Opelt was published author, journalist, playwright

J. Patrick Eaken

        The late James Opelt, a 1971 Eastwood graduate, was a published author, journalist, statesman, and a playwright. 
        Copies of his book Organizing and Managing the High School Theater Program (1991), are sold throughout the U.S., Canada, and several foreign countries. The publication was used at several high schools, New York University, Case Western, University of Arizona plus other universities. James also wrote ‘Zombie Jamboree: the Party Continues’ (unpublished musical) in 1995.
        His former thespian students have been employed as actors in New York City and California, appearing in episodes of “All My Children”, “ER”, “Law and Order”, “Sex and the City”, “Spin City”.
        Others have performed at Radio City Music Hall, Tony-winning Broadway productions, and toured nationally with ‘Rugrats’, ‘A Chorus Line’, ‘Blues Clues’, ‘Dora The Explorer’, and acted in commercials for Hallmark. Other students have become a Los Angeles producer and a technical rigging expert who opens shows around the country.
        “Mr. Opelt’s passion helped me go in a direction that has forever changed my life. I went on to perform in New York City theater and network television shows. I found my passion for producing independent films, and I currently run a production company. Without Mr. Opelt, I would have been on a completely different path. Without Mr. Opelt, I still may very well be that shy kid who could not even walk out onto the stage without shaking from fear,” said Eric Keith, a former high school student, currently producing independent films in Los Angeles.
        David Fulton, another former student currently working on Broadway, added, “Mr. Opelt was the first teacher who made me feel confident and that I was better than average. He was tougher than I expected and required his students to do their best first and have fun second. That was exactly what I needed; I thrived in his class and in the school theater. I loved it.”
        Opelt’s business, Star Tours of Ohio, specialized in escorted trips to New York City and his experience operating a costume warehouse included rental and sales of over 5,000 costumes and accessories.
  Opelt, who passed away on September 23, 2020 after a lengthy illness, will be inducted posthumously into the Eastwood Alumni Association’s Eagle Way Hall of Fame as a community contributor and noteworthy alumni. He will join the Frobose family (community contributors), Dr. Michelle Kahlenberg (noteworthy alumni) and Jim Welling (noteworthy alumni and coach) in the Class of 2021.
From Pemberville to Kansas
        After graduating from Eastwood, Opelt decided he wanted to pursue a slightly new venture utilizing his skills.  He contacted the Ohio Air National Guard in Toledo offering his services.  He was then offered a position in the 555th Air National Guard band for the next six years.  During the next six years he traveled to many various locations in and around Ohio with the band to conduct ceremonial concerts and dedications.   
        Opelt graduated from Bowling Green State University with a BS in Speech, Drama and Journalism Education.  He also attained a Master’s degree in Theatre and Media Arts from the University of Kansas in 1988. Opelt was selected BGSU’s Outstanding Speech Teacher In 1985.
        Opelt began his teaching career at Clyde High School, 1976-1981, with journalism and speech plus rebuilding the theatre program. His first year there, Opelt directed Guys and Dolls.  It was the first musical that had been performed there in 25 years.  It was the start of many more successful productions.
        His production of “Our Town” was named one of the top ten high school productions in Ohio. The show was selected to be performed in 1981 on the main stage of the Ohio State Thespian Conference.  James re-established the original name of CHS newspaper to ’The Race Street Journal’, winning several awards.
        “Mr. Opelt brought musical theatre to Clyde High School in my junior year. Nothing was more exciting, fun, and rewarding than putting together those shows for performance under his capable direction. I went on to perform and assist with many college productions and then directed shows as a teacher. Upon retirement, my favorite activity is now involvement in community theatre, thanks in great part to Mr. Opelt,” said Heidi Sarvis- Sapp, a former Clyde student.
        Former Clyde student Elaine Schultz adds, “Because I was in Mr. O’s speech and journalism class in Clyde, I spent many extra hours working after school on projects for both. We became close friends. We stayed in contact for the rest of his life.  Because my senior year was his 1st year of teaching, he always told people that I was his first student.
        “Without his encouragement, I would not have been active in music ministry, VBS music in motion, or proclaiming scripture readings at Mass, or anything that required putting me in front of others. I even participated in some local community theater.  I made two trips to Kansas for productions there. I’m so happy that I was able to go on one of his famous New York City bus trips, which turned out to be his last.  So many wonderful memories.”  
        From 1981-87, Opelt taught at Gardner-Edgerton High School, Gardner, Kansas, where he organized and hosted the largest Forensics Festival in the state. James then moved to Olathe South High School, Olathe, Kansas, from 1987-2002. There he directed over 100 high school and community productions including the national high school premiere of “Footloose”.
        In 1986, the Governor of Kansas presented to Opelt the Outstanding 4A Theatre Teacher Award. He was selected to ‘Who’s Who Among American Teachers’ in 2000 and 2002, as well as the Lion’s Club Outstanding Citizens Award in 2004. (— from a Press file story by Press news writer J. Patrick Eaken and the hall of fame biography).


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