Mildred Pierce Smith, G’64

SMITH, MILDRED ANN, 66, of Louisville, died on Monday, December 7, 2009.

She was a member of the Fern Creek Deaf Club, Louisville Association of Deaf and Senior Citizen Deaf Club.

She was preceded in death by her brother, Joe Pierce. She is survived by her husband, Gerald R. Smith; daughters, Debbie Yancey and Annette Smith; sister, Dorothy Looney (Jim); brothers, Bill (Cindi) Pierce and Buddy (Carol) Pierce; and grandchildren, Brittany, Brooke and Baylee Yancey.

Mildred’s service will be 10 a.m. on Saturday at the Hardy Valley Funeral Home & Cremation Service with burial in Bethany Memorial Cemetery. Visitation will be 2-8 p.m. on Friday at the funeral home.


Longtime KSD staffers in theatrical ‘time machine’

Longtime KSD staffers in theatrical ‘time machine’


December 7, 2009

Hollywood boasted a number of famous performing pairs, such as Ginger Rogers and Fred Astair, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, and Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn.

But the Kentucky School for the Deaf has a couple who, while not making headlines in Variety, have certainly been making names for themselves on the KSD campus and in the Danville community.

The pair are KSD staff members Roger McCowan and Barbie Harris, and they portray a 19th century KSD couple who were prominent not only at the school but also in the nation’s deaf community.

McCowan plays the role of famous KSD teacher, principal and superintendent John Adamson Jacobs, and Harris portrays his second wife, Susan F.W. Powell Jacobs.

McCowan is a native of eastern Kentucky who moved to Danville and enrolled in KSD in 1959 and graduated in 1972 and attended Gallaudet College, now university. He was involved in the mental health field and worked in Maryland for many years before returning to Kentucky to work at the Christian Appalachian Project in Lancaster.

He has been at KSD since 1998 and now is a student development assistant in the elementary school children’s dorm. He also has done volunteer work at Jacobs Hall, where he assisted with the facility’s renovation and conversion into a museum.

Harris is a Texas native who graduated from high school in Ohio in 1969 and attended Gallaudet where she was an art history major. She met and married fellow student Archie Harris, and Harris landed a job at the school for the deaf in Virginia where he taught math. She completed her college education at James Madison College, now university.

The Harrises began their careers at KSD in 1974. Archie Harris has retired as a printing and math teacher while his wife continues to teach art and work in the school’s homework tutoring program.

McCowan and Harris, who dress in period costumes when they perform, kicked off their careers as actors in 2007 when they participated in several skits during a year-long celebration of the 150th anniversary of Jacobs Hall. Other performances have included a play at Jacobs Hall during the Constitution Square Festival.

Their next gig is Saturday when they perform at the Christmas Tea and Tour from 10-5 p.m. Saturday at the Jacobs Hall Museum, 303 S. Second St., on the KSD campus.

The idea for bringing the Jacobses back to life came when the 150th anniversary of Jacobs Hall was being planned.

“When we were planning the 150th anniversary celebration, it popped in my head that maybe someone should portray Mr. Jacobs and someone should portray his (second) wife,” Harris said through American Sign Language interpreter Jerri Lafavers.

Harris was interested in performing the role of Jacobs’ wife.

“I acted in college and was an art major, and I did dance and drama,” she said.

McCowan had no “full acting experience” except for some performances in school plays when he was a youngster, but he was drawn to the role of Jacobs because of his intense interest in history, especially that of KSD.

Like any good actors who want to do an accurate a job portraying historic figures, Harris and McCowan both have done considerable research into the lives of their characters and into the history of KSD.

Traveling back in time

In fact, McCowan talks about Jacobs with the authority of a college history professor. And both he and Harris have conducted a lot of their research at Jacobs Hall, which now houses a museum with numerous books as well as artifacts.

McCowan said KSD’s history began in 1823 when it was founded as the first deaf school west of the Alleghenies. It wasn’t long before Jacobs made his historical mark on the school’s history.

“He was born in Virginia and then moved to Lexington and then on to Lancaster,” he said through Lafavers. “His parents had died when he was 13, and by the time he was 14, he was a teacher in the public schools.”

Jacobs enrolled at Centre College in the early 1820s at the age of 17. Centre’s trustees, who then governed KSD, chose Jacobs to study deaf education and sent him to the prestigious school for the deaf in Connecticut to learn sign language and socialize with deaf students, McCowan said.

Jacobs returned to Danville and KSD where he began his work as teacher and principal in 1825 and then was named the school’s fourth superintendent in 1835 and held that office until his death in 1869.

The period of the Civil War was particularly interesting to both McCowan and Harris. They noted, for instance, that a KSD teacher enlisted several of his students to go to the Perryville battlefield in 1862 to help bury the bodies of fallen Union and Confederate soldiers.

Some stories untrue

Their research also has revealed some popular stories as myths.

“Many people thought that at one time livestock was kept in the basement of Jacobs Hall, but I learned from my research that the animals actually were kept in a building behind Jacobs Hall that since has been taken down,” McCowan said.

All of the research they have done on Jacobs and his wife is on full display during their performances, Harris and McCowan said.

“We tell our audiences that they are entering a time machine and ask them to imagine what it was like as we go back in time,” McCowan said.

Their performances are interactive.

“We try to involve our audiences,” said Harris. “We don’t give them a history lesson. We ask them to join us in our travel back in time.”

For both Harris and McCowan, their historical trips are important journeys.

“We want to show our own students and faculty and the Danville community the importance of KSD history not only through our little skits but also through all the information that is available at the Jacobs Hall museum,” she said. “We especially want the students to appreciate the history of their school.”

McCowan said his involvement in the play has turned him into a student himself.

“To prepare for my role, I have done a lot of research, and I am still researching,” he said. “Learning never ends, and I want to learn as much as I can about John Adamson Jacobs and the other people who dedicated their lives to educating deaf people.”

Copyright: 2009

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