The Times photo by Betsy Reason
Noblesville Cultural Arts Commission president Joni Corbett (right) poses for a photo with former Noblesville Mayor Mary Sue Rowland, recipient of NCAC’s first Jane Campbell Award, honoring those who have been great supporters of Noblesville Shakespeare in the Park, this year in its 27th season.
The Times photo by Betsy Reason Noblesville Cultural Arts Commission president Joni Corbett (right) poses for a photo with former Noblesville Mayor Mary Sue Rowland, recipient of NCAC’s first Jane Campbell Award, honoring those who have been great supporters of Noblesville Shakespeare in the Park, this year in its 27th season.
Former mayor receives new cultural arts award
The tireless work of the late Jane Campbell -- on behalf of others in paving the way for events of the Noblesville Cultural Arts Commission -- has inspired a new award that was presented on Friday night to former Noblesville Mayor and Councilwoman Mary Sue Rowland.
“We’ve actually created an award that we plan to give out each year,” said historian David Heighway, NCAC’s secretary, as he presented the award just prior to NCAC’s 27th annual Noblesville Shakespeare in the Park.
The Jane Campbell Award is to honor those who have been great supporters of Shakespeare in the Park.
When the NCAC was formed in 1992, Campbell was appointed the Minister of Culture by the City.
“She had a lot of experience in the local arts community. In the 1950s and ‘60s, she was the leader of the Noblesville Shakespeare Club which actually started in the 1890s,” Heighway, 59, Noblesville, said.
Campbell, a 1936 Noblesville High School graduate, was known for her love of the cultural arts, being one of the founders of the Hamilton County Theatre Guild, best known as The Belfry Theatre, where she acted, directed and produced plays for more than 40 years and earned an Encore Association Lifetime Achievement Award for her significant contributions. (She was also a charter member of the Boys & Girls Club Auxiliary, past president and a Volunteer-of-the-Year award recipient.)
In a March 1993 meeting of NCAC, Campbell proposed a Shakespeare in the Park event and then guided it and was a part of it until she died in 2008. She was in the first Shakespeare production, in 1993, which was “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and she was in the first production of “Macbeth” in 1997, said Heighway, who was stage manager for this year’s Shakespeare production of “Macbeth” and who has been involved -- including acting roles in 21 of the productions -- since its beginning.
The year 2019 marks the 100th anniversary of Campbell’s birth (born March 16, 1919 in Noblesville). “So, we felt that this was the appropriate time to begin giving this (award) out,” Heighway said.
The brand-new Jane Campbell Award has even more special significance, said Heighway, who went on to explain.
“Shakespeare in the Park was first performed in Seminary Park and continued there for about 20 years ... Through those years, a large oak tree shaded the stage area until it died in 2014 and had to be removed. We saved some pieces of that tree, and we’ve actually been using them in the show.” In addition, this first Jane Campbell award was made from some of those pieces of wood. “So the wood has been a part of Shakespeare in the Park since the beginning,” he said, just prior to presenting the award to Rowland at Federal Hill Commons, where Shakespeare in the Park has been on the First Merchants Pavilion stage over the past two weekends.
“For the first year award, we want to recognize the person who actually created the Noblesville Cultural Arts Commission in 1992, the root of our Shakespearean tree,” Heighway said.
“When then Mayor Mary Sue Rowland proposed the position of Minister of Culture and a cultural board at a State of the City address in September of that year, she said, ‘It can pull together the talents and passions of people from all economic conditions without regard to age, gender or color. It can be as little as a string quartet in a gazebo on a Sunday afternoon in Seminary Park or as much as a Shakespeare in the Park.’ She said that she hoped the board would make citizens proud of their entire community and its quality of life. She supported the production ever since, and her name is in the list of sponsors that’s in the program today … We hoped that we lived up to her vision ...”
At that moment, Rowland came forward and accepted the award.
She gave her nod of approval to NCAC’s array of events, particularly Shakespeare.
“Tonight, fabulous, fabulous Shakespeare tonight,” Rowland said. “I wish Jane Campbell were here. She would be thrilled….”
Rowland commended the independent not-for-profit.
“People like (NCAA president) Joni (Corbett) and many others go out and find the money. There is not a tax dollar that goes into this. And I think that’s pretty amazing in this day and age, that for 27 years, this could happen in our town. And we thank Jane Campbell. I thank all of you. And let’s go for another 27.”
I caught up with Rowland after she stepped off the stage, where the Shakespeare in the Park production of “Macbeth,” was ready to begin its fifth of six performances.
Rowland, who was mayor from 1988-95, reminisced about the birth of the NCAC during her leadership.
“It was yesterday, yesterday. Time goes so fast, too fast,” said Rowland, getting a little choked up.
“Back in those days, we needed to do everything. Actually, (Noblesville attorney) Doug Church, it was his idea. And no matter who gave me an idea, I just did it, because I thought all of the ideas were wonderful,” she said.
At the time, Rowland’s next task was to find a leader for this new cultural arts group.
“I thought, ‘Who could run this?’ ‘Who could be in charge of this?’” she said.
“Jane Campbell was the person, and I called her, and she said, ‘Yes, I’ll do that.’ And it was so good. She took over for years. We struggled, and oh, my gosh, it was just a real struggle all of the time. Now it’s nicer, and it flows. To think all of the time has gone by, and that it’s stayed strong, and people have supported it.”
When Campbell started as Minister of Culture, she wanted to do Shakespeare. “Absolutely, that was her thing,” Rowland said. “And I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, is Noblesville ready for Shakespeare, 27 years ago?’ And you know, she never wavered. She knew it would work. And it did.”
Rowland remembers seeing families with little kids (who are now all grown up) coming to the park to see Shakespeare. “That was really cool to see the experience of people having opportunity right here in town. I just think of those days.”
She and Corbett recalled NCAC’s earlier projects, Art Fair on the Square, which has since been taken over by Hamilton County Artists’ Association; and Law Day, for which Noblesville fifth-graders were bussed to the Courthouse to watch a fairy-tale courtroom case. Campbell, who changed her title and served as NCAC’s first president, earned herself a Liberty Bell Award from the Indiana State Bar Association for her efforts to introduce Law Day. Her other accomplishments include starting the free annual Sunday night Summer Band Concerts in the Park in July and August.
The band concert series and Shakespeare in the Park production’s move in 2017 to Federal Hill Commons was a positive one for NCAC events, being able to use a much larger, multi-level stage and Noblesville Parks’ new stage lighting.
Rowland said, “In the beginning, I wondered if people would make the transition. But there are so many other activities here, it’s just a perfect fit.”
Today, Noblesville has the longest-running Shakespeare production in Central Indiana and the second longest-running in the state.
This year’s Shakespeare in the Park, July 25-27 and Aug.1-3, had record attendance with a total nearly 2,000 people watching from the lawn at Federal Hill.
Corbett said, “We’ve been very pleased.”
On Friday night, more than 400 people filled the lawn as they watched Rowland receive her award, then relax for a night of Shakespeare in the Park.

-Contact Betsy Reason at betsy@thetimes24-7.com.