About the Festival and Our Sponsors
This event is sponsored by a partnership with the Wyoming Humanities Council and support from the following:
- Casper College Foundation
- Margaret Demorest Endowment
- Goodstein Foundation Library
- University of Wyoming at Casper
- Nicolaysen Art Museum
- Natrona County Public Library
- Eric Unruh, DM, dean of the Casper College School of Fine Arts and Humanities
- Visual Arts Department Galleries
- Jack McCann College Store at Casper College
- Casper College Office of Public Relations
- Casper College Department of Theatre and Dance
2021 Humanities Festival Committee
- Katrina Brown
- Patti Wood Finkle
- Anthony Guerriero
- Valerie Innella Maiers, Ph.D., chair
- Evelyn Miller
- Sue Moore
- Jennifer Pepple
- Adilene Rodriguez
- Gail Schenfisch
- Carmen Springer-Davis
- Gretchen Wheeler
- Aaron Wood
- Amanda Yonker
A Brief History of the Humanities Festival and Demorest Lectures
By Shirley Jacob — March 1, 2007
… My intent is to be brief, so I’ll start by remembering that Paul Hallock once called this Festival the Crown Jewel of Casper College.
In January 1985, I knocked on Paul’s office door to explain a plan for an endowed lecture series in the humanities, to be named in honor of Margaret Demorest.
After 25 years of teaching at CC, Margaret Demorest was retiring in May 1985 to continue her research about Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets. Margaret worried that publishers and editors would overlook her work because she was not connected to one of the Ivy League universities. As one of her friends, I was aware that her research was not mainstream Shakespearean research, but — in my opinion — THAT did not mean that she was wrong in her conclusions.
What to do? I had discussed the problem with three of Margaret’s friends: Charlene Davis, Ellen Burke, and Ellen’s brother-in-law, Brian Burke, a young Casper businessman and former student of Margaret Demorest. We decided to organize a public event that would bring at least regional attention to Margaret’s work.
“How to finance this?” we asked ourselves. “Would Margaret’s students, past and present, donate to an endowment fund? Would the CC Foundation accept the management of the endowment? Would the College administration approve?”
“Let’s give it a try,” the four of us said. Brian Burke spearheaded the fundraising. I took the idea to Paul Hallock and asked for his support. Paul was, after all, one of Margaret’s former students.
On that day in January, twenty-two years ago, Paul Hallock listened carefully to our plan. Then President Lloyd Loftin listened carefully, and the Casper College Foundation Board listened carefully. Soon Paul Hallock delivered the good news to Charlene, Ellen, Brian, and me that the Casper College administration supported our plan, and the Foundation would manage the endowment and make an annual grant to support the series.
As agreed, the Demorest Lectures Committee continued fundraising. Brian Burke signed hundreds of letters to alumni who were former Demorest students. The endowment began to grow. Why was this effort remarkable? Let me explain.
Casper College, which was established in 1945, has grown in many wonderful ways, Casper College is a great place to work; Casper, Wyoming is a great place to live. However, Casper is miles and miles distant from metropolitan centers such as Denver and Salt Lake City – much, much farther away than the Forest of Arden in As You Like It was from London. Furthermore, the fiber optic lines and wireless communications that today shrink time and space were not there until the decade of the 90’s. In the middle 1960’s (I came in 1967) Casper College faculty were recognizing a need to discuss ideas of importance in a forum setting, outside the classroom and with the community joining with the campus to examine these ideas.
The first effort at a discussion series was sponsored by the local chapter of the Association of American University Professors and lasted one or two years. The second effort began in 1968 when English Instructor, Jolene Hinkle, and I and the student staff of the campus literary magazine started the Expression Lecture Series, inviting local experts to address students and faculty about language and its uses. The Expression series continued for three years until the staff felt that publishing the magazine was all that they could handle.
The third effort began in 1969 when history instructors, Jane Katherman and Jon Brady, organized the Social Sciences Seminar. This very successful annual lecture series lasted about 30 years. Important national figures participated in the Seminars, for example: former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark; author Maya Angelou; U.S. Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm; Ambassador William Sullivan; journalist and social critic Vance Packard; and Daniel Boorstein, Director of the Library of Congress.
The Social Sciences Seminar naturally focused on current issues relevant to the social sciences. Margaret’s studies of Shakespeare’s work and times needed a different forum, a different spotlight that would shine on English life, literature, and politics 400 years ago. Thus, a new lecture series seemed the most appropriate way to accomplish our purpose of bringing attention to Margaret’s scholarly work.
Margaret accepted the College’s invitation to present the premiere lecture of the new series. Although her research encompassed all of Shakespeare’s plays and over 100 years of English history, she decided to focus only on the sonnets in her lecture. According to Margaret, the sonnets concealed political criticism of the English monarchs and admiration of those who suffered under their rule. Before her death in 1998, Margaret Demorest published Name in the Window in which she explained her findings.
The Demorest Lectures have three purposes, all of them a tribute to Margaret Demorest’s love of learning and search of truth during her 25 years of teaching at Casper College. The first purpose is to encourage scholarly research in the humanities which can be shared with the college and the community.
Sharing presumes a readiness to accept what is shared. I began to fret during the summer of 1985: Would everyone in the audience have sufficient background knowledge? Some of my students confided that they had never attended a stage play, much less a Shakespearean play. Although the target audience would include faculty and well-educated, well-traveled townspeople, the average student might not grasp the significance of Margaret’s discoveries.
To solve what I perceived as a difficulty, I proposed that Casper College sponsor a humanities festival with presentations about the art, music, literature, theology, and history of the English Renaissance, thus providing a framework of information that would help students understand the times in which the sonnets were written.
A festival would naturally cost money. With the Administration’s approval, I wrote a successful grant proposal to the Wyoming Council for the Humanities to fund the first Festival. Paul Wolz, Chairman of the Language and Literature Division, directed the first Festival.
The second purpose of the Demorest Lectures in the Humanities is to encourage vitality in the teaching of the humanities. Margaret Demorest was a brilliant teacher, able to take the most difficult concepts and make them understandable. In her 1985 lecture, she explained the secrets of the sonnets. She made it all seem so clear and understandable and plausible. So did the other presenters in 1986: Jim Gaither, Pat Patton, James O’Neill, Mae Flegg, Susan Tracy, and the Reverend John Gerberding. Tom Empey directed “Macbeth” in the Krampert Theatre. The total crowd count for the first Festival was 1,500.
The first Humanities Festival was mostly a home-grown series that showcased the scholarship and teaching excellence of Casper College faculty as well as the two humanities scholars from the Casper community. Since then, Festival directors have achieved a nice balance of Casper College humanities scholars and scholars connected to other colleges and universities.
After first Festival was over, the Demorest Lectures Committee asked, “What shall we do next year?” We placed application notices in scholarly journals such as the Publications of the Modern Language Association (PMLA), hoping that these notices would have two results: first, that they would direct attention to the Margaret Demorest Lectures in the Humanities and thus provide additional name recognition for Margaret, and second, that they would attract multiple applications from which we could choose the lecturer best suited for our series and festival.
We were in luck. Dr. Paul Grendler from the University of Toronto applied, proposing to lecture on the origin of the humanities in the Italian Renaissance. After Dr. Grendler accepted our invitation, the Committee organized a Humanities Festival that framed his subject, and the Committee wrote a successful proposal to the Wyoming Council for the Humanities. Again we focused on the humanities of a distinct historical period and place. Dr. Lloyd Agte directed this festival.
For the 1988 Festival, we again advertised in scholarly journals. When we met to select the 1988 Demorest Lecturer, our community representatives, Brian Burke and Nona Muller, urged us to focus on the humanities in the twentieth century, thus connecting the festival with contemporary times and emphasizing the third purpose of the Demorest Lectures which is to recognize the value that the humanities have in our lives. Besides, they said, we should be wary of setting precedents that would too closely identify the Demorest Lectures and Humanities Festival with past times and overseas places. Thus, the Committee invited Dr. Sanford Pinsker to discuss contemporary humor in the work of Robert Benchley and Woody Allen, and we organized a festival entitled “Humor, Music, and the 20th Century.” Paul Carlson, Instructor of Music, directed the 1988 Festival. The WY Council for the Humanities funded the Festival.
For the record, the WCH has funded the Demorest Lectures and Humanities Festival for twenty out of twenty-two years. The Casper College Foundation has provided annual funding; ARTCORE has provided annual in-kind support; UW/CC and the Casper College Division of Language and Literature have provided steady support, and various foundations and businesses have provided grants, all of which have been acknowledged in the programs for each festival. Each year people make contributions to the Demorest Endowment Fund so that the series can continue. I hope you in the audience tonight will consider making a gift.
In 1989 Marianne North disposed of another potential limitation to the series. “Why should the Festival deal only with subjects reflecting English and Western European and U.S. viewpoints?” she asked. “Why not examine non-Western influences on the humanities?” The Committee agreed. Marianne North directed this festival, inviting scholars from the west coast and east coast and points in between. Dr. Christopher Chapple was the 88 Demorest Lecturer, discussing the Asian tradition of non-violence as evident in the writings of Thoreau, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King.
After the Festival on non-Western influences on the humanities, we recognized that the series was not limited in any way, not by historical time, not by geographical place, not by Euro-American traditions of thought. Our only obligation was to respect the three purposes of the Demorest Lectures:
- To encourage scholarly research in the humanities which can be shared with the college and the community;
- To encourage vitality in the teaching of the humanities; and
- To recognize the value that the humanities have in our lives.
This freedom has been healthy. During the years, festival directors have produced wonderful humanities programs with themes ranging from the “Columbian Quincentennial” in 1992 to “The Good Life” in 2000; from the “Cultural Fallout of WWII” in 1995 to the “nature of creativity” in 1999; from the “Wyoming centennial” in 1990 to “Food for Thought” in 2004 and “Greco-Roman Pastimes and Pleasures” in 2006. Now we have come full circle with the “Renaissance Revisited” in 2007.
Every year the Festival will bring you a new and relevant program — because the humanities are important in our lives.