When people talk about Stan Deen, the teacher and theater director who passed away Friday at the age of 79, a common theme quickly emerges.
He made you feel valued.
“Stan believed in everyone,” says Connie Dienner, executive director of the Cavod Academy of the Arts in New Holland, where Deen directed a number of plays in the last seven years.
“That was the big thing about Stan. He had such value and belief in every single person. It didn’t matter if you were shy, the lead or in the ensemble, you were a major and important part of the show. “
Countless students worked with Deen at Garden Spot High School, where he taught English and ran Garden Spot Performing Arts from 1967 until his retirement in 1997.
And after he retired, he continued working with kids at Cavod, Ephrata Act, Lancaster Bible College and Veritas Academy, among others.
Dienner says his energy was amazing.
He was working on “Honk Jr.,” a re-telling of the Ugly Duckling story, set to open this weekend at Cavod, when he died.
Matt Good, a librarian and theater director, remembers being a shy kid at Garden Spot High School, where he never wanted to be on stage, but loved being backstage.
He remembers everyone in the cast and crew and their families being invited to a big breakfast the Saturday before the show opened.
After that, the cast and crew would gather in a big circle.
“Everyone would introduce themselves and their role. It didn’t matter what you did, you were part of it. That made me feel important. To be included that way was special for me.”
Good has worked in other high school theater programs and he says Garden Spot’s was the best because of the way Deen worked with all the students.
Dienner notes that everyone who was friendly with Deen felt they were his favorite.
“I’ve not seen anyone else like that,” she says. “If you were out with him, he’s stop and talk to people constantly.“
Actor Brian McCreary was close friends with Deen for 20-plus years and worked with him in productions of several Neil Simon comedies.
They regularly had breakfast together on Sunday mornings.
“I could count on him as my friend/big brother/surrogate parent and confident,” McCreary wrote in an email. "And that is the role I considered my biggest break, my most treasured memory, my applause and my Tony. He shared his humanity, and besides the fun of wrestling him to pay the bill for the omelet of the day, that is the thing I will miss most of all.”
Tributes have been pouring into his Facebook page in the last several days.
Kelsey Martin, who worked with him at Cavod, wrote: “He was a friend to all, a teacher & mentor, and the kindest man I've had the pleasure to work with and get to know. He showed me what it means to be a true storyteller. If there's one thing I learned from Stan, it's that if your living life not doing what you love, you're doing it wrong.”