Wheeler still going after 29 years

By Darrell Cartwright / Special to the Reporter

For Diane Wheeler, directing the pre-school shows at Our Lady of the Valley School has been as natural a part of her routine as getting up in the morning.

In fact, she has been doing it so long that this year she is coaching children of people had as pre-school students years ago.

That’s 29 years of shows, averaging two a year – there have been at least 58.

“That’s a lot of shows, isn’t it,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler became a pre-school teacher at Our Lady of the Valley in 1979. Eventually she took over as director and taught hundreds of 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds.

“Getting them all on stage at one time, in the right place, is the biggest challenge. Once you do that, holding their attention becomes the issue. You can’t stop, or else little eyes and minds wander. You have to keep things moving, and I am constantly reminding them to watch me,” she said. “As a whole, the results are wonderful, and parents are happy to see their precious little ones perform sometimes for the very first time.”

So, being at it this long, is this her last year?

“No! My husband asks me every year the same question, and it really does not take me long to know I’ll be back as long as I am able,” she said. “He really is supportive, though, as he has built my sets and props over the years.”

Michael Bridges, who directs the established drama program for students in the first-eighth grades, said he loves the shows.

“I come to these shows or at least hear about who hammed it up, as I look for future talent. Truly we have some graduates of our program that got their starts with Mrs. Wheeler, he said. “She is great.”

Our Lady of the Valley is one of only three schools in Alabama to have a Junior Troupe in the International Thespian Society.

She believes that their experiences at a young age gives children an outlet for creativity, and feels that some are naturals at performing.

“I have no formal background in music or theatre, but I enjoy showing the little ones movement. We have all learned along the way,” she said. “Keep them moving and the action fast, and hopefully they will all follow you.