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Remembering Lorrie

Superintendent Gus Knitt and Administrative Assistant Taber Hodgson look through the photos of drama students that Lorrie Fundingsland had kept in her office for years at Pardeeville High School. Fundingsland and her husband Frank died Friday in an automobile accident.

The things Lorrie Fundingsland kept in her office at Pardeeville High School spoke to the people who sorted through them Monday and Tuesday.

Her peers found scrapbooks celebrating the accomplishments of her drama students going back 17 years or more. They admired her decorated bulletin boards and found old newspaper clippings and paper Christmas ornaments that her special education students made in her classroom.

In other boxes were even more photos of students stored on CDs, the ones next in line for her scrapbooks.

Fundingsland and her husband Frank died in an automobile accident Friday. The news is still sinking in for Janette Sheeks, a registered nurse and educator who worked with Fundingsland for about 10 years.

The things Fundingsland kept didn’t surprise her.

“She was such a big piece of this school,” Sheeks said. “She was so dedicated and compassionate and I won’t forget the twinkle in her eye when she would get excited about things.

“It’s like something that’s always there and you never think would be gone.”

Fundingsland had been a special education assistant in Pardeeville since 1994 and led the drama department for the past 19 years. She typically directed two plays per school year, productions that involved all grade levels.

“One of her famous lines was, ‘We’re one big happy family,’” said soon-to-be junior Hanna Gray. Gray joined the Pardeeville Theatrical Society as a freshman, noticing right away that Fundingsland treated all of the drama club members the same, paying them equal amounts of attention and not letting anyone feel excluded.

“Lots of kids found a place to belong in drama, and for them it was their only club,” Gray said. “I think that’s why so many people joined.”

Julia Rieckmann, a sophomore next year, had participated in Fundingsland’s school plays since third grade. It was easy for Rieckmann to cite memories of her teacher’s passion for drama, she said, because Fundingsland had demonstrated it every day.

“When we were building sets for ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,’ I remember how she wanted it to be just perfect and spent two hours trying to figure it out,” Rieckmann said of the school production held two years ago. “She had put so much time into this one thing, and that made us realize that she wanted the best it could be, for us.”

Rieckmann and Gray recalled annual trips made to various dramatic productions, the many workshops they participated in and the “Mystery Theater” nights held at Fundingsland’s home.

“That’s where we all tried to figure out who the murderer was and bonded,” Rieckmann said of “Mystery Theater.”

“She wanted everything to be something that would be remembered.”

“Theater Fest” workshops held at various college campuses showed the students how much might be gained from drama regardless of what career paths they’re interested in, they said. Neither student thinks they’ll pursue theater-related careers, but both want to stay involved in theater for years to come, thanks to Fundingsland.

Middle and high school art teacher Chris Lynch had worked closely with Fundingsland during his 18 years in the district. The art and theater departments often collaborated on set designs and both clubs shared many of the same students.

“Our students were the ones who maybe didn’t feel like they fit in otherwise,” Lynch said. “She cared about all of them and she had a big heart. She wanted them to experience the joys of drama and reach as many of them as possible.”

Citing her strong work ethic, Lynch recalled finding Fundingsland recently at a school copy machine printing drama club programs well after school had concluded for the day. Fundingsland was supposed to be working less this past school year due to her husband’s health issues — but working less wasn’t easy for Fundingsland.

“I said, ‘Why are you working late?’” Lynch said. “She said: ‘They need help.’ She was here even when she didn’t have to be.”

Superintendent Gus Knitt regretted that Fundingsland would never get to see the school’s new auditorium considering how much she’d looked forward to it. The project is expected to be completed next spring. He said the school will honor Fundingsland during the auditorium’s dedication ceremony currently set for May 4, 2019.

“She was so good at finding roles for kids she knew they’d be successful in,” Knitt said. “She found a niche for what they could handle, what they could do, and when the play was over she was just beaming.

“She was beaming because she was so excited about them achieving a level of success they never thought they could.”

Follow Noah Vernau on Twitter @NoahVernau

Portage Daily Register reporter