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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Dinner Theater

As the hosts of the University of Evansville Theatre Society’s annual Easter Dinner for nearly three decades, Judy and Larry Steenberg have amassed their fair share of tales. One story involved a student and a large amount of plastic eggs he planned to hide in the backyard of the Steenberg’s Warrick County home.

“He brought a lot and he hid them very well. They only found half of them. So for weeks after when I would go out to mow my lawn, I would run over plastic eggs,” says Larry with a laugh.

April 2015 marked the last Easter the Steenbergs would host the annual dinners. While they are not sure if the tradition will continue, they do see themselves continuing to contribute. Judy says next year will be a little bittersweet.

“It’s one thing to see the talent of these students on stage and off stage and it’s another thing to have these students as friends. The department’s history with the national American College Theatre Festival over the years is unequaled. It makes us feel proud to be connected with it all,” she says.

The couple, married for 53 years, has been a part of the UE Theatre Society since the early 1980s. The society was experiencing a low spell during this time, says Judy, when Barbara McKenna formed a new group to revive the organization. Judy was one of the people who had been approached.

One of the ways the Steenbergs helped create a sense of community among students was by hosting their first Easter Dinner in 1987 and welcoming eight theater students into their home that April. This year, the dinner hosted more than 120 students.

“Back then, it just seemed like a nice thing to do. Theater students are fun,” says Judy. “They usually have a production in April, and if it falls close to Easter, many students are still in town as they are rehearsing.

“I don’t know if people realize, but not all the theater students are performers. There are so many facets; there are students who handle lighting, costumes, public relations, and more,” she adds. “John David Lutz (recently retired chair of the theater department) has really brought about a professional atmosphere where every student’s job is important.”

As the number of students attending increased, so did the help the Steenbergs received. This past Easter, 35 people contributed home-cooked food dishes to the dinner. The couple provides the meat for the event — turkey, ham, and grilled salmon — and herb bread. Members of the society board and the adopt-a-student program donate side dishes and desserts.

Judy says some of the crowd favorites at the dinner are their herb bread and Jingle Hagey’s macaroni and cheese.

“And there are several million calories just sitting on the dessert table,” adds Larry. “It’s a mass of them — a long row of brownies, cookies, strawberry cake … unbelievable stuff.”

After hosting the event for 28 years, the couple says seeing people come together and pitch in for the students is one of their favorite aspects about the dinner.
“I get to watch all these people come together. People begin bringing stuff Thursday or Friday, so our refrigerator begins to fill up,” says Larry. “On Saturday, people show up to cut flowers, chop onions, and all of the things that need to be prepared.”

And when the Sunday arrives, the day brings an avalanche of food and students to the Steenbergs home. “They’re happy, they’re well behaved, they’re very nice people, they respect our house, and us,” adds Larry. “It’s just a nice thing, a joyful thing, and it happens year after year after year.”

For more information on the UE Theatre Society, call 812-488-2744 or visit evansville.edu/majors/theatre/society.cfm.

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