Our Neighbors....Terry Tyler

When Cloquet High School's fall musical, "Willy Wonka," takes the stage, it will mark English teacher Terry Tyler's local directing debut. And though Tyler has been involved in stage performances all the way from California to New York City, this...


When Cloquet High School's fall musical, "Willy Wonka," takes the stage, it will mark English teacher Terry Tyler's local directing debut. And though Tyler has been involved in stage performances all the way from California to New York City, this stage, this time, this moment may be the most important one of all....

Tyler was born in Los Angeles, the youngest of three children. Her parents were both physicians - her dad had his own private practice, and her mother broke new ground as a female neurologist and internist.

From the time she was a young child, Tyler loved to sing.

"I guess it might have been at least partially due to the influence of my grandmother," Tyler said. "She grew up in the Lake of the Isles area of Minneapolis and went to Carleton College in Northfield. When the McPhail School of Music first opened, she was one of its major music teachers and pianists. She played by both ear and sight, and we used to sing and play together all the time. "

When her grandmother was widowed at a young age, she and her son (Tyler's father), along with one of her girlfriends, drove an old jalopy across the United States and settled in Pasadena, Calif.


The rest, as they say, was history. Terry's father grew up and met her mother in medical school, the two married, and when Terry came along, she carried out the musical legacy her grandmother had first set into motion. When she was 5 years old, she made her performing debut in front of the rest of her family.

"My grandmother was at the piano as I sang," recalled Tyler, "and she said, 'Listen to that vibrato - this kid sounds like Judy Garland! Let's have her sing some more.'"

From there on out, Tyler sang pretty much all the time.

Tyler's family moved to Santa Barbara when she was 13.

"My parents, being physicians, were always very busy, so my brothers and I grew up kind of independent," she reflected. "We were used to fending for ourselves and doing what we needed to do."

In high school, what Tyler most "needed to do" was to sing, dance and act.

"I was a big choir goody goody, very much into music and Madrigals," she related. "I was in every single show in high school and community theater as well. I just thrived on it. I was blonde, with the Julie Andrews type of sugary sweetness, so I really loved the role of Laurie in 'Oklahoma!' All those Rogers and Hammerstein ingenue roles seemed to be just perfect for me."

Following high school, Tyler traveled to Minnesota to enroll in her grandmother's alma mater, Carleton College. She majored in English, since Carleton only offered traditional liberal arts majors which did not include education or theater arts.


The closest thing the school offered was English literature, so that's what Tyler spent the next four years studying. After earning her degree, she was thinking about becoming an English professor or teacher, but first she wanted to see how far she could get with her own talents.

"First, I spent a couple of years as a small newspaper editor, writer, and photographer with the Hastings Star-Gazette and then the Burnsville Sun Current, to save up as much money as I could," she related.

Then, as a budding young coloratura soprano, Tyler went to New York and spent a year there, working with a traveling opera company, doing small roles, singing in the chorus and working in "way-off-Broadway" shows.

"I had some larger roles, but not super leads like I could have gotten in the Twin Cities," she admitted. "I liked New York and it was very exciting, but it didn't have the home-town feel that Minneapolis and St. Paul had at the time. I always considered the Twin Cities my home, and in a way, since that's where my grandparents came from, it is."

She moved back to Minnesota in 1988, performing in a couple of shows in North Dakota and in some leading roles in the Twin Cities as well.

"I had to have a regular paying job, however, in order to raise enough money to go and get my first teaching license," she said, "because I was still interested in teaching English, speech and theater."

She found the opportunity to do both - at a restaurant called Gustino's, located on the sixth floor of the Marriott City Center in Minneapolis, that had an opera-singing staff.

"Businessmen would come through there, and they would give you $100 if you would sing 'Danny Boy,'" she said. "It was really a good-paying job! I was there for two years, and that's where I got the money to go back to school."


She went to the University of St. Thomas and earned the first of her first three teaching certificates as well as a master's degree in education.

While there, she met her husband, Chuck, who was a chef, in 1988. They married in 1992 - in the back yard of their house, wearing jeans.

"The two of us aren't very picky!" she chuckled. "We don't even keep track of just when we were married. That way, there's no question of forgetting what day it is!"

Unfortunately, Tyler found that jobs teaching English in the Twin Cities were extremely scarce.

"I think I targeted every school district within a 50-mile radius of the Twin Cities area and didn't get called for any interviews at all," she said. "Then, my parents told me about a theater/drama teaching job in California, and on a whim, I applied for it. They called me right away and offered me the position, and I took it. But it was very hard being there without Chuck," she said. "I'm very, very close to my husband, and so it was really difficult."

She decided to move back to Minnesota to be with him full time once again, and it was then she started working on her second master's degree, this time in theater arts. She finally landed a job in the North St. Paul School District teaching speech, theater arts and English, where she taught for 10 years.

"My husband and I were pretty happy about it," she said. "I got interested in some new things while I was there because I met some very interesting people who pulled me into special education and administration....Drama is tremendous for those with special needs - especially those who are autistic or who have emotional/behavioral disorders. In fact, that's what got me interested in working with students in special education."

She spent the next seven years working in those fields, and that's when she decided to pursue a third master's degree in educational administration at the University of Minnesota.


Last year, as Tyler was working toward her doctorate and teaching special education part time in Owatonna, Minn., she decided to put out a couple of job applications just to test the market.

It was then that retired Cloquet High School English teacher and drama coach Julie McMerty, who was still filling in for that position until a replacement could be found, learned about Tyler from a mutual acquaintance in Owatonna.

McMerty called Tyler one day at work to see if she'd consider interviewing for the position at CHS, noting Tyler not only had a degree in English and speech but a license in theater arts as well.

Since Tyler was under contract for the rest of the year, however, she didn't do anything about it at the time, but she did go in for an interview at CHS last June. She received a job offer to teach English and coach drama and accepted it, arriving in Cloquet mid-August in time for the new school year.

Along the way, she and McMerty got to know one another and became fast friends.

"When we met, we hit it off right away," said Tyler, "and I guess she saw some things in me that she thought would be valuable for the program. I see her as the goddess of all things theater. I admire her so much. I'm running on her steam right now, kind of like a wisp of smoke. I call her nearly every day and we talk for hours and she tells me where things are and how she did things."

Even as the school year first got under way, Tyler and high school choral director Beth Wilson were already in discussions about what play to do for this year's annual fall musical.

"Beth made some comments about maybe doing Willie Wonka, and I thought that was a really great idea," said Tyler.


As it turned out, the popular play, along with CHS's strong drama tradition, resulted in an overwhelming turnout for auditions for the cast of some 50 students.

During dress rehearsals over the past few days, Tyler said preparation for the play was going extremely well.

"This is one funny play," commented Tyler. "The kids just love it. We have some interesting features in it, too. We're not just working with props. For example, the Oompa Loompas will be working with real cacao husks and distributing real cocoa around the stage. In the part where Varuca Salt is in the nut room and going down the garbage chute, we have 'real' squirrels played by elementary kids and a coconut relay using real coconuts. Charlie is going to really be flying (through the use of a harness), and we have bubbles and everything. The Oompas, of course, will all have orange faces and green hair.

"The parents just love to come to rehearsals," added Tyler. "They come one night, and then they come back the next night. The kids love it. It's so much fun for everybody. One parent said to me, 'I just love this part of my day. It's such an ego boost. Everything is so much fun here - the sense of building, the sense of teamwork. It's really, really great.....'"

And as the curtain in the CHS auditorium went up for the first time on "Willie Wonka" Wednesday night, no doubt Tyler once again recalled the influence of her grandmother, who died at the age of 93, for teaching her the love of music at so early an age.

Now, it is Tyler's turn to pass that legacy on to the students, but she's quick to give them most of the credit.

"We have a group of students who have the talent to pull it off," she said. "I couldn't believe the talent that's here for such a small school. I'm used to teaching in schools with 2,200 kids where you have to pull teeth to get anyone to audition. Not in this place!

"We have a really strong cast, and I'm very proud of them. This is truly their show."

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