The Voice and His Mentor: Statues Celebrate Who Helped James Earl Jones Get Over His Stutter | New

BROTHERS – Seventy-two years ago, a gangly teenager from Manistee County was challenged by his teacher to read aloud a poem he had written.

There was a good reason why Dickson High School English teacher Donald Crouch wanted the student to stand front and center and be heard by his classmates. due to his stuttering difficulties.

The simple but mind-numbing ploy worked. From that day on, young Todd Jones – he would soon change his name to James Earl Jones to better suit his desire to perform on stage and on the big screen – will speak boldly and with such character that his voice has become l one of the most recognized. in the world.

This is “how I found my voice,” Jones would say over and over again and when asked about overcoming his childhood difficulties with stuttering: It was because of a teacher – a teacher. mentor who challenged and supported him.

To honor Jones and Crouch, the Manistee County Arts and Culture Alliance has commissioned life-size bronze statues of the two, which are expected to be installed in front of the Kaleva Norman Dickson Public School in Brethren, where Jones attended the late 1940s (graduated in 1949), and where Crouch taught.

The theme of the sculpture is “Mentorship Can Change Your Life”. The statues are created by renowned Michigan artist / sculptor Bernadette Zachara Marcos of Honor. His artwork can be seen at many locations in Michigan, including his sculpture of children playing “Ring Around the Rosie,” which is located in Sterling Heights and Livonia. The Farmington Hills sculptor who retired to the Region of Honor with her husband, Randy, studied at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit and also studied folk art in Poland.

The ACA’s goal is to raise $ 100,000 to build and place the Jones / Crouch bronze statues and $ 10,000 to donate to the Ramsdell Regional Center for the Arts to ensure that young people have access to works of art. theater, art exhibitions and other events.

“I have had good role models who have influenced me in my life,” said Cindy Asiala of the ACA. “However, I believe that a mentor is more than a role model. She’s someone who encourages me and pushes me to be the best I can be. This person sees what I’m capable of and believes I can do what I don’t think I can do. She is there to congratulate me when I am successful and does not criticize if I am not successful. It’s often a silent encouragement, but I can feel it.

“The mentor is not always physically present when I attempt a task, but the memory of that person is with me. For me, it’s my mother, Mary Alice Grossnickle.

Asiala has been on the board of directors of the Arts and Culture Alliance since 2006.

“One of our goals is to place works of art or sculptures in all areas of Manistee County,” she said. “We helped with a sculpture in honor of Robert Rengo, longtime mayor of Kaleva, we sponsored the sculpture to honor the contribution of migrant workers to the area, and now we aim to create bronze sculptures of James Earl Jones and his mentor / teacher, Donald Crouch and place them in KND schools.

“I think of the many times I have read and heard James Earl say that Mr. Crouch helped him find his voice. I think of James being a poor kid from a small rural school who was able to speak in public because a teacher believed in him. I think we need to do this project so that more people know this story and appreciate their mentors and become mentors themselves.

Joy Smith, ACA President, said their organization was delighted “… to offer a sculpture honoring our mentors past and present, led by the great figure of Mr. Jones, who has become a hero to many. ‘between us in America.

“Her life story confirms that people with disabilities can accomplish great things with persistence and the help of a mentor,” she said. “Mr. Jones has been an inspiration to actors in Manistee County, most notably Ms. Toni Trucks (co-starring in CBS military drama ‘SEAL Team’), but surely others as well.

“He also inspires those who see him on screen,” Smith said. “A man I spoke with said that when he saw Jones as Thulsa Doom (” Conan the Barbarian “), he was impressed by how confident he looked. He said seeing this character made him feel gave hope; it was good to know that a man of such strength and mastery existed in the world. This is just one example of the value of Jones’ abilities on screen.

As was the case with Jones, Marcos said she was inspired early on by a teacher – a mentor – to achieve excellence in the arts.

“In high school I took this art class and my teacher – she was very nice – recommended that I take a class at the Detroit Institute of Arts on a Saturday,” Marcos said. “So I took two buses to get there, and that’s where I made my first face (bust).

And although she would never meet Jones, she said she had watched a lot of her movies, with “Field of Dreams” and “Traveling to America” ​​being among her favorites, and she read an endless amount of it. ‘articles on him, as well as studied many of Jones’ photos from his youth.

She said she “could take two years, or less, hopefully a year and a half,” to complete the two life-size bronze statues of Jones and Crouch.

Jones, 90, lives in upstate New York. In September 2006, he returned to the Ramsdell Theater in Manistee to join his 1949 classmates for a class photo and to recite “Poems I Love to Read” at a benefit performance for the cultural center of the Dickson school, then planned. It was during this return to the place where he grew up and where he first took center stage, that he spoke of his youth and overcoming his difficulties in speaking.

For his high school education, James Earl traveled 12 miles north to the quiet hamlet of Brethren to attend Dickson Rural Agricultural Consolidated High School – he graduated with honors as class vice president in 1949 – where he acquired a love for poetry (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Walt Whitman were among his favorites), Shakespeare, history, language and, thanks to Crouch, where he found his speech.

“Being a stutterer when I was a kid, I didn’t realize how important language was until I started hearing great ideas from people,” Jones said in 2006. “I” read great ideas written by people. And finally, with the help of my English teacher, I had the courage to confront the audience that I had a stutter and a stutter (impediment).

Challenged by Crouch, Jones began to read poetry aloud, in front of his classmates. The “The Professor” ploy, as Jones called his teacher, worked. By the time Jones left high school and moved on to the University of Michigan, he found himself able “to handle these big ideas, these big words.”

Jones joined the Reserve Officer Training Corps and started pre-med at the U of M – but eventually changed his studies to the U of M’s School of Music, Theater and Dance, from where he moved to graduated in 1955. Then, after a stint with the United States Army in which he served with a Cold Weather Training Command in Colorado, his acting career began to take off with stage appearances in the theater. Ramsdell in Manistee, others in New York.

“Ramsdell’s opera house is as much a monument to me as any Greek amphitheater,” Jones said. “And as long as he’s there, he will represent the artistic world and my first connection with him. I still have very fond memories of Manistee. In a small town like Manistee, you are in close contact with people, even people. people you don’t know.

Jones acknowledged that his summer appearances at the Manistee Ramsdell Theater were important to his early career, especially in 1956 when he cut his teeth on Shakespeare’s “Othello”.

“I was fortunate enough to play my first full production of Shakespeare (in Manistee),” Jones said. “I was awful! I barely had my lines memorized. In summer stock, you only have a week to memorize your script – lots of words to learn. We never understood how the characters would relate to each other, and that’s a very important part. “

After a distinguished acting career spanning more than seven decades – started in 1950 at U of M and continues today – the authoritative voice of “Star Wars” arch-villain Darth Vader and Disney’s hero Mufasa in “The Lion King” has amassed a long and legendary list of stage, TV and movie credits.

Starting with his first major film in 1963, “Dr. Strangelove: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb”, Jones has appeared in dozens of films, including his lead role in “The Great White Hope” in 1970 which earned him international acclaim and an Oscar nomination for Best Performance by an Actor.The previous year he had won a Tony Award for his performance on stage of the same character.

A longtime resident of Pawling, New York, a small community 70 miles north of Manhattan’s famous Broadway Avenue where Jones is no stranger, Jones has won or been nominated for numerous awards over the years, including Drama Desk, Obie, Tony, Golden Globe, Grammy, ACE, National Medal of Arts and more. In 2009, he received the prestigious Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award.

Brethren High School – located just under the shade of a large tree at his old high school which he replaced in 1951 – today has a display case honoring his “Favorite Son,” including a Darth Vader helmet that he autographed with the inscription, “May the force be with you.”

The Manistee Public Library has a framed and autographed dust jacket of his autobiography, and the Ramsdell Theater has a beautiful painting of him in the 1956 summer stock production as “Othello,” when his name was Todd Jones. .

The name of this poem that Jones wrote as a teenager – and that Crouch challenged him to read aloud to his life-changing class – has been named “Ode” to a Winter Grapefruit ” , and was pronounced in the style and rhythm of the poem “Hiawatha”.

Donations to the Jones / Crouch Statue Project can be submitted by sending a check to ACA Treasurer L. Cudney, 19708 Cadillac Hwy., Copemish, MI 49625 or online at

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