'Acting Up and Playing Around'
If you live in Panola county, and the word “theatre” passes your lips in a sentence, I can almost guarantee that the word in some way can be linked to Elizabeth Rector “Liz” Hedges. Since 1978, Liz has played a principal role in the Panola County theatre and historical communities.
Liz was born and raised in the Piney Woods of East Texas, in Longview. Her mother was the principal of the elementary school she attended from the third through the sixth grade.
Liz says she was involved in everything in school and that her mother knew all of teachers and everything she ever did before she even did it. She describes herself as a spoiled brat; her mother was one of three sisters, her aunts never married, and she was an only child. “It was like having two more grandmothers,” Liz exclaims. “If there was anything I ever wanted, they gave it to me. We also had a little old man living next door who lovingly called me Baby Ann. He would ask me, ‘Baby Ann, are you a good girl?’ I would answer as any self-proclaimed spoiled rotten child, ‘Yes, I am a good girl, whenever I get what I want!’”
Liz was first bitten by the theatre bug when she was about five years old. A lady in town taught a class called “expression.” Although it was apparent Liz had no problems with expression, she joined the class and read poetry and prose. The teacher would require that the pieces be memorized, and she also had Liz participate in short plays. Longview Junior High School is where theatre life really started for her. The first “real” production she was cast in was Life with Father, in which she played the role of the mother. She was hooked. She adds that one of her childhood friends from expression class, Pam Mercer-McWilliams, the current theatre teacher at Longview High School, was cast in the play as well.
Liz continued to thrive in the Theatre Department at Longview High School. There were no drama classes, but all theatre was taught through speech classes. She signed up for those classes and became a top student in the class. During her freshman year, she was introduced to University Interscholastic League (UIL). She participated in One-Act Play and Poetry in UIL competitions, advancing to the regional level of competition in both.
After graduation, Liz set her sights on attending Baylor University. However, her parents did not want her to go away to school because she had graduated from high school at only 16 years of age. She claims the early graduation is another example of being a spoiled brat. “My mother wanted to send me to kindergarten/early preschool, but I wanted to go to real school,” she explains. “I threw a good, old-fashioned, wall-eyed, hissy fit, so my mother enrolled me in first grade, and that is how I graduated early. Spoiled! My first-grade teacher assured my mother that I would certainly fail before I got out of high school, which ruffled my mother’s feathers for a long time. When I graduated with honors, she wouldn’t let me send that teacher a graduation invitation.”
Right before graduation, Cleve Haubold, the theatre recruiter from Kilgore College, offered the budding artist a tuition theatre scholarship of $50. Liz still wanted to go off to a university, but her parents insisted that she stay at Kilgore for one year. She was determined that if she had to stay a year, she would go ahead and finish the two-year Kilgore College program in one year. With the exception of two PE hours, she accomplished her goal.
During this time Liz was still looking into universities. Baylor had been number one on her list, but their head theatre director Paul Baker had left. Haubold shared with her that he was leaving Kilgore and heading to the University of Texas to finish his Ph.D. He wanted her to consider UT and said he could possibly get her a scholarship. After visiting there, she was offered a tuition scholarship (then worth about $100) and a job in the Drama Department that paid $60 per month. At UT, Liz says, “I lived at Scottish Rite Dormitory and walked to classes, but theatre students kept late hours, and my daddy was not pleased for me to be out walking at 11:30 p.m., so he bought me a $750 former pizza delivery car. I remember fondly the white Ford Falcon with a bright orange indention along the whole side of the car (and not Longhorn burnt orange, either). That car made more trips from Austin to Houston for me to see a certain young man than it did from Austin to home.” That lucky young man’s name was Carl Hedges.
Carl and Liz met in a speech class at Kilgore College. They were assigned to do a debate and had to do some research together. She had been dating other people, but they soon decided to date exclusively. One night they were driving to her family’s lake house at Lake Cherokee. As she was giving him directions, he said he knew how to get there because his grandfather’s lake lot was across the street. It turned out that when Liz was little, she had played with Carl’s sister, and he was that boy she remembered who was always wanting to go swimming.
Carl tried to persuade Liz to go to the University of Houston while they were in Kilgore, but she was determined to go to Texas, so she drove back and forth between Austin and Houston for two years. They both decided the driving was too much and got married during the summer of Liz’s second year at Texas. Carl stopped attending the University of Houston, got a job in Austin with a chain of stores similar to WalMart called Sage, and enrolled at the University of Texas part-time.
The couple lived in Austin while Liz finished school. After she graduated from the University of Texas, Carl accepted a promotion with Sage in the Dallas area. Liz says she cried all the way there. Carl was a seasonal buyer for seven stores in Austin, Houston, and Dallas, and his job required considerable travel. Liz could not find a teaching job in her field but finally found a position in Pearland teaching fifth grade. She says those students learned a lot of English, history, and literature that year. The next year she found an opening at Spring Branch High School in Westchester, a brand new high school which was hiring a theatre teacher. She was there for three wonderful years until she found out she was going to play one of the most important roles in her life, being a mother.
Back then, most women who became mothers usually did not go back to work, and that was fine with Liz, who had dreamed of being a stay at home mom. She left her job with Spring Branch, and she and Carl were blessed with a baby daughter they named Kimberly. However, Liz quickly realized that being a stay at home mom was not the job for her. “Oh, my goodness! I was stir-crazy,” she exclaims. She immediately started applying for theatre jobs, and the next school year she was hired by Cypress-Fairbanks in northwest Houston to teach theatre. Cy-Fair had a huge travel budget, so her students also entered in tournaments with the National Forensics League nearly every weekend.
When Kim was about five, son Trey came along. Both Carl and Liz were working seven days a week and had to hire a full-time nanny. Together they made the decision that they needed to make some changes to give them more time as a family. Their parents said that they would give them the lake lot they played on as children if they would come back home to East Texas. The Hedges made the decision to leave the city and return home to the Piney Woods. Both of them began looking for jobs, and Liz got a call from Earl Cariker at Carthage High School. She had to ask her daddy, “Where is Carthage?” because she had only been as far east as Lake Cherokee. But she drove east, found Carthage, and immediately liked Mr. Cariker. She gave him her resume, and he virtually hired her on the spot and then told her to fill out an application.
Liz taught at Carthage High School for two years. With a second undergraduate degree in English, she taught English in addition to theatre. Two of her delightful English students, Nancy Walton and Jenice Wedgeworth, asked her one day, “Did you ever think about teaching at a college?” She answered, “Yes, of course.” Liz knew about Panola College and had already considered applying there, and she also knew that Nancy’s father was the Academic Dean. The next day Nancy brought her an application from the college. She filled it out and then had a meeting with Nancy’s father, Dr. Bill Walton. She was hired, finished her Master’s degree from the University of Texas at Tyler, and started as a professor of theatre at Panola College in the summer of 1978. She held that same position until her retirement in May of 2007.
Liz says when she started at Panola there were only three “real” drama students (three she had brought from CHS)—John Groom, Bud Worley and Andrea Barrera. John and Bud were techies, and Andrea was a budding actress. Hedges also taught two speech classes along with her theatre classes and began recruiting for the Theatre Department. The first show she wanted to do was The Sound of Music. Laughing, she says, “I was crazy, and looking back in hindsight, I would never do that again. But I convinced Myrna Hook to play the piano and Gerald Moore, the choir teacher, to help. June Lewis, one of the wonderful actresses that came from Carthage High School, played Maria, and I recruited a chorus from my speech classes. Bud and John built the set and did the lights, and we did The Sound of Music! We all learned a lot, and today all three of my first ‘real’ drama students are extremely successful. John is a police detective somewhere outside of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Andrea is an emergency nurse, and that Bud fellow is still around somewhere.”
Children’s shows were something Liz wanted to bring to Panola College. The first one she did was You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown, performed for Libby and Elysian Fields elementary schools. The premise behind offering a children’s show: not only would students to get to see the show, but they would learn from it and enjoy the experience of of traveling to a theatre and watching the show. Soon, schools from virtually everywhere in East Texas were invited, and the undertaking that began with two performances ended up with 10.
Another Panola tradition came in the fall of 1987. Co-worker John Boland suggested a dinner theater, and Liz thought it was a wonderful idea. The play would be entertaining; if not a comedy, it would at least be uplifting, never a heavy, serious drama. People wanted to laugh and have a good time. Over the years, every show sold out for the one weekend performance, the studio theatre packed. At a time when there were very few places to eat out, the dinner theatre productions were wildly popular. Among the first dinner theatre performances was Blythe Spirit in the fall of 1988. The cast included Robin Anderson, Joey Fisher, Kim Hedges, Penny Reynolds, Loretta Hamilton, John Jackson, and Chastity Horn. Liz just received a very high honor; in February, Panola College named that same studio theatre for her.
Liz loved the concept of musicals and children’s shows, and both were community favorites.
She directed four shows a year—a musical production, a dinner theatre production, a children’s theatre production, and a festival show. Liz always tried to keep festival shows different, because they were done as competition, and usually the ones that won were diverse and serious. Some of the shows she tried were experimental. The more plays Panola entered and participated in festival, the more Liz learned, and the more she and her teams went to festival, the more they started getting excellent and superior ratings.
“One year we did a play, a musical called The Surprise Box, written by a former student,” she says. “In the play there was a character who was an older male narrator. I had previously met a man named Freddy Mason who had a wonderful voice and thought he would be a great actor. I asked him if he would play the part, and he agreed. He was great, and after that he became a guest actor in a lot of Panola plays. One of the most joyous days of my life was when he came over to our house to tell us that he had been hired to teach speech at Panola College.”
In 2007, after 29 years of loving her job at Panola College, Liz Hedges decided to retire. However, she hasn’t completely retired. Carl says that all she does is “act up or play around” now! Liz is deeply involved in UIL as a judge, contest manager, and Region II academic meet manager. She is happy that the newest theatre professor to take the reins at Panola, Karen Montgomery King, is a former student from Cy-Fair High School. Karen later worked in Hollywood on a television show for which she she won an Emmy. She then came back to Texas and taught in Hillsboro. When Liz retired, she told all her former students who were qualified to apply for her job, and she was delighted that the one hired was Karen.
Another of Liz’s passions besides theatre has to do with her ancestral heritage. Several years ago she became a member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy; she was eligible because both of her grandfathers fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War. She also became a member of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, whose members are required to identify ancestors who were in Texas prior to 1824. She has identified seven and is still counting. The DRT promotes education and Texas history among students in Texas. Liz is Historian General over the entire state. Conventions are also a big part of DRT. One year, the president of the local chapter said she needed some “pages” to work the convention. Pages are Children of the Republic of Texas (CRT) who help run the mechanics of the meeting. Liz asked her granddaughter Sarah if she wanted to do it. She gave an enthusiastic “Yes!” At the convention she spied the President General’s page wearing a green and red ribbon and said, “I want a green and red ribbon, too!” The DRT President General’s page also serves as President of the CRT; Liz kept taking Sarah to the conventions, and four years later she got her red and green ribbon and the presidency of the CRT. Now, the rest of the Hedges’ grandchildren—Abbye, Bailey, CJ, and River—are all interested in the organization. Currently, Abbye is Fourth Vice President General, and Sarah is Past President General.
The DRT has two major projects. First, they are working on marking the boundaries of the Republic of Texas, trying to mark the lines of the border with each state. Liz charter marked the international border between Louisiana and Texas in Panola County. The second project is to sponsor an essay contest for fourthand seventh grade students who are learning about Texas history. Each year a new topic is chosen, and winners take home a monetary prize.
The United Daughters of Confederacy the Daughters of the Republic of Texas are not the only historical societies that Liz belongs to. She is also a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, The Colonial Dames of the 17th Century (ancestors in America before 1700), Daughters of 1812 (whose ancestors fought in the War of 1812), and Descendants of Confederate Veterans (DCV).
Liz and Carl are both fascinated with genealogy, wanting to know more about themselves and their families—who they were other than dates on a tombstone—good or bad. The furthest back Liz has traced her ancestry is to Burnett in Germany in 1250 A.D. The couple went to Germany in 2009 to locate their historical roots. They came across a clock that was made by one of their ancestors before the 1700’s that is still striking on the quarter hour today. They also traveled to a town where all of the houses are still standing from the 1660’s. The Hedges were able to stand inside the same church and hold the same chalice that her ancestors took communion from before leaving to settle in America, an experience Liz describes as “surreal.”
Life so far for Liz Hedges has been a wonderful production and no doubt, the best is yet to come!