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Lansing theater pillar Bill Helder passes


Bill and Leonore Helder during Riverwalk Theatre's production of the children's musical "A Christmas Carol."

FRIDAY, AUG. 31 — William J. “Bill” Helder, a pillar of the Lansing community, died Wednesday morning at age 85.

Among his many titles, Helder was a teacher and administer with the Lansing School District and a past president of Riverwalk Theatre’s board of directors.

He also helped found the Okemos Barn Theatre, Riverwalk Theatre, Riverwalk’s Blackbox Theatre and is credited with heading the capital campaign that allowed Riverwalk to purchase their building.

Jeff Magnuson, current president of Riverwalk Theatre’s board of directors, said Helder’s impact was extensive.

“He’s one of a very few number of people in my 30 years of community theater in the area that had such a broad impact on so many people,” says Magnuson. “There are few people who do all the different things that he did, and who encourage so much participation from so many people. We all looked to him, not just as a mentor, but as a leader who is always there. And now he’s not.”

Magnuson first met Helder when Magnuson attended Everett High School.

“Bill was still at Everett High School as an administrator, and he added me to student council for the district,” Magnuson said. “He was nothing if not encouraging to my spirit and my creativity and all the dreams I had at the time. He never stopped throughout the 30 years that I knew him.”

Helder was known to many in Lansing as an actor, director, playwright, grant writer and friend. The auditorium of the Hill Center for Academics & Technology was named after him for his contributions to the arts in Lansing schools, and the lobby of Riverwalk Theatre is dedicated to him and three others for their outstanding contributions to the theater’s construction.

Magnuson said another important part of Helder’s legacy is connecting children with theater.

“I can’t say enough about how he put value in children’s theater as a part of Riverwalk,” Magnuson said. “I believe it goes back to his experience as a teacher, recognizing that in order for theater to thrive … you have to have a connection with children.”

“I don’t know that his sense of humor is the first thing that people think of. And yet there was a childish quality about Bill — he appreciated the spirit of young people. There was a kid in there somewhere all the time that was encouraging other children to find the imagination, the wonder and the amazing gift that can be found in theater.”

A celebration of Helder’s accomplishments will be in the Sept. 12 issue of City Pulse.


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