Obituary: Roger C. Emelson / Actor, founder of theater program at Cal U

March 19, 1932 - Sept. 12, 2008

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Roger C. Emelson, 76, the actor and director who created and nurtured California University of Pennsylvania's Theatre Department, died Sept. 12 at the Residences at Thomas Circle in Washington, D.C., of complications from a brain tumor.

On stage, with verve, he played roles ranging from the rabbi in "Fiddler on the Roof," to Major-General Stanley in "The Pirates of Penzance," to King Henry II in "The Lion in Winter."

But the role he loved best was teacher.

"Even though he taught Intro to Acting for 32 years, he always made it feel fresh and very alive," said his daughter, Beth Emelson, who was her father's student at Cal U in the 1980s. "It didn't feel like, 'Here I am teaching it again.' You could feel the passion he brought to it."

Dr. Emelson arrived at Cal U in 1961 and immediately made his mark. He developed courses and the curriculum in theater, humanities and film while creating the Theatre Department and theater major and a theater track for graduate studies in communications.

He coaxed performances out of students for 32 years before retiring as emeritus professor in 1993. The beloved professor received the C.B. Wilson Distinguished Faculty Award from Cal U last year.

He earned his bachelor of fine arts degree from Beloit College in Wisconsin before earning his master's in fine arts from the then-Carnegie Institute of Technology and his doctorate from the renamed Carnegie Mellon University.

Dashing in a way that recalled James Dean, the young actor moved to New York City in the 1950s. He landed a few small TV roles, but decided that path wasn't for him.

He began directing professionally in 1962 with a performance of "Kiss Me Kate" at the Chippewa Playhouse in Beaver County. There he met his wife of 44 years, Margaret, also a director and theater arts educator. The couple worked at the Regent Square Theater, Apple Hill Playhouse, Little Lake Theatre, West Virginia University and The State Theatre Center for the Arts.

Dr. Emelson was founder of the Valley Players, which later became CALRep Theater. Upon retiring to Florida, he formed the Point Brittany Players of St. Petersburg, Fla.

He served as a corporal in the Army during the Korean War.

In addition to his daughter and wife, surviving are a son, Brian, of Rochester, N.Y.; a brother, Earl Emelson, of San Francisco; and two grandchildren.

A memorial service is planned for sometime in the winter.

The family suggests memorial contributions to the Emelson Theatre and Dance Scholarship established at California University of Pennsylvania (Foundation for California University of Pennsylvania, P.O. Box 668, California, PA 15419).

Cristina Rouvalis can be reached at or 412-263-1572.


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