PHOTO & STORY BY MIRANDA MCDONALD
IT’S WARM OUTSIDE. So warm, in fact, that the first thing Linda DeRungs, a former educator at New Albany High School, offers me is a glass of chilled wine as we walk through her Victorian-era home in the Highlands in Louisville. As we make our way out to the patio space that overlooks her beautiful garden, I notice several boxes are stacked haphazardly in a corner by a fireplace that sits at the bottom of the staircase in her home. DeRungs and her husband are moving to California in the coming weeks. After spending 33 years as the director of choral music at New Albany High School, DeRungs is retiring and starting an entirely new chapter of her life.
“My garden has been a work in progress for many years,” Linda states as she walks me over to the hibiscus tree that serves as the primary provider of shade in the backyard.
Just like with the assortment of plants in her garden, DeRungs has meticulously aided the growth of her students for several decades.
“I always knew I wanted to teach,” the educator explains as we sit down at the glass table on her patio.
I notice that DeRungs takes a deliberate pause before proceeding to her next statement.
“Teenagers are very entertaining, in spite of the challenge. Most of the time, teaching them and interacting with them was fun. My primary goal was to have some sort of positive impact on their futures- musically, behaviorally or emotionally.”
However, DeRungs contributed more to New Albany High School than teaching music theory and piano lab. She also served as a fine arts department chair for several years and directed over 70 department musicals. Eight of these musicals were chosen to be main-stage productions at the Thespian Summer Conference. Being chosen as one of these productions is one of the highest honors any high school can attain. Her dedication to making sure her students succeed even gained her a substantial amount of international attention throughout her career. DeRungs and her students were filmed for a documentary titled, Guys ‘n’ Divas: Battle of the High School Musicals in 2009. She was also featured solo in a piece for The New York Times in 2005.
The list of accomplishments for DeRungs is a long one, but when I ask her about her favorite collaboration as a teacher, she quickly responds: “My choir was invited to perform with The Dallas Brass at the Ogle Center, and I was also asked to provide suggestions for the repertoire. I had the honor of conducting John Rutter’s work, Gloria, with a world-class brass ensemble. It was an amazing experience.”
The students of DeRungs have also gained their own national recognition and international attention. Joshua Dallas, a former student at New Albany High School, went on to star in the ABC television series, Once Upon a Time. The teacher also guided the early career of the German-based opera and orchestra conductor, Karen Kamensek, who is the former music director and chief conductor at the Staatsoper Hannover. She will make her Metropolitan Opera debut in New York next year as a conductor.
“As I think back, I never really made some big decision. I just knew I wanted to teach,” says DeRungs. “There was no agonizing or indecision. I had one great role model: Mr. Echols, my art teacher. So, I had a positive outlook about teaching.”
This positive outlook helped DeRungs understand the true impact a teacher can have on their students’ lives. “I’m old fashioned, and I believe that a competent and devoted teacher can make a huge impact.”
DeRungs was already named New Albany Teacher of the Year in 1999 and the Arts Council of Southern Indiana Arts Educator of the Year in 2006. However, perhaps her biggest honor was being inducted into the New Albany High School Hall of Fame in September. Even though the honor is well-deserved, she is still humbled by such an acknowledgement.
“This award means a lot to me,” DeRungs admits. “I spent 33 of my 38 years teaching at New Albany High School. I have been an avid goodwill ambassador for what all the teachers and administrators do there for the students. It was an honor and a privilege to teach there. “
After conversing with DeRungs for some time about everything from her Willow Pattern China (a prized possession for the educator) to her thoughts on the current state of education, I feel compelled to inquire about what she will do next. “I am going to cook, garden and read,” she says. I have even looked into being an adjunct professor. Who knows? … The possibilities are endless. That is really the exciting part!”
“I’m old fashioned, and I believe that a competent and devoted teacher can make a huge impact.”