Last month, our community lost one of its most cherished members when Rollin “Ron” Wehman died after suffering a heart attack. Mr. Ron, as we knew him, was the founder and general manager of the Riverside Dinner Theater and Conference Facility. He had a lifelong devotion to music and the arts, but what truly set him apart was his commitment to sharing this passion and for making live theater accessible to everyone – adults and children alike.
We first met Mr. Ron in the late summer of 2012, when he cast my daughter (then 10) in a production of The Sound of Music. Up until this point, my daughter had always been sort of a natural performer – singing and making up skits at home – but had never been officially involved in theater. Over the years, she dutifully played soccer, took gymnastics and tried piano, but never seemed to find a true passion.
All that changed after the first rehearsal of The Sound of Music. Here was a girl who had suddenly, jubilantly, found herself. Every aspect of the production was a new and exciting adventure. Vocals, choreography, lines, blocking – there was so much to learn and so much gratification when each skill was mastered. It was truly magical to watch my daughter come into her own.
Now, show biz is not always particularly kindhearted. There’s a lot of…well…drama involved, and believe me, it can get personal. But somehow Mr. Ron managed to be not only the director, focused on putting together a professional production, but also the encourager-in-chief, ensuring that each member of the cast, especially the children, had a positive experience.
I suppose that’s why he created a foundation to introduce underprivileged children to the performing arts and started a summer theater camp for children. He also presided over a children’s theater program that has entertained countless local families and school groups over the years.
In the days after Mr. Ron’s death, a fellow theater mom was telling me about the extraordinary number of remembrances that people had posted on Facebook. “Do you think he knew?” she asked, tearfully. “Do you think he had any idea how many people he impacted?”
And that’s the thing. When someone goes suddenly, you’re often haunted by the words you never got a chance to say. I guess we’ll never know if Mr. Ron knew how much he influenced several generations of performers. I can only hope he knew what a difference he made in my daughter’s life. Nowadays, she’s all about theater and is always looking for the next production, whether it’s at school, church or in the community. I can’t imagine what she’d be doing with her time if Mr. Ron hadn’t taken a chance on her in The Sound of Music.
In my mind, Mr. Ron will always be sitting at the grand piano amidst a semi-circle of Von Trapp children, singing “Do-Re-Mi” with delight in his voice and a twinkle in his eye. I know I told lots of people what a wonderful experience this was for my daughter. I’m pretty sure Mr. Ron was one of those people. I hope I also said thank you.