July 2, 2008
Rhetta Hudson enjoys wearing hats. In her 37 years of serving in OBU's music education department, she has worn enough to start her own fashion line.
There is the teaching hat, which coordinates nicely with an administrative hat. Rhetta has taught voice and related courses, has served as coordinator of the voice department for a decade, and served as head of the music education department for 15 years. She also has served as assistant dean of the Warren M. Angell College of Fine Arts.
Then there are the hats she wears while performing. She has filled leading roles in many musicals, including Hello Dolly, Fiddler on the Roof, The Sound of Music, Gypsy, South Pacific and Oklahoma.
Rhetta also has served on an array of OBU committees and is an active volunteer in the Shawnee community, sharing her talents and expertise.
At the end of the spring semester, she will box up one of her hats as she retires from her post as associate professor of music.
Rhetta moved to Shawnee in 1966, after teaching at Oklahoma City's John Marshall High School. A teaching friend mentioned her name to Dean Angell, who called her for an interview.
"The interview was so totally different than how we hire today," she said. "He had me sing a song, which he accompanied. He had me play a piece of music on the piano, and he had me sight-read a hymn. Then he said, ‘you're hired.'
"Dean Angell had an uncanny knack for hiring folks," she said. "He hired wonderful faculty members. He was a wonderful man to work under, and with pride I can say that I was his last person to hire."
When Jim Woodward came on board as dean, he named Hudson assistant dean and chairperson of the voice department.
"Dean Woodward was the best conductor I have ever been under," she said. "He was an impeccable rehearsal technician, and he could draw the music out of the performance. It was something to behold.
"Being his assistant dean, I really took care of the nitty gritty because he did not like to do the detail work," she said. "And this was before computers. Everything was done by hand; no e-mail. You knocked on doors."
Splitting teaching between music education and voice, Rhetta influenced many students who have built successful music careers.
"I've had students go on to fine programs and music conservatories," she said. "I had students who graduated from the New York Academy of Arts. More and more of them are performing now than in my early years. Many are teaching in colleges and universities.
"One of my students, Lloyd Holt, has just finished being in the show The Promise in Branson," she said. "Keri Burman is in New York. An agent is asking her to audition which is a very positive step for her. Aubrey Billingsley Chapin, who is working on her doctorate, is teaching adjunct for us this year, and then I have another one who is graduating from the Oberlin Conservatory. Those particular students always excelled at OBU in voice, and I was really blessed to have them."
Rhetta's personal work with theatre has been a blessing for others. Along with stage performance, she has worked as costume designer and music director for many productions.
While she is a regular participant with Shawnee Little Theatre productions, her performance roles have entertained audiences beyond the local community. She has served as music director and played Aunt Eller in Oklahoma at Discoveryland near Tulsa.
"I love performing musicals," she said. "I feel like that's my strongest talent. However, I have perhaps done my best work in some oratorical things."
Through her work with Sine Nomine, Shawnee's choral society, she performed a duet with Dr. Paul Hammond, current dean of OBU's College of Fine Arts.
"I enjoyed performing with him," she said. "He is the kindest of men, and I admire him very much. He has brought us into the computer age. Really, it's a different time to teach now than it was then."
Growing up in Norman, Hudson received both her bachelor's and master's degrees at the University of Oklahoma. Her training with one of her college educators, though, began much earlier.
"Her name was Dolly Ward, and that's just exactly what she was. She fit ‘Dolly,'" said Rhetta. "She was the music education chair at OU, and I had her in first grade all the way through college because she worked with the student teachers at the lab school.
"She invested in me. I look at that and think ‘Wow. She really did that for me.' I hope I've done that for some of my kids. Some of them verbalize that, and it always makes you feel good," she said.
Rhetta's influence doesn't stop with her students. She has served on numerous OBU search committees, including searches for three academic vice presidents, and searches for men's and women's basketball coaches. She also chaired the athletic council for OBU's in-depth study on adding a varsity football program.
"That was a greatly discussed issue on campus, and Rhetta's respect among her colleagues aided the overall process," said Dr. Debbie Blue, OBU senior vice president for academic affairs.
OBU has been a part of Rhetta's entire life. Both of her parents attended OBU, and their diplomas, from 1928 and 1930, hang on her office wall. One is made of sheepskin, and the other is on parchment.
Her children also attended OBU and she said they feel blessed by their college experience.
"I dragged them to every recital and every program. They thought that was a way of life," she said. "They were very active in lots of different things. It's fun for me now to watch my grandchildren be active in doing the same kind of musical experiences that my children did."
Hudson has a list of things she wants to do after she retires. Though she doesn't plan to have a private studio, she will continue to be involved in music and theatre, as well as trying other projects.
"The first thing I'm going to do is be a master gardener," she said. "I want to continue volunteering at Shawnee Little Theatre. I'm thinking about doing some child advocacy."
She and her husband, Phil, will continue to faithfully support the OBU basketball teams. They are long-time season ticket holders, and Rhetta often can be heard performing the Star Spangled Banner at home games.
She will try to choose her new hats wisely.
"I don't want to get into doing too many things in volunteering that I don't have time for me personally," she said. "I am going to try very hard to say ‘no' because Phil and I want to do some traveling. I really am looking forward to doing the grandparenting role more extensively than what I do already."
There is a role she also is carrying forward with OBU. She is leading the University's centennial cookbook committee. As she said, with pun intended, this committee is the "icing on the cake of being here."
"The journey has been incredible for me," she said. "From A to Z, I've loved it."