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Former students honor Karns City teacher, director Saturday

Beth Ackelson, a retiring teacher at Karns City Area School District, arrives at her surprise retirement party Saturday, June 8, where former students performed for her at the Penn Theater. Molly Miller/Butler Eagle

When Beth Ackelson walked into the Penn Theater dressed to the nines on Saturday, June 8, she had no idea she was attending her own retirement party.

“My husband just kept saying, ‘You need to get dressed and ready to go,’” she said.

Tears fell from her eyes as she stepped into an auditorium packed with former students she mentored over 31 years as a Karns City Area School District music and drama teacher.

Some of the students she had not seen in over 20 years, but all were there to honor her legacy through music, reminiscences and revelry.

“It makes my heart melt,” she said. “I am in disbelief.”

The night was orchestrated by Holly Mead, Ackelson’s sister, who said the event took about six weeks of preparation between reaching out to former students and gathering material for the performances.

More than 20 songs and 15 skits were performed by Ackelson’s students and were intermixed with videos of others who could not attend, but wanted to wish her well.

During her 31 years teaching, Ackelson took charge of the all-school musicals, variety shows, drama club, Broadway Juniors program, and more.

Her work inspired many students to become professional performers, such as Brady Patsy, who graduated in 2007 and is now in the Actors’ Equity Association and working for Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera.

Patsy recalled when Ackelson would bring students from the all-school musical to perform for the elementary school students. It was his first exposure to theater.

“I was blown away by it,” he said. “The first one I remember seeing was ‘The Sound of Music.’”

Under Ackelson’s direction, Patsy said he learned about the importance of commitment to the craft and the importance of family.

“She taught us all what family means,” he said. “She sacrificed so much to spend time with us.”

Justin Anderson, a 2008 graduate, said he was recruited by Ackelson in eighth grade for a production of “Damn Yankees.”

“It opened up the non-shy side of me,” he said.

What made Ackelson a great teacher was her passion for the students.

“She cares. She cares about the development of them as humans. She teaches you dedication, she teaches you accountability,” he said.

Anderson said he’s still very involved in local theater because of Ackelson’s impact on his life.

“It’s pretty much my biggest passion in life,” he said.

In a way, Anderson said Ackelson has become part of his family.

“She was at my wedding. I’ve texted her every year on Mother’s Day, I’ve texted her every year on her birthday. She’s been more than a teacher to me. She was a mother figure in my life,” he said.

Shaun Klein, who graduated in 2018, said he first worked with Ackelson 17 years ago, during a Broadway Juniors production of “Beauty and the Beast.”

Later in his high school career, Klein and Ackelson shared the stage in that same production for the Musical Theatre Guild.

“She found a way to make everything relatable,” he said. “She was able to be personal with you while also being that driving force you needed.”

Ackelson worked at Karns City since 1993. She said retirement was a last minute decision.

“It was very hard to retire,” she said.

She said she will continue teaching voice lessons part time, and also plans to perform in shows and spend time with her granddaughter.

For Ackelson, the night was incredible.

“I just love them. I love them all,” she said of her students. “It means more than anyone could ever, ever know.”

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