Inspiring Okeechobee: The show must go on

OKEECHOBEE — Dedicated, hard-working and dependable are just a few of the words you might use to describe Ron and Jacque Hayes. Ron has lived in Okeechobee since 1959. He said one of the first things he and his sister did after arriving in Okeechobee was to perform on the stage now used by the Okeechobee Community Theatre. Ron and his little sister Janice were singers who performed together onstage often over the years, although Ron said Janice was, and still is, the star, and he was just up there to keep her company.

Ron and Jacque Hayes

Jacque grew up in Pennsylvania with her two sisters where she said she spent many hours in front of the television singing and dancing. During high school, Jacque was a member of the drama club and served as stage manager for all the plays, but in her senior year, she had an onstage role in “The Wizard of Oz.”

Ron graduated from, what was at that time known as, Indian River Junior College in 1968 and went on to the University of Florida where he earned a degree in broadcast journalism.

Jacque graduated from Kutztown State College in Pennsylvania with a degree in elementary education, specializing in teaching the visually impaired.

Because of some health problems, Jacque’s doctor advised her to move to a warmer climate and she found herself in Okeechobee in 1984 working as a teacher for the visually impaired. Over the years, she added working with the hearing impaired and assistive technology specialist to her resume as well.

Ron worked for radio station WOKC for 13 years as program director and worked for WGGG in Gainesville for a year and a half. He worked in banking for 18 years before getting back a little closer to his roots by teaching journalism, television production, drama, English and world history before retiring in 2008.

Ron and Jacque met at the community theatre in 1986. Ron jokes that she really proved her worth when she was the stage manager for “6 Rms Riv Vu.” After spending some time getting to know each other, they realized they were actually neighbors, living right around the corner from one another. They began to spend a lot of time together but thought of themselves as just friends until Jacque took a job in St. Augustine teaching at a school for the visually impaired. She was gone for about a year and a half when Ron decided enough was enough and he asked her to marry him. They were married in 1989, and they have been together ever since.

The Okeechobee Community Theatre might or might not be here now if it weren’t for Ron and Jacque. It was founded in 1979, and Ron was a charter member, taking over completely the following year. Jacque has spent countless hours working on shows. In 40 years, there have been 86 different shows, including 34 musicals, performed on that stage. For the cast, a show involves about nine weeks of rehearsing three nights a week, two-to-three hours per night. Then the shows each involve about 15 hours of performance time. Then there is the time it takes to memorize lines, put on makeup, etc. For Ron and Jacque, they have to choose a show, audition and spend hours matching people up to get the perfect cast. They have to plan costumes and props and build sets and choreograph dances and plot every movement across the stage, set the lights, set the sound system, make the programs, make the tickets, sell the tickets, promote the play, direct the play, direct the stage crew, soothe hurt feelings, reassure those who think they aren’t doing it right, reign in those who think they know it all, and on, and on and on.

And through all these things, they still try to live their lives. Ron is a deacon and teaches Sunday school at Oakview Baptist Church. Jacque is a volunteer at Raulerson Hospital, serving both at the front desk and in the maintenance department. Jacque also serves in the church, signing during the worship portion of the service, and has directed numerous Christmas and Easter pageants throughout the years. Jacque said she thinks she does all the things she does because she has a servant’s heart. She just enjoys serving and helping others. Ron said it means a lot to him to be able to give people the opportunity to grow and to use talents and gifts they can’t use in their everyday lives. He enjoys watching them blossom.

For a period of several years, Jacque went through some major health problems. During the production of “The King and I,” she was going through chemotherapy and yet, she still managed to help with that play. During “Moon Over Buffalo,” she broke both legs and came to rehearsals in a wheelchair, giving new meaning to the expression “break a leg,” During “110 in the Shade,” she had lymphedema and still attended rehearsals. When Ron’s parents’ health was declining, and things were hard for the family, no matter how exhausted they must have been, they still managed to put together play after play through it all.

There is just something special about live theater, especially community theater where anyone can take part. You don’t have to be a big star or come from a certain family. You just have to jump in and join the fun. There aren’t many places in the world where a doctor, a teenager, the guy who checks your water meter and a pastor can all hang out together and get to know each other. That’s why Okeechobee really appreciates your “the show must go on” attitude, Ron and Jacque. Thank you for inspiring Okeechobee.

If you would like to suggest someone for the “Inspiring Okeechobee” series, email cwomble @newszap.com.

Cathy Womble is a staff writer for the Lake Okeechobee News.

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