The Ruth Klaus Legacy

High School Drama Teacher Carries on Mom's Legacy in Theater

Channel 5 News
10:15 AM CDT May 15, 2023

ALTON, Ill. — At Marquette Catholic High School in Alton, if you ask for the time, they'll tell you it's showtime.

The curtain is about to come up on a student performance of "Peter Pan."

"It's a big undertaking," said Music and Theater Director Brett Klaus.

More than 30 kids will be on stage tonight and almost as many backstage.

But as much as this production is likely to make some memories, it's also honoring one.

Klaus knew that putting on this play would be as daunting as trying to catch a shadow. But it's one he had to try.

"I have yet to do a show of hers, and this was one that she did that people still 20 years ago, remember," he said.

They remember that show and they remember Ruth Klaus, Brett's mom.

"Her legacy is, is huge," he said.

Ruth Klaus held the spotlight as head of Marquette's drama department for almost 30 years.

The school principal was in his opening act as a teacher when they first met.

"If you met her, she could change your life," Tim Harmon, Marquette's principal said. "I learned some of the most important lessons as a new teacher from her about how to interact with students about how to hold those firm lines."

But a few years ago, when Ruth was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, Brett put his own theater career on hold to take care of her. Eventually, becoming the ultimate understudy.

"I swore on my life, I would never teach high school because I saw how hard she worked," Brett said. "Somehow, somehow in this, I found fun and joy. And so now, I just want to give these kids every opportunity that I can."

To make this "Peter Pan" revival happen, the school community raised close to $20,000 to pay for effects like flying harnesses and cables.

"'Peter Pan' was actually my favorite Disney movie when I was younger. So when we were doing it, I was like, 'Oh my gosh, I'm so excited!'" said senior Edie Tesson, who plays Peter.

And even though most of the kids in this musical never knew Mr. Klaus' mom, they know they're taking flight from a stage that now bears her name.

It was dedicated to her in 2018.

"We can see the passion that he's putting into it and we feel, we feel her here," said senior Juliana Barnerd, who stars as Wendy.

The musical is about the value of childhood, the power of imagination and the importance of family. These are messages the audience will take home with them.

"I just hope that they see how fun things can be when you work together," Barnerd said. "And just have a little faith, trust and pixie dust."

A drama teacher carrying on a legacy and inspiring a new generation of young performers to take flight and pursue their dreams.

"I hope that they feel the love that I have for my mom," Brett said. "And I hope they feel on some level the love my mom had for this school and for this program."

Click here to see photos from the MCHS production of Peter Pan.