In Memory

Jerome L. Isaacs - Class Of 1968

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06/04/11 05:52 AM #1    

LeRoy J. Nienow (1968)

Jerome Leonard Isaacs

 “Is Jerome home?” “Is Jerry therey?” How I wish it were still so.
As I look back on it now, I am amazed that my relationship with Jerry only lasted about a dozen years or so. The last eight of those years consisted of scattered, all too brief encounters and occasional letters.   But those first four years from 1967 through 1970 completely turned my life around. The list of things that he either introduced or enhanced in my life is staggering: Barriers were broken in class, culture, education, geography and music. He raised the bar for me in the appreciation of the performing arts, fine dining, New York City, and Musical Theater. He encouraged me in my personal vocabulary, my self-confidence, and the ability to perform.   He introduced me to excellence in the areas of music, theater and dance by sharing the works of Sondheim, Fosse, Hal Prince and many others. Many of the things that mean the most to me, as I look back on my life, are a direct result of those first four transformative years with Jerome Leonard Isaacs.
To truly understand what Jerry did for me, I have to go back a bit further, to Jr. High School. When I was in 9th grade at Peckham Jr. High, there was this talent show I wanted to audition for. The problem was, I didn’t know how to prepare for the audition. No one in my family had ever been involved in any kind of performance, and while I had a very loving family, when it came to the arts, I had no help at home since they didn't have a clue either. Not having any friends who could play piano or guitar for me, I was forced to sing accapella. I had never held a mic before, so I didn't know that if you held it too close to your mouth it would distort and feedback. I went up on that stage shaking like a leaf, my heart in my throat, and practically swallowed the mic. I poured my heart out to an old ‘60s tear jerker called "Patches". Needless to say, all anyone heard was distortion, and I didn’t make the cut for the Talent Show. That experience was so traumatic for me that I didn't think I'd ever do anything like that again. I still loved singing in the Choir and all, but I was never going to embarrass myself by doing any solos or anything that would single me out!
Then one day in High School this guy from my Choir class asked me for a favor. He was directing an abridged version of “Fiddler On The Roof” and he needed some singers for the chorus. That guy was Jerry Isaacs, a pianist, singer, actor, and all around “Brainiac” who I only knew from a distance. He was all the things I didn't have in Jr. High, and because he was so talented and supportive, I gained enough courage to actually do a little acting as well. "It was a horse! It was a mule! It was a horse! It was a mule!" I loved it! More importantly, he had helped me take that first crucial step, in what would prove to be one of the most meaningful and rewarding areas in my life. 
The next semester I discovered that because I was involved in the “Fiddler” presentation, I was automatically a member of the Washington Players… NO DREADED AUDITION! With that hurdle behind me, I summoned up the courage to audition for my first featured acting role in a full production… The Blue Caterpillar in “Alice In Wonderland”. “And ahhh Whooooo are Yoooooou?” I was hooked! I had a dancing lead in “Brigadoon” and by my senior year, I had the romantic singing lead in “The Boyfriend” and was the President of Players. Along the way Jerry, Kenny, Mary Farrell and Chris Cederburg had become my best friends. We shared countless hours in the practice rooms, preparing for choir talent shows and all the full productions, or just amusing ourselves. They took this country bumpkin, who knew nothing of this new and exciting world, and not only accepted me, but encouraged me to dive right in! It was a total paradigm shift for me and my life was changed forever! All because Jerry asked me to help him with “Fiddler” and then took me under his wing. Years later I would go on to do multiple adult productions of “Fiddler”, “The Boyfriend”, and Brigadoon!
It was the “one on one” time with Jerry in the practice room that prepared me and challenged me for what was to come. He introduced me to “110 In The Shade” and years later I would go on to play the lead role of Starbuck in both the musical and the straight versions of “The Rain Maker”. He introduced me to the other works of the composers, Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt, and I would go on to do leads in “The Fantastics”, and direct “I Do! I Do!”. Most importantly, he showed me how Stephen Sondheim was raising the bar in Musical Theater. I remember Jerry telling me that Steve was Musical Theater’s greatest living composer (long before countless others would proclaim it) as he played songs from “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum”. I recall going over first drafts of songs that Steve had sent him from “The Girls Upstairs” later renamed “Follies” and the show that would catapult him to the top of his craft “Company”. I would go on to do Miles Gloriosus in two separate productions of “Forum”, the dance lead in two productions of “Gypsy” and the lead role of Bobby in “Company”. 
The only thing that compares to my time in that practice room, was that incredible first trip with Jerry to New York City!
My first Broadway show was “The Apple Tree”, a show I would eventually do with my wife. Not only was I Adam to her Eve, but I directed the production as well. That first trip I saw “Cabaret” and went on to dance in one production of the Kander and Ebb classic, and play the romantic lead in another. We saw “Adaptation” and “Next” Off Broadway, which I later directed. But the biggest thrill for me on that first trip, was to see what would become my favorite show of all time, “Man of La Mancha”. I have since played the dual role of the Governor/Inn Keeper twice, and was thrilled to direct two separate, extremely well received, productions of  “La Mancha”.  
Today I have been involved in almost 80 theatrical productions as a dancer, singer, actor, choreographer and/or director. I have been nominated for "Best Actor In A Musical" multiple times. I have written several original musicals, including "The Gospel Accordin' To Texas!", which has been seen and enjoyed by almost 50,000 enthusiastic patrons through out Central Texas, and has been acknowledged by two Mayors and two Governors. I have been a central figure in establishing a Theater Company, a large Community Chorus, and an annual Gospel Music Festival, all of which have not only survived, but thrived for more than 25 years. 
My intention here is not to gloat about my own achievements, but to let you know that it all began when Jerry asked me to sing in a small production of “Fiddler”. If he hadn't taken me over that hurdle, and encouraged me to move on, I may never have gotten past my disastrous audition in Jr. High. He not only made a huge difference in my life, but in all the lives I have touched over the years, including my wife and son. Often times in life, seeds are planted, but rarely do we get to see the fruit that is produced. I wanted Jerry’s family to know that I was just one, of what I'm sure have been many seeds planted over the years.  I’m quite certain I am only the tip of the iceberg… some you may be aware of, but there are undoubtedly many who you may never know about. 
All things considered, I have had a rich and fulfilling life. However, one of only a handful of regrets was when the première of Jer’s show “Fragile Connections” opened in Chicago and I couldn’t be there. I was trapped in Texas at the time, and powerless to do anything about it, but I have never forgiven myself. I think that was when we started losing touch with one another. He probably never understood my absence and I was too embarrassed to make excuses.   Time goes by… life goes on… and then one day you find out that the single person, who has influenced your life more than any other, has been gone since the early '90s and no one can tell you how or why it happened.
Jer wrote the following in my Senior Year Book:
“As you know, there is no perfect picture on any one of these pages, much as we’d like them to be. The pictures, be they of New York, or these last months of school, must fail to capture most of what once was there. The only perfect picture is in the memory, yes? We have enough perfect pictures to last us for a lifetime, LeRoy… but I can say that only because we’ll go on adding to them for some time to come. Sometimes it can be comforting to remember the future, too.”          Jerome Leonard Isaacs
What prophetic words. It was those faded, but enduring pictures in my mind, that were the catalyst to the life that I have come to lead. They were the buds of promise that blossomed into rich full colors and fragrant petals. Jerome Leonard Isaacs is not dead. Like Don Quixote, he lives on… in the countless lives that he influenced in his brief, but undeniable life. His concern for the human condition… his call to excellence goes on in the many lives he touched. I am so thankful and privileged to have been one of them.
LeRoy Nienow 

01/20/18 11:16 AM #2    

Mary Ellen Krueger (Hood) (1968)

Loved that read. Leroy.  Jerry, Kenny, Naomi, Mary Holzer, and I were the crew back in junior high, spending many hours gathered around Jerry's piano singing songs from the musicals.  He was also instrumental in me developing my love of both musicals, and eventually piano, which has been a big part of my life.  My mother once commented that Jerry "has such nice teeth".  He picked up on that and never let me forget it.  In my yearbook, he wrote, "and let us never forget those immortal words, he has such nice teeth.".....Not really what I remember him for, but he was definitely one of a kind!

01/21/18 09:59 AM #3    

Naomi Flessner (Goodin) (1968)

Very nice tribute, LeRoy.  Jerry was a huge influence in my life too, although I only really spent time with him in junior high.  His mother would make his fan club - me, Mary H. and Mary K. - feel so welcome at their home.  I also remember going to school early and playing songs from musicals in one of the practice rooms at Peckham.  He introduced me to a whole new world. 

02/03/18 06:31 PM #4    

Laura Von Wald (Horsch) (1968)

I played with him as a youngster at Hi Mount grade school. He will be4 missed!

Laura Von Wald Horsch

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