Former EMU prof knew the theater scene inside-out

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Tom Kirvan
Legal News, Editor-in-Chief

Broadway, like much of the entertainment scene, has been in mothballs since COVID-19 became part of our daily lexicon.

That would certainly dismay Russ Ogden if he were alive today.

Ogden, who died in the early ‘90s at the age of 68 after a distinguished teaching career as a business professor at Eastern Michigan University, was a godsend for those in the editorial ranks of the newspaper business. He was a gifted and prolific writer. Of almost equal importance, he was willing to write for free, which was especially valuable in the hand-to-mouth existence of weekly newspapers.

“What’s my next assignment?” he would ask with a special twinkle during his frequent calls and visits to the newspaper office.

It was a question that Ogden knew the answer to full well.

“Whatever and wherever,” came the response, chimed in unison.

Ogden, whose daughter was a talented on-stage performer, had free rein as a theater critic, roaming far and wide for a chance to review professional or amateur stage productions.

Broadway, The Fisher, Toronto, Chicago, Turkeyville, Ann Arbor, EMU, The Purple Rose, or the local high school – it made little difference to Ogden, as long as there was a show to be seen.

Somewhat fittingly, the “last show” for Ogden was staged by a high school musical group. He attended its annual show, dutifully wrote a glowing review, and dropped it off on a Sunday, the day he died of heart failure.

That was nearly 30 years ago, but his memory – as the cliché goes – lives on in the cerebral banks of his many friends and admirers.

Dr. Ogden, professor of business education at EMU before retiring in 1990, loved the theater almost as much as teaching.

“It’s going to kill me – leaving the students – because that’s my life,” said Ogden in a prophetic statement on the eve of his retirement.

I was among those who was mesmerized by his teaching talents, although I never had the pleasure of being in one of his business classrooms. It didn’t matter. Ten minutes with Ogden was all that was needed to gain a sense of a man devoted to a lifetime of learning.

Ogden came to EMU as an accounting professor and moved on to specialize in personal finance. He spent much of his classroom time, however, teaching students the social graces that would help them move comfortably in the professional world. Ogden said his “social lessons” started slowly, but began to take on a life of their own as the students asked more and more questions.

“Part of the (personal finance) course developed into helping students get that first job, then we moved on to the choices they would make with the money they earn,” he said following retirement. “There is no ‘personal finance’ if there isn’t a job. I started by talking about how to dress for a job interview, then I got into manners, then resumes. The subject matter of personal finance can be so boring, so I had to get the students into it emotionally.”

Ogden’s love of theater was legendary and he claimed it provided a vicarious thrill, just as if he was a young boy who wished he could walk in the shoes of Tiger great Al Kaline.

For his students, however, Ogden believed the theater provided much more than entertainment.

“It gives us a commonality for conversation, something to talk about,” he said. “And the theater’s one of the last places where you can express ideas. On the job that’s getting more and more difficult because people take it as an afront.”

Thinking – about all sorts of things – was something that Ogden demanded of his students. Sometimes in the middle of a lecture, Ogden would stop, point to a student, and say, “Talk to me about anything but this class.”

Ogden admitted that his unorthodox teaching methods sometimes caused him to clash with superiors, but no one could deny his strong commitment to the profession.

“Teaching is the best profession in the world,” Ogden said before retiring. “It’s corny, I know, but teachers are people who have this urge to help people and that’s very real.”

So was his talent for writing, which was spiced with clever lines and creative thinking that made us all the richer for having known and – now – remembered him.




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