Published 11:53 am Thursday, October 24, 2019

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A lot of people don’t get to go to their 50th class reunion let alone go to their students’ 50th, but Andalusia’s Eric Lidh did just that recently.

Lidh traveled to Chicago to Wheeling High School, where he taught speech, English and theatre for seven years.

Lidh said he joined social media a few years back and reconnected with some of his former students.

He said they invited him, insisting that he be a part of the class of 1969’s 50th class reunion.

“A couple dozen reached out and invited me,” he said. “They told me I was so special to their class, and they were a great group.”

While in Chicago, the 55-year veteran teacher, found out just how he had impacted those students while he was “cutting his teeth” as a teacher.

Lidh told of a student, who at the time was just ‘biding his time until his 16th birthday so he could drop out of school.

Lidh convinced him to be in a musical and the student went on to do five productions, and now is a motivational speaker, who talks of Lidh’s impact on his life at the end of every speech he gives.

“He was, to me, the best example of when kids get involved in arts and music,” he said. “He turned his life around. He was never going to be a good student.”

He also travels to Vegas and plays with house bands.

Lidh told of a student who said she was ready to commit suicide before Lidh’s musicals helped her find her way.

“There were more than 200 people at the banquet,” he said. “And I met with a lot of the during the three days. Not all of the students were in my musicals; some were just in my classes.”

Lidh recalled when he decided he wanted to do a production of “West Side Story,” he took some of the school dancers to see the movie to see if they could do the dancing. The girls told him they could, but asked about where to get the guys.

Lidh assured them he would handle that.

His solution was student athletes.

Lidh said he went to the locker room and asked the athletes if they wanted to be gang members in the story, and the rest is history.

They worked diligently to make sure the fight scenes were believable.

And believable they made it, he joked, as he recalled the believability enough to provoke junior high school teachers.

Among the other musicals Lidh directed were: “Bye Bye Birdie,” “How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying” and “The Pajama Game.”

While in Chicago, Lidh discovered that one of his students was a flight instructor at Pensacola Naval Air Station, one was a stand-up comedian, one owned vineyards that had been featured on PBS and another taught high school music for 40 years.

“I also thought it was interesting that many still participated in community theater,” he said.

Lidh said that many people say you can’t go back in time, but he said he did.

Though the high school is different some 50 years later, Lidh said the theater was the same theater he directed performances.

“Even the seats are the same,” he said.

He even found where “West Side Story” was painted on cinderblocks in the theater.

Lidh said when he got to Chicago on Thursday, he had dinner with 10-12 of his former students.

“It was like, ‘Bingo’ and we started telling stories and sharing experiences,” he said. “You don’t think your students pay attention, but they were quoting things back to me that I said.”

Lidh said that the high school had some 3,000 students during his tenure there, and he wanted the students to be on stage and know what it’s like to face an audience.

In a 500-seat theater, Lidh helped shape the lives of countless students.

“We didn’t have money like some of the other schools did,” he said. “But we made it work in our budget. I do wonder, “how did I do these shows on that stage?”

And for those the number of students Lidh impacted in Chicago, there are many more that he impacted in Andalusia.

Lidh said his journey came full circle as he took a photograph in front of the school’s sign wearing his “Nutcracker” T-shirt.