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Campus News / News

Farewell to the Needle and Thread

08/16/2023 11:53 am

Rockford University Costume Designer Takes Last Bow

Jeff Hendry between two model forms

By Aris Sherwood

Walk into the lobby of Maddox Theatre in the Clark Arts Center at Rockford University, and you will find mannequins dressed in costumes of shows past. Underneath them are the designers’ names on plaques. Newly retired professor of theater arts and costume designer, Jeff Hendry’s name is captured on many.

Hendry retired at the end of the 2023 spring semester after 41 years.  During his time here, Hendry has worn many different hats due to his diverse background. He has directed shows and has even taught Rockford University theater history and Shakespeare courses.

Originally from Phoenix, Arizona, Hendry received his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theater Production from the University of Arizona, and Master of Fine Arts in Costume Design from University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

When he left graduate school, Hendry said he was searching for jobs primarily in the Midwest. Rockford University was where he ended up and stayed.

“I kind of bounced around a lot,” he said.

actors perform wearing Jeff Hendry's design in The Importance of Being Earnest in Spring 2023.
Actors perform wearing Jeff Hendry’s designs in The Importance of Being Earnest in Spring 2023.

Designer of Many Hats

“I have an odd skill set compared to most costume designers,” he said. “Most design people have a secondary emphasis in graduate school in another design area. I didn’t. I had directing as my secondary emphasis. I guess that’s always interested me.”

In the early 1990’s, the faculty from the theater department came together to create a musical theater major, Hendry said. Since then, Hendry has taught both performance and history/literature. He is now the only professor left of the program’s original creators.

“Professor Mogford likes to refer to me as a ‘Renaissance Man,’” he said. “I wear a lot of hats, and quite frankly, that’s part of the reason why I’ve stayed here for so long. If I had gone to a larger university, I’d end up in the costume shop and that’s all I’d be doing, because I wouldn’t have the opportunity to work in these other areas that I really enjoy.”  

Besides teaching, costume designing, and directing, on top of his extensive freelancing career, Hendry said Rockford University has given him opportunities beyond what he ever expected. Back when the university was connected to Regents College in London, England, Hendry said he was sent to London to oversee and operate the program.

“Living in London for a year and a half totally changed my outlook on life,” he said.

When Rockford University applied for and received a grant from the American and Japanese Foundation of Education, three professors were chosen to work on a communications effort with 9 other schools in the country and travel to Japan for research of their choosing. 

“I was researching Kabuki Theater and came back and produced a play in traditional Kabuki style, which was really exciting for me and the students. I could have never imagined doing that sort of thing when I came here”

For those future Rockford University students and next generation of costume designers who will not get to experience Jeff Hendry, the professor, he had one piece of advice:

“Don’t be afraid to take a risk. If any place, this is the place you can take a risk,” he said. “When I was starting here, my God, I made so many mistakes when I look back on it. But I learned from every single one of them, and it made me a better teacher and a better designer.”

This story was originally published in the Spring/Summer 2023 issue of Catalyst