William Joseph “Bill” Becvar

Friday, September 11, 2015 1:28 pm

William Joseph “Bill” Becvar, 76, died Friday, Sept. 4, 2015, at his home in Decorah. Memorial mass of Christian Burial was at 11 a.m. Friday, Sept. 11, at St. Benedict Catholic Church in Decorah, with Rev. Phillip Gibbs officiating. Private family inurnment was in Calvary Cemetery in Riceville. Visitation began at 10 a.m. Friday, one hour before the service, at the church. Rev. Phillip Gibbs. Gift bearers were Brad Carlson and Al Etteldorf. Eucharistic ministers were Rev. Phillip Gibbs, Loma Carlson, Maury and Eileen Lenz. Lector was Roger Huinker. Organist was Mary Beth Bouska. Cantor was Cindy Schissel. Hymns were “Be Not Afraid,” “Irish Blessing,” “On Eagle’s Wings” and “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory.” Inurnment was at Calvary Cemetery in Riceville.

William Joseph “Bill” Becvar was born Sept. 9, 1938, in Oelwein, the son of George E. and Ellen L. (Dunlay) Becvar. Bill lived in West Union until 7th grade, when his family moved to Decorah. Bill then attended St. Benedict School through the 8th grade, and then graduated from Decorah High School with the class of 1956. After high school Bill attended Loras College for one year and then transferred to the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in theatre, with a minor in English, in 1961; his master’s in theatre, with a minor in classical humanities, in 1964 at the University of South Dakota; and his Ph.D. in theatre, with a minor in film, from the University of Kansas in 1975. Everywhere he went, he inspired those who studied or worked with him, including award-winning Broadway lyricist Bill Russell.

 “For two years I attended a small liberal arts college called Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa,” Russell said. “I lucked out in having a theatre professor named Bill Becvar who really inspired me, especially as to what a director could bring to a production … For a couple reasons, I decided to transfer to the University of Kansas, partly because Bill Becvar was doing graduate work there and said he would direct my first musical.”

Bill began his professional career as assistant professor of theatre at Morningside College in Sioux City, followed by a graduate assistantship at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. He moved to Washington state, where he taught acting classes and was guest director at the Cornish Institute of the Arts in the professional training program in Seattle as well as teaching classes as associate professor of theatre at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, starting there in 1973. He served as acting chairman for a year and eventually retired as director of theatre at Pacific Lutheran University in 2008, leaving a legacy that is both widespread and enduring. After his retirement, he remained a strong supporter of the university and its theatre program, generously gifting a script library and the new Dr. William J. Becvar Studio Theater Stage as well as a scholarship for theatre students. And his legacy extends far beyond campus: While a drama professor at PLU, Dr. Becvar co-founded the Tacoma Actors Guild in 1978, and his work was cited repeatedly in the book Mamoulian: Life on Stage and Screen by David Luhrssen. PLU’s theatre department will publicly honor this considerable legacy by dedicating its fall production of Neil Simon’s Rumors to Dr. Becvar (who directed the play at PLU in 1998). Jeff Clapp, associate professor of theatre at PLU, worked closely with Dr. Becvar and is using social media to invite students from the 1998 production to attend this one, which opens for student previews at PLU Oct. 15, 2015. A lifelong movie fan, Dr. Becvar taught film at PLU, too—and his talent in that genre paid off in unexpected ways. According to a 2007 story in the Decorah Newspapers, Dr. Becvar entered the Cedar Rapids Gazette’s Oscar prediction contest and got five out of the six categories correct. (He also successfully predicted that The Departed would win the most Oscars and that the Oscar telecast would last for four hours.) Bill was an actor, director and most popular professor. He had a special connection with students interested in the theater world and was a mentor to many. He was unique and witty. He enjoyed playing cards, golfing, reading books, writing letters and movies and chatting with friends. He was a loyal friend and remained close to old and new friends. Bill’s favorite actress was Liz Taylor and his favorite movie was “Gone with the Wind.” He would say, “Live life and enjoy, for soon we are gone with the wind!”

Bill is survived by several cousins.

He was preceded in death by his father, George, in 1987 and his mother, Ellen, in 1996.

Memorials may be given to the Decorah Public Library, 202 Winnebago St., Decorah, IA 52101, St. Benedict School, 402 Rural Ave., Decorah, IA 52101, Porter House Museum, 401 W. Broadway St., Decorah, IA 52101, or the Dr. William Becvar Theatre Scholarship at Pacific Lutheran University, c/o Office of Development and University Relations, Tacoma, WA 98447-0018.

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