Rhonda Weller-Stilson, dean of the Earl and Margie Holland College of Arts and Media at Southeast Missouri State University, was honored with the 2018 Otto F. Dingeldein Award Feb. 22 by the Arts Council of Southeast Missouri.
Weller-Stilson was celebrated for her outstanding leadership at Southeast’s River Campus, Missouri’s only campus dedicated entirely to art, dance, music and theatre. Weller-Stilson has played a significant role in the development of the arts campus beginning with its launch in 2007 to the present. Since that time, the Holland College has offered the community access to first-rate theatre, dance and musical performances, impressive art and museum exhibits, and a full slate of other events throughout the year. Under her guidance, the River Campus has mushroomed, serving as the driver in the redevelopment of downtown Cape Girardeau while enriching the community with impressive, quality arts programming and launching the impressive careers of hundreds of visual and performing arts students at Southeast.
The award was announced at “An Art Affair: Dingeldein and Friends of the Arts Award Night” at the Arts Council of Southeast Missouri in downtown Cape Girardeau.
“This award is a very personal honor for me, and it is hard to put into words,” Weller-Stilson said. “When I was an art and theatre student at Cape Central High School and then at Southeast Missouri State University, I looked up to people like Jake Wells, Dr. Dan Cotner, Wendy Rust, Grant Lund, Ed Smith and others. I was in awe of their talent and never dreamed I would be on the same list as them.
“It’s an honor to receive the same award as many of my dear friends have such as Ann and Bob Gifford, Jean and Nona Nan Chapman, Gary Miller and James Parker,” she continued. “Of course, I couldn’t do what I do if it wasn’t for my extremely supportive family and all of the wonderful people I work with every day. The work we do at the River Campus is not a solo art, so this award should really have hundreds of names on it. I am most grateful.”
The Otto F. Dingeldein Award was established in 1975 and honors individuals whose artistic achievements have made a considerable impact on the cultural enrichment of the Cape Girardeau community.
“In a town like Cape Girardeau, the arts are so important for the economy and the tourist industry. This area is a hub for shopping, medical services, and entertainment. Over 3,000 people saw ‘Sister Act,’” she said of the musical comedy performed Feb. 20-24 by students in The Jeanine Larson Dobbins Conservatory of Theatre and Dance at the River Campus. “We had guests from St. Louis to Memphis. Many of them stayed overnight in our hotels and ate at our restaurants. Out of town guests always marvel at the sculptures and murals in the area. They help create such a vibrant appealing downtown. It is so hard to imagine Cape without the River Campus and all of the other wonderful visual and performing artists in the region.”
Dr. Tamela Randolph, interim provost at Southeast, said, “Dean Weller-Stilson has been instrumental in bringing the Holland College of Arts and Media together” following a recent academic restructuring at Southeast. “She is always advocating for the College and works tirelessly shoulder to shoulder with the faculty, staff and students. When you attend an event on the River Campus, you might see Dean Weller-Stilson passing out cookies or cleaning up after an event. She is very involved and a role model for others. She is amazing and very deserving of this award!”
Weller-Stilson has dedicated her entire professional career to the arts.
“The arts bring millions of people great joy and a break from their day to day difficulties,” she said of the performing arts industry. “There are so many studies about the benefits of the arts to our health and general well-being.”
Weller-Stilson has been integral to the fabric of Southeast since she returned to her alma mater in 2001 after previous faculty roles at the Alabama School of Mathematics and Science, the University of South Alabama and Texas Woman’s University.
She has been at the heart of the River Campus Summer Arts Festival, which will enjoy its seventh season this June. She has been actively involved in student recruitment, serves on the River Campus Board of Managers and the Department of Music’s Symphony Board, is a founding member of the Fault Line Film Festival, has been a costume advisor for musical theatre and opera workshops, adjudicated numerous theatre festivals, produced musical theatre experience workshops and coordinated the annual Senior Showcase and Extravaganza theatre and dance events.
She has taught courses in costume construction, costume design, dance costume design, drafting, introduction to theatre, makeup, periods and styles, rehearsal and production, scene painting, scenery design, stagecraft, theatre appreciation, theatrical collaboration and understanding the arts-drama creativity.
Weller-Stilson received the Cape Girardeau Chamber of Commerce’s Outstanding Educator of the Year Award in 2016 and was honored for “Outstanding Achievement in Building Community at the University” during the Student Life and Leadership Awards the same year. The Arts Council of Southeast Missouri honored her for outstanding service in 2005 after chairing the Council from 2003-2005. She has received numerous Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival recognitions and helped several area high schools with theatre costumes.
Her contributions to the broader community are far-reaching. She has been actively involved in the Soles 4 Souls campaigns at both Southeast and St. Andrew Lutheran Church.
A 1985 alumna of Southeast Missouri State University, where she majored in art and theatre, Weller-Stilson went on to earn a Master of Arts in Theatre from the University of Missouri-Columbia and she completed graduate work at Tulane University with a Master of Fine Arts in costume and scenery design.
She and her husband, Kenn, who is chair of The Jeanine Larson Dobbins Conservatory of Theatre and Dance at Southeast, are the parents of a daughter, Emma.