Theater takes name of Northwestern legendA living legend was honored Monday when the new auditorium at Northwestern High School was named.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
A living legend was honored Monday when the new auditorium at Northwestern High School was named. As 500 people looked on, longtime educator Pat Luostari, known affectionately as “Mrs. L,” was memorialized in brick and mortar. She had no idea it was coming.
“It was a marvelous surprise,” Luostari said. “I was really, totally, totally surprised.”
The crowd of nearly 500 was treated to a rare sight – a flustered Luostari.
“I’ve known the woman for 30 years and I’ve never seen her verklempt,” said Peggy Janigo, executive secretary for the Maple School District. “It was something.”
The crowd responded with four standing ovations before the beginning of the fall concert, which took place in the new Patricia Luostari Theatre for the Performing Arts.
“We were all practically crying because it was so right, so right to have this happen,” said Jo Stewart, a former NHS English teacher who taught, directed plays and coached forensics with Luostari for 15 years.
“I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house,” Janigo said.
For 45 years, Luostari has been encouraging the talents of students in class, on stage and in life as English and publication teacher, forensic coach and director of plays and musicals.
“Kids are her life,” said Luostari’s daughter, Tricia Garland.
Not only was she there for them as teacher, coach and director, she attended concerts, awards banquets and sporting events to cheer students on.
“Pat is a person who supports all aspects,” Stewart said. “It isn’t just theater as far as she’s concerned.”
For decades, Luostari has given wings to the dreams of budding thespians despite her surroundings. Stewart remembers putting plays together at Poplar Elementary School.
“There were sawhorses to put lights on,” Stewart said, and there was no backstage. If you exited stage left, then entered stage right for the next scene, you had to go through the parking lot.
“You had to go out in sleet, hail, any kind of weather,” she said. More recent productions made use of the Northwestern middle and elementary school stages.
Luostari doesn’t sweat the small stuff, Stewart said, but she knows what is important.
“If the lights don’t work, you do it without lights,” Luostari said. “You can cross backstage or you can cross through the parking lot.” The show always went on.
Wednesday there were no costumes to load up and drive to the stage. When the bell rang at 3:05 p.m., Luostari walked into the brand new auditorium ready to rehearse. There were no basketballs stacked in the corner, no peanut butter and jelly stains on the floor.
The space is beautiful.
“I felt like I’d gone to maybe Minneapolis,” or New York, Stewart said. “It’s a huge stage.” The padded seats are comfortable, with room for latecomers to slip into their seats without making others stand up.
“I feel like I’m in a dream,” Luostari said. “You can hear, the acoustics are great, the lights work … it’s the little things.”
Although her family knew about the honor Sunday, they kept mum until the big event. That surprised Luostari, because her family is not one for subterfuge.
As District Administrator Gregg Lundberg started the dedication, she began to look around.
“I was trying to guess who it was,” she said. Luostari had settled on her mentor, Virginia Tarter, until foreign students were mentioned. The longtime educator shot a look at her husband Larry and son Scott, but they wouldn’t look up.
“My knees got so weak,” she said, and then she heard her name. Luostari walked up in shock to applause. By Wednesday, she still found herself catching her breath at the honor, but she expected to be breathing normally come Thursday.
“I’m terribly humbled by it,” Luostari said, but “I feel sort of guilty I would be rewarded in any way for something that pleases me so much; that makes me who I am.”
At 71, the Cloverland woman wakes up every day excited to go to work.
“It’s my passion,” Luostari said.
Even when she battled breast cancer a few years ago, the educator was back in the classroom as soon as possible.
“I got better because I was teaching school,” Luostari said. “When I came here I just felt better. I healed faster.”
People always ask Garland when her mother will retire. She tells them she truly doesn’t know. But it won’t be this week, Luostari said.
“I hope she never retires,” Stewart said. “And if she does, she will merely walk out one day with a pencil over her ear and say ‘Goodbye.’”
She wouldn’t want any “folderol,” Stewart said, but “Now she’s getting the folderol she’s deserved.”