Longtime LMHS drama teacher gets a standing ovation as he readies for retirement
After 25 years as the head of Lake Mary High School’s drama department, Bill Eissele is taking his final bow.
Bill, who is 64, will retire at the end of the 2017-18 school year, leaving behind a thriving theater program and taking with him a treasure trove of cherished memories.
“The reason I teach has always been the kids. I’m not very good around adults,” Bill says with a sheepish smile. “I just love kids and being around them. They keep you young, and they’re energizing.”
Prior to becoming the LMHS drama teacher in 1992, Bill taught English there for 10 years and coached soccer and golf. Bill is still the girls’ soccer coach, a role he will continue to play after retiring from his teaching duties.
When he took over the theater program – which was struggling at the time – Bill admits the students were pretty skeptical about him.
“The first group of kids said, ‘Oh, no! We have a dumb coach who is going to be teaching theater,’” he recalls with a laugh. “I had to show them that I had the passion for theater and enough knowledge. That transition was pretty cool.”
Bill won the kids over in record time and now has a legion of devoted students, both current and former. They consider Bill to be much more than their teacher; they also see him as a mentor and a friend.
In fact, several Lake Mary theater grads think so highly of Bill that they put together a tribute show to honor him and celebrate his retirement. The close-knit group of alumni, who all live in Los Angeles now, became fast friends working on plays and musicals under Bill’s tutelage.
The tribute show, co-hosted by alumni Harry Perry III and Todd Eskin in the LMHS auditorium, was filled with heartfelt speeches, videos, and songs. Bill’s family, friends, colleagues, school administrators, and students gathered to give him a fabulous send-off.
Harry and fellow alumni Marissa Messier say Bill taught them valuable life lessons, including the importance of having each others’ backs and not being afraid of a challenge. They felt invested in the drama program because Bill put his pupils in charge of all aspects of the shows, from directing and building sets to running lights and sound.
“Bill empowered us to succeed by allowing us to do the work and holding us accountable for it,” says Harry, a television director and producer in Los Angeles. “He pushed us harder than we thought we could go – a successful tactic he used as the girls’ soccer coach. We had grit, ingenuity, and spunk, all instilled in us by Bill Eissele. We’re better people because of him.”
Marissa, a vice president at Walt Disney Studios in California, adds, “Bill let the students shine in every moment, never taking credit or stepping into the spotlight.”
And, she says, “He showed us the monumental importance of family,” noting that Bill’s wife and two children were involved in the shows, too.
Susan Eissele, a pianist, has been the drama department’s musical director the entire time that Bill has been in charge. Their children, Meagan and Christian, performed in a handful of shows when they were young, making it truly a family affair. Meagan, 28, is now married and a captain in the United States Air Force. Christian, 25, is a professional soccer player.
Bill’s dual interest in drama and athletics goes back to his days as a kid growing up in Baltimore, Maryland. He played three sports in high school and was active in the drama program. To Bill, theater and sports share an important common denominator – teamwork.
“It’s working together in a group and putting something together that people appreciate and like to watch,” he says.
After high school, Bill became a professional golfer, even playing on the PGA Tour for a year. He attended college at night, first at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and then at the University of Central Florida. At UCF, he earned a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s degree in educational leadership.
Bill interned at Lake Mary High in the fall of 1982 and taught English at South Seminole Middle School in the spring of ‘83. In the fall of ‘83, he made a permanent move back to LMHS.
Becca Southworth, who also teaches theater at Lake Mary High, will lead the drama program when Bill departs. Bill possesses “a wealth of knowledge and know-how,” she says, and he forges strong bonds and relationships with his students. That doesn’t mean he coddles them, though.
“Bill expects greatness, and he’ll push until he gets the absolute best from every individual,” Becca says. “When students get a compliment from Bill, it’s like they’ve won the lottery. It means the world to them. They aim to please him and make him proud. He’s like a father to these kids.”
Bill says he set out to build an inclusive drama program where the students felt loved and cared for – where they were part of a family. And judging by the outpouring of appreciation and applause at his tribute show, that approach worked like a charm. Those meaningful relationships with his pupils are what Bill will miss most when the curtain closes on his 36-year-career as a public-school educator.
“I’ve loved getting up every day, coming here and being part of the Lake Mary High School family, and being with the kids,” he says. “I enjoy watching the students grow and change, gaining confidence and getting stronger. It’s been fun to see all of them go out and, with confidence, take on the world.”
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