Nita Eckles West Stage dedicated prior to Theatre Festival

Nita Eckles West Stage dedicated prior to Theatre Festival

July 12, 2012
Contact: Karen B. Eldridge, Director of Communications

Maryville College, the Clayton Center for the Arts and members of the West and Ramsey families will dedicate the Nita Eckles West Stage in the Clayton Center just prior to the start of the Center’s 2012 Theatre Festival.

The dedication ceremony is scheduled for roughly 5:45 p.m., July 27 before the curtain rises on the epic musical “Ragtime.” Maryville College President Dr. Tom Bogart and Steve West, great-grandson of Nita Eckles West and a member of the College’s Board of Directors, are expected to speak.

The 4,134 square-foot stage, located in the Ronald and Lynda Nutt Theatre, is named for Mrs. West, who started the theatre department in 1899 and taught drama and speech at Maryville College for 42 years.

Steve West and Lynn Ramsey Cole, a granddaughter of Nita, spoke of their ancestor’s incredible legacy back in 2008, when they announced the families’ $1-million gift to the Clayton Center and the decision to name the stage for her.

In a 2008 interview with a college staff member, Cole described her grandmother as a “professional woman” who worked hard and had high standards for herself and those around her.

Indeed, the College’s Department of Expression and Public Speaking grew under Mrs. West’s direction, as did its good reputation, according to historians Arda Walker and Carolyn Blair in their book By Faith Endowed: The Story of Maryville College, 1819-1994.

During Mrs. West’s tenure, the Leland Powers School in Boston, Mass., accepted Maryville credits toward graduation, “a privilege not extended to any other college at that time,” the historians wrote, adding that in 1927, the College was admitted to membership in the national drama fraternity Theta Alpha Phi, “becoming the only school out of 14 applicants to be admitted during a three-year period.”

As someone who frequently dressed in floral-print dresses, her finest hat, gloves and patent-leather shoes, Mrs. West paid special attention to cast members’ costumes and took great pride in the costume collection she assembled for the department.

In 2008, Steve West said the families’ motivation for the gift was what the performing arts center would mean for the College and what it would mean for the community. Cole pointed out that scores of her grandmother’s drama productions were for the community and that the public looked forward to them.

“For Granny to have her name associated with the Clayton Center would thrill her to death,” Cole said. “She never craved the spotlight, but in a quiet way, she would be thrilled.”

Robert Hutchens, executive director of the Clayton Center for the Arts, said he is pleased that the dedication precedes the beginning of the Theatre Festival, an annual event that Nita Eckles West would not only enjoy because of her love of the theatre, but one she could take pride in because of her efforts to share the dramatic arts with the wider community.

“It is apparent from her life’s work that Nita Eckles West believed that the longing for the experience and expression of the arts is to be found in people everywhere,” Hutchens said. “She began a tradition of speech and theatre activity at the College and in our community that has continued without interruption ever since. That it continues now on the stage that bears her name in the Ronald and Lynda Nutt Theatre at the Clayton Center for the Arts, both a College and community endeavor, is reason to celebrate the enrichment one life can bring to the lives of so many.”

Ticket information for “Ragtime” and other productions scheduled for the Theatre Festival can be found by calling the Clayton Center Box Office at 865.981.8590 or visiting the Clayton Center website.

Maryville College is ideally situated in Maryville, Tenn., between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Knoxville, the state's third largest city. Founded in 1819, it is the 12th oldest institution of higher learning in the South and maintains an affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Known for offering its students a rigorous and highly personal experience that includes an undergraduate research requirement, Maryville College is a nationally ranked institution of higher learning that successfully joins the liberal arts and professional preparation. Total enrollment for the fall 2016 semester is 1,197.