By Sue Moore
Two well-known nonprofit organizations in Vicksburg have joined to share one full-time director after months of planning and interviewing for this position. Brian Berheide joined the Vicksburg Cultural Arts Center (VCAC) and the Vicksburg Historical Society in March.
He has been meeting with each board of directors and getting out in the community to introduce himself with the help of Syd Bastos and Don Weirtella, board presidents of the two organizations.
He comes to Vicksburg after a year in Kalamazoo volunteering at the Civic Theatre and various schools. He and his family moved here in 2017 from Chicago. He spent six years as a teacher of drama in the elementary school system in Chicago while his wife was attending law school and their children were born. They moved to Kalamazoo for her job at Stryker.
Berheide’s principal at Portage Park Elementary school on Chicago’s west side gave him the highest possible recommendation; that caught the interviewers’ attention, Bastos said. “Time and again, Brian shows that he is an exceptional communicator and gifted teacher,” the principal wrote. “He is a highly dedicated professional who knows how to motivate his students to strive for excellence. He is a humble and approachable person who loves to share his love of theater with others, especially his students.”
“The passion for the arts and history is great here in Vicksburg,” Berheide said. “As an outsider, I see the potential for both and I’m not the only person who sees this. The Mill project is mind-blowing. It will transform the community in a positive way. People will be drawn to it and want to come here. The potential is incredible. In the meantime, I expect to be the liaison between the boards of both organizations and the volunteers. I’ll focus on everyone’s capacity and then try to scale up to keep both groups [in the thick of things].”
The volunteer boards of VCAC and the Historical Society knew they needed a talented person to guide both through expansion, Bastos pointed out. They worked together to refine the needs of each organization and set parameters for the job descriptions. It turns out they fit Berheide to a tee, she said. Neither group could afford to pay a professional but together we could make this happen, Weirtella said. “Our goals for both groups are to increase membership, offer exceptional programming and events that the community will take part in. The skill set that Brian brings to the table is extraordinary for our two organizations.”
Berheide grew up in the small town of Berea, Kentucky where his father was a professor of political science and natural science at Berea College. He graduated from Findlay College in Ohio while playing club hockey and majoring in drama after he had a taste of performing in a college play. He loved the theater and spent his first few years out of college as a ‘transient troubadour’ on the regional theater scene. In 2005-2006, he moved to Chicago to test the waters in theater there and became a starving artist working the restaurant scene as a waiter. Needing a real job, he went back to school to get his master’s degree and teaching certificate. This led him to teach fine arts in two different Chicago elementary schools. As the drama teacher, he was able to build a program from the bottom up. He staged plays, built sets, coached acting for young children and became immersed in helping his students.
He will divide his time as needed with offices in the Depot Museum and the new Cultural Arts Center’s gallery at 105 S. Main Street in Vicksburg. He may be reached at 269-649-1733 or 269-200-2223.