‘Applause and ovations’ for late set designer

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Karl "Rusty" Hueglin III speaks at the Karl Hueglin, Jr. Black Box Theater in Manhasset Secondary School, named for his father. (Photo by Rose Weldon)

Manhasset Secondary School honored a longtime volunteer set designer and treasured member of the community by placing his name on a black box theater he helped create in a ceremony Tuesday night.

Karl F. Hueglin Jr., who died in 2017 at 88, was a professional art director and designer and used his skills to design sets for over 60 school plays and Senior Frolics for the Manhasset drama program over 40 years, long after his own children had graduated. Outside of the schools, he served in the Plandome Fire Department and on Plandome’s Board of Trustees.

Friends, colleagues and students took turns to speak of Hueglin’s dedication to craft, welcoming personality and passion for theater arts.

John Shorter, a former theater teacher at Manhasset, sported Hueglin’s International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees union baseball cap, and showed the audience pictures of sets Hueglin designed, including a two-floor mansion facade for a Civil War-set production of “Much Ado About Nothing” and a stripped-down Volkswagen Beetle for a 60s-set version of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”¬†Shorter also recalled working with Hueglin on the design of the black box theater.

“We worked on it together, and twisted the arms of the architects to get them to see what Karl wanted, and created it,” Shorter said. “It was always, ‘we’ll figure out how to do this.'”

The effort to dedicate the theater first came from Dr. Lisa Rutkovsky, whose three children had gone through the Manhasset theater program and who had worked with Hueglin as a parent volunteer. Rutkovsky led a letter-writing campaign to the school board in 2018, one year after Hueglin’s death, and received the board’s approval.

“He was one of the best mentors that the kids ever had,” Rutkovsky said. “He was the best teacher ever and didn’t even have a teaching degree.”

Dana Klainberg, a parent of a Manhasset graduate, recalled an incident when she volunteered to purchase vines for Hueglin, who then set her to work on the set for a production of “Oklahoma!”

“There were so many more students who were given a place to be who they were, to be given a place at Manhasset High School, where it can be hard to fit in if you’re not an athlete,” Klainberg said. “Karl gave so much to so many people.”

Current Manhasset theater teacher Robb Fessler, who had worked with Hueglin for 12 years, said that he had had “no finer teacher.”

“At the end of my first year at Manhasset, I thought, ‘How have I ever worked without Karl?'” Fessler said. “I’d never had it so good.”

Hueglin’s wife, Marjorie Baehr Hueglin, an active member of the local Democratic Party and a former candidate for town supervisor in North Hempstead, died on Feb. 6. The family was represented at the podium by his son Karl “Rusty” Hueglin III, who thanked the board, Rutkovsky and all who made the dedication possible.

“[Karl] was really great at having the kids take ownership of their work and take pride in it and feel like they’ve accomplished something,” Rusty Hueglin said. “I’ve always thought that my father was a wonderful teacher, and there really is not higher calling than being a teacher and a teacher who teaches with passion.”

Ryan Ross, a 2013 Manhasset graduate and Munsey Park resident, currently works as a prop artisan and stage manager for shows in Manhattan and credits Hueglin with sparking her interest in technical theater.

“Wherever you are, thank you Karl,” Ross said in her remarks. “You deserve this black box theater in your name. May you forever live in the applause and ovations gathered in the productions here.”

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