. "He asked a lot of his students, and they loved him for it."

Mr. Kauffman also helped in the technical design for the school's Pascal Center for the Performing Arts.

Every other year, Mr. Kauffman produced musicals or plays for children. These included "Charlotte's Web," "Alice in Wonderland" and "Peter Pan," which he did four times. For these productions, he placed a box of pillows in the theater lobby so that children could boost themselves in their seats to see the stage.

His favorite production was "Les Miserables," which he saw numerous times.

"His philosophy was 'only the best will do,'" said his wife. "He knew he had to make his theater productions sell. His productions appealed to a broad audience, many of whom were families. He ran the theater department as an exercise in collaboration with students and colleagues."

He retired in 2003 as performing arts professor and department chair. The next year, the school's board of trustees awarded him the status of professor emeritus. The trustees praised him for the college's theater arts curriculum; stewardship of a successful community theater group; setting up a scholarship and raising thousands of dollars for fine arts students; bringing children to the school for theater; and for his role in having the college host the Anne Arundel County High School Drama Festival. He also led numerous theater travel-study courses and behind-the-scenes workshops.

"He loved the college and this community," said Douglas Byerly, chair of performing arts at the school and a Towson resident. "He was a humble man. He was simple and eloquent in his speech. He was a genuine soul, generous and a sincere man who wore his heart on his sleeve."

The Kennedy Center-American College Theater Festival awarded him a gold medallion in 2003. Students selected him on five occasions for their Students Association Distinguished Service Award. In 2002, he received the Lifetime Adviser Award. He was also a 2006 Annie Award recipient for his work as an arts educator.

Services will be held at 2 p.m. March 19 at Brickerville United Lutheran Church, 340 E. 28th Division Highway in Lititz.

In addition to his wife of nearly 39 years, survivors include a brother, Reuben Kauffman Jr., and a sister, Yvonne Kauffman, both of Manheim.

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