It was both a shock, and not a shock, to learn this morning that Howard Hupe, co-founder (with wife Germaine) of the Winters Community Theater had died.
Howard was not at the ticket table when we went to the last show, which was unusual. Always the lifeblood of the theater he had been looking more and more frail whenever we went to a show. No longer able to direct, or perform, he was still able to participate by giving out tickets to the audience who came to see the show.
Howard was someone we kinda sorta knew for many years, since our early days in theater here in Davis, but I had no idea of his fantastic background until I interviewed him and wife Germaine for an article for The Davis Enterprise in 2008. Here is an excerpt of that article:
Hupe, a native of Pittsburgh, PA met Davis resident Germaine Walgenbach (whose father, Jake, the owner of Jake’s Plumbing since 1948 was a beloved town character) on a blind date. Howard was attending the Army Language School (now called the Defense Language Institute) in Monterey and Germaine was doing her first year of teaching in Pacific Grove They fell in love and became engaged. Hupe went off to Saudi Arabia, as the first American other than embassy personnel in that country.
He traveled around the country with an interpreter and, as Germaine recalls the story, happened to notice one day that the interpreter looked particularly happy. The interpreter replied that he had just returned from his second honeymoon.
Howard said "Oh, that's a lovely custom...we do that, too, in our country after several years, we take off with our wife" and the interpreter said "No--this is my new wife. She's 14 and my mother just arranged her and she's absolutely wonderful."
The interpreter then said that he would be very happy to have his mother arrange for a wife for Howard as well, but Howard explained that he had a fiancee back in the states.
"This guy said ‘do you have a picture of her?’ -- this 'old bat' of 22 -- me – so Howard hauled out a picture of me and he just shook his head and said, "tsk tsk...her father must have many sheep and goats!!"
Howard returned to the States, and married Germaine in Georgia, where he was sent to another special school. The two traveled extensively with the Army and lived for three years in Tehran, where Germain taught at the English language school, just before the fall of the Shah
Germaine recalls having to have armed guards traveling with them on school field trips and one particular occasion when the school bus was being bombarded with rocks. Everyone was lying on the floor to escape the bombardment and their son looked at his mother and said "Don’t ever tell me that Grandpa had to walk three miles to school when he was a kid."
In addition to giving the Hupes a unique world view, their Army experiences also gave them an introduction to theater. Germaine had been a drama major, but "Howard’s theatrical experiences had been limited to playing a tree in his fourth grade play."
When Howard retired, after 25 years in the military, they moved back to California, where Germaine’s roots were. Howard planned to go to graduate school to get a Masters Degree in counseling, and Germaine applied for a teaching position in 17 different locations. She was hired to teach English at Winters High School.
Though they lived in Davis, the couple became quite active in the social life of Winters. A few years after the Hupes’ participation in the 1976 Centennial Festival in Winters, there was a movement to start a theater group.
They sought permission from the city of Winters to use the community center, currently under construction, for performances, and it was granted. In fact, the very first production was a benefit for Yolo Family Service Agency, and Howard explains that "the kitchen floor was still unpaved. Just dirt. And there were no stalls in the bathroom, so it was a unique experience."
"By the time we put on our 25th play, which was something like 20 years ago, more than 600 people had participated," Germaine remembers. "Now we’ve done more than 100 productions and it must be up to about 1500, in terms of either acting or helping to build sets or being spear carriers or helping with costumes and this kind of thing, which is pretty amazing for a town that size."
Gil Sebastian agrees. "Performing for Howard (who directed all of my 25 shows there) taught me some valuable life and work lessons, as well as theater etiquette. The confidence I gained, the ability to stay calm amid chaos, the ability to engage and hold an audience, the importance of humor, to respect others as you wish to be respected –– all have made me a better person, and I seriously owe all of that to Howard."
Howard’s decision to decline the opportunity of a 14 year old bride has had a tremendous impact on the town of Winters, and on all of Yolo County.
Howard made a huge impact on his community and he will be greatly missed.