Three pillars of education in Pickerington will be honored for their contributions to local performing arts when Margaret Lawson, John Long and Mike Sewell serve as grand marshals of the 2012 Pickerington Lions Club Labor Day parade.

Three pillars of education in Pickerington will be honored for their contributions to local performing arts when Margaret Lawson, John Long and Mike Sewell serve as grand marshals of the 2012 Pickerington Lions Club Labor Day parade.

Combined, the three teachers have taught for more than 100 years in the Pickerington Local School District and, individually, each has instructed more than 1,000 students.

They also have taken the district's theater, band and vocal music departments from infancy to statewide recognition and beyond.

Those are just some of the reasons the Pickerington Lions Club is honoring Lawson, former theater director at Pickerington High School and Pickerington High School North; Long, former vocal music director at PHS and Pickerington High School Central; and Sewell, former band director at PHS who remains director of bands at PHS Central.

The three will preside over the parade Sept. 3, the theme for which is "Celebrating 100 years of Pickerington Performing Arts." It will begin with a parade lineup at 8 a.m. at PHS Central, before the parade starts at 10 a.m.

The Lions' annual fish fry and "homecoming" party in Victory Park will follow the parade at 11 a.m., as will live music performances and children's activities.

"Because they were such a dynamic trio and brought so many wonderful arts events and experiences to the community, we thought it would be a great opportunity to honor them now," said Darlene Kuzmic, co-chairwoman of the Pickerington Lions Club Labor Day parade.

"This is what America is all about, total, lifelong dedication to your community," Kuzmic said.

The grand marshals' commitments to the school district and community are hard to argue.

Margaret Lawson

Lawson, who retired as North's theater director following the 2010-11 school year, taught a total of 39 years, 33 of them being in Pickerington.

When she started at PHS there was only one high school in the district and it didn't have a theater class offering or department.

"I was hired to start the theater department because there was none," Lawson said.

"I asked, 'Do we have any costumes or makeup? Do we have any scripts or space (to perform)?'

"They said, 'No.' "

Lawson sought to introduce students and high school faculty to theater through mini performances at school assemblies and during study halls.

She said costumes and scenery in those days were primitive, if they existed at all.

"The theater department grew through great community support and school support and the enthusiasm of people who have come to our shows over the years," Lawson said.

"I appreciate that, and certainly I appreciate the kids' efforts over the years."

Likewise, Lawson is pleased the Lions Club has recognized the performing arts and said she's "honored" to be a grand marshal.

She said it's a tribute made more special by the fact she's sharing it with Long and Sewell.

"I feel I have such great memories of the many, many students -- literally thousands through the years," Lawson said.

"I have very fond memories of all of them, and it was very hard work, but I looked forward to every show.

"I taught for 25 years with Mike and John," she said.

"Some school's theater departments and music departments don't necessarily work together, but I think we did and I think we each tried to get as many kids as we could involved."

After moving to North and then retiring, Lawson said she's happy about the evolution of the district's theater departments and she's thrilled that three former students -- Shannon Cook, Allen DeCarlo and Scott Skiles -- are continuing Pickerington's theater tradition.

Cook is theater director at Ridgeview Junior High School and PHS Central, DeCarlo is theater director at Lakeview Junior High and PHS North and Skiles is stage manager in charge of the technical aspects of theater productions at North.

"I am glad to see that the theater department is expanding to the junior highs and is still at the high schools," Lawson said.

"I'm glad to see the theater departments are in good hands at both schools and the community continues to support them."

John Long

Long taught in Pickerington schools his entire 38-year career before retiring as Central's vocal music director June 1.

He also saw his department grow from a single class of nine students at PHS, to a state-recognized program which draws about 150 students each year at Central alone.

"I personally appreciate the Lions Club is honoring the arts, especially in Pickerington because we have done so much in our school system to cut the traditional arts," Long said.

"It just shows you the emphasis this community has -- or wants -- in our arts programs.

"I think it also speaks volumes that what they're trying to tell the rest of the community is how important the arts are in the school system."

Long is particularly proud of the strides vocal music education has made in Pickerington since he took over, and he still ranks the 1997-98 school year -- when he coached the PHS boys cross country team to the district's only state title in that sport and each of his choirs scored "superior" ratings in state competition -- as "one of the best of my life."

Although he's retired, he said he's still invested in the local performing arts and lobbies for their continuation by, among other things, noting that statistics show those who study music and the performing arts in school score higher on standardized tests.

"What would life be without music?" Long said. "Music is engrained in all different cultures and in all different disciplines.

"That's why I can't understand why people would want to take the arts out of schools," he said.

"You're thinking with both sides of your brain when you study music or sing, and through music you experience the heart and soul of people."

Long said he's grateful the Lions have selected him as a grand marshal, and like Lawson and Sewell, he's pleased to be sharing the honor with two colleagues who helped make Pickerington's performing arts a model for other districts.

"I feel like they're not just honoring me and Mike and Margaret, but they're honoring all these great kids we've had in the past," Long said.

"I've literally taught thousands of kids, and I just think of all those great kids and their parents.

"In terms of the parade, I can't think of two better people to share this honor with," Long said.

"Those two are two of my nearest and dearest friends."

Mike Sewell

Sewell is the last one standing in the trio, at least when it comes to teaching.

After teaching instrumental music at Crooksville High School, he came to Pickerington in 1981.

"I am deeply honored to have been selected with Margaret and John to serve as grand marshals for the Lions' Labor Day celebration," Sewell said.

"The Lions have been such a strong supporter of the performing arts in the Pickerington Schools, and in particular, the (PHS Central) Marching Tigers.

"They support us through service opportunities for our students and also with financial assistance for some of our past trips," Sewell said.

"It is special for me because I know many of the members, and throughout the years I have had many of their children in our program, as have John and Margaret."

As Labor Day approaches, Sewell said he's been reflecting on the many hours spent with his students, and working alongside Lawson and Long.

Sewell said the three worked together to improve education and arts opportunities for local students, as opposed to fighting over available funding or space to perform.

"All three of us were involved in some way -- drama, vocal or instrumental -- with Pickerington musicals until the high schools split in 2003," Sewell said.

"That year we presented West Side Story, which I think was one of my favorites because we had such incredible talent that year and knew it was our last opportunity to direct together," he said.

"So, we 'savored the moments' just a little bit more.

"An added bonus through the years is that each of us has had the opportunity to teach and direct each other's children and I know that my four kids have only the highest respect and love for both of these amazing educators."

In addition to the past support and shared recognition he will receive during the parade, Sewell said the fact the Lions once again are standing up for the arts in the community is not lost on him.

He said it's a significant statement, and one which he hopes will resonate with school district and community leaders.

"It is wonderful that with the financial crisis facing many schools, the Pickerington Lions Club realizes the importance and value of the fine arts in daily education," he said. "I appreciate the honor and look forward to a great day."

Additional information about the Pickerington Lions Labor Day celebration can be found at www.PickeringtonOH.Lionwap.org and clicking the Labor Day tab.

Contact Bernie Hatem at (614) 837-6544, or via email at jimberjo@insight.rr.com to register for the parade.