by Jo Miller
The theatre department will be losing a valuable and humorous member at the end of this semester.
Rick Hornor, theatre professor and chair of the department, is retiring this year after having taught at Whitworth for 26 years.
How Hornor came to Whitworth
Hornor went to Whitworth as an undergraduate and got his degree in theatre and speech, along with a certificate in education.
He had been teaching theatre and English in public schools in California and New York prior to getting the call from Whitworth asking him to apply for an open theatre position.
Hornor had never before planned on coming back to Spokane. He loved teaching junior high and high school and had no intention of doing anything else.
“I was going to drop dead in the classroom and permanently scar the emotions of all of my students,” Hornor said.
Instead, Hornor took the job at Whitworth and moved to Spokane from New York.
“I came to Whitworth and it was like this huge gift because suddenly I’m doing theatre full time, which was my real passion,” Hornor said.
Life at the beginning of the transition was tough, though. Hornor was teaching full time, all while taking a full load of classes to get his doctorate and directing at least three productions a year. He and his wife Susan had four kids at the time and the job change caused him to take a significant cut in pay.
“What really kept my wife and I going was the fact that we both felt so strongly that God really had called us to this place,” Hornor said.
Theatre at Whitworth
Hornor considers it an honor to have been able to do his art unfettered because his colleagues and the administration have trusted him, due in part to Whitworth’s mission of mind and heart education. He is proud to be a part of this community, Hornor said.
Hornor has directed many plays during his time at Whitworth including, “Is He Dead?,” “The Crucible,” “Fiddler on the Roof” and this year’s fall production of “Once Upon a Mattress.”
When Hornor directed “Fiddler on the Roof,” he strived to bring honesty and integrity to the production. He sought advice and direction from a nearby Jewish synagogue in order to accurately portray the poignant tale of Jewish expulsion from Russia.
Hornor received letters following the production expressing the appreciation of Jewish members of the audience. The synagogue even invited Hornor to a banquet and declared him a “righteous gentile.”
One woman told Hornor how her marriage was saved and she became a Christian after seeing one of the secular plays he produced.
Through these plays and the others he has done, Hornor loved being reminded of the power of theatre and having the privilege of experiencing the impact it has on different people, including his students.
“I‘ve had some profound experiences with the theater here. Profound experiences in the sense of the transformation that I’ve seen in some of my students,” Hornor said.
Students and colleagues
Junior Andrew Coopman, theatre and English major, believes Hornor inspires people.
“Rick Hornor is one of those people you meet who is truly authentic,” Coopman said.
Hornor pushes you to do your best and lives out his own philosophy, Coopman said. Hornor is passionate about the people he works with and if you spend even five minutes with him, you’re guaranteed to be laughing.
Senior theatre major Stephanie Wiley has been in many of Hornor’s classes, worked with him in “Once Upon a Mattress” and has had him as an adviser since her freshman year.
Hornor teases, is quick-witted, and very sarcastic, but at the same time he is very supportive and wants students to succeed and have a good experience, Wiley said.
Wiley is not quite as sad about Hornor’s retirement because, as a senior, she will be leaving with him.
“I’m more sad for the department because Rick has given so much to the department,” Wiley said “He’s going to be very missed.”
Theatre professor Diana Trotter will be the new chair of the theatre department in Hornor’s stead.
Hornor is organized, doesn’t get overwhelmed easily, is very optimistic and generous. Trotter considers these to be some of many strengths Hornor has as the theatre chair and she hopes to embody them as she moves into the position.
He’s her biggest ally and supporter, Trotter said.
Trotter recalls a time Hornor stepped in front of the proverbial train with her when she was a junior faculty member. The school’s administration received a complaint about a potentially controversial play she had recommended to two students as a senior project. The students were invited to perform it downtown at a non-Whitworth-related event and an audience member was unintentionally offended.
Hornor took responsibility for the decisions and never wavered in his support for Trotter.
“Whether it’s been in the choice of shows, or trying out a new class that perhaps didn’t go well, or letters from angry patrons, or disciplinary actions involving students, Rick has always come alongside us and supported our efforts,” Trotter said.
Trotter said she is heartbroken that Hornor is retiring, but she feels this is the right thing in his journey.
Plans for retirement
Hornor hadn’t planned to retire yet because he wasn’t ready to quit teaching. He considers the students a gift and the best part of his job.
Several circumstances in the last few months made it possible for him to retire. His wife planned to retire at the end of this year and Hornor received invitations from professional theater companies on the west side of the state who wanted him to do some teaching and directing with them.
Hornor and his wife have seven children, four birth children and three they adopted from Korea.
Hornor and his wife have bought a house in Tacoma where they will be close to three of their children and two of their grandchildren.
Hornor considers the move a new chapter and a new adventure and is happy he will still be a part of theater.
“I still get to be in the classroom and on the stage,” Hornor said.