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Inspiring Affton Teacher Lives for Positive Drama

After 45 years of teaching drama, Judy Rethwisch thinks making a difference is the real reason we are alive.

When Judy Rethwisch was in college, she took a beginning speech class. Her professor told her that one day she would be a speech and drama teacher. That professor’s prophecy came true, and 45 years later Rethwisch still manages to be center stage even behind the scenes.

Throughout her teaching career, Rethwisch, who lives in Fenton, has received several accolades for her dedication to her craft and her students. In 1993 Rethwisch was named the Thespian Teacher of the Year by the MO Thespians. They later named the award after her; it is given to a theater teacher whose unselfish efforts and countless hours really do mean something. They renamed the award after her specifically because she represented the very best of theater educators.

Actor John Goodman presented her with the award; he was a student of hers at Affton High School, and she was instrumental in getting Goodman to take up acting as a career. 

“He actually came in to audition for ‘Lil Abner’ his junior year on a bet from a friend, and he was just starstruck with theater,” Rethwisch said. “The next year in 1970 he got the lead in ‘Hello Dolly’ and then from there he went on to a lot of other things.”

Rethwisch said that Goodman had an unusual talent in that he could imitate every teacher on staff and could do great characterizations.

“He had a perception of people and could carry it off, and it shows in the character roles he plays today,” she said.

Having a former student “make it big” in Hollywood made Rethwisch a better teacher in the eyes of a lot of people, which is interesting to her.

“He’s been very generous to the school district monetarily and has been very supportive—he’s been a good friend,” she said.

Not only is Rethwisch viewed as a “better teacher,” but the building in which she spends the bulk of her time actually was named after her in 2005, which she said was a surprise. She now teaches her favorite plays, “West Side Story” and “My Fair Lady” in Judith Rethwisch Auditorium.

As if teaching doesn’t take up enough time, self-proclaimed “semi-retired” Rethwisch also is heavily involved in the Affton Education Foundation.

“When I was talking to the superintendent of schools about what I would do after I retired, we discussed the fact that there was really no alumni association of any way for students who have graduated from Affton to come back and make connections,” she said. “So, he asked if I would be interested in developing that.”

After attending a few workshops, Rethwisch said that she never realized what a big thing it was going to become. The foundation now meets four times a year and work plenty in between meetings. 

“Right now we are working toward our March 3 Black and White Ball at Sunset Country Club. It’s an auction dinner and we will recognize five alumni who will be distinguished alumni at that event,” she said. 

But at the end of the day, Rethwisch recognizes that her first love is teaching. She thinks it’s the real reason she is alive—to make a difference. 

“You can’t really tell that when you are teaching them. It really comes back after they are graduated, and Affton alumns have done some fabulous things,” she said. “I think that’s what so interesting to me with the foundation—to see former students and the wonderful things they have done and this is their way of giving back. That’s what it’s all about. Everyone is giving back and trying to make the world a better place.”

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