Outstanding Cast Rep Award

March 30, 2023

Cast/Crew Reps provide service to both their casts/crews and the alumni body as a whole. This award may be given in recognition of those who sacrifice long hours and resources to keep their casts/crews connected and informed all year round.

Kathy Kelly

Just what has Kathy Kelly (68-A), named a 2022 Outstanding Cast Rep done?  It goes far beyond representing the cast with which she traveled.

For the 65-70 era, Kelly does much more.  Jeanie Barker Powell (with credentials from C 66, 67, Force D 1968) notes that “every single day, diligently and without fail, year by year Kathy Kelly posts just what those from the 65-70 era need to reconnect, remember, and bask in our long-ago attachments. Daily she lists birthday celebrations gained from records long forgotten. Memorial information is included as our era members pass on. Each day Cast schedules from ’65-70 are included, quite impressive as records from those times are hard to come by. The latest news of the UWPIAA and UWP, with encouragement to be involved and attend reunions/ gatherings is regularly shown.”

Kelly explained that in 2010, in preparation for the upcoming UWP 50th reunion, she started searching for ‘missing alumni’ and encouraged all alumni to attend the Reunion.  When the “Journey Room” was announced she volunteered to search for information on the worldwide Local Sing Outs.  What her research showed is fascinating.  There were 700+ local Sing Outs between 1965-70 with thousands performing UWP music weekly.  I contacted as many as I could and was sent photos to use.

Following the 50th (Orlando 2015) Kelly continued to research.  She reached out across the barriers and with online and person-to-person research has rebuilt contact with fellow castmates that unraveled when returning home in the early years. For many, connections disappeared, friendships faded, and the sense of cast family was lost over the decades.  Many are now restored.

Kelly created linkage through Facebook and other social media the means to restore these relationships that had been lost. She searched the web found a articles and photos by UWP and related organizations, newspaper and magazine articles, photos, and venues where UWP has performed.  She put these in chronological order and added them to the daily Birthday post that were the lynchpin of the Facebook page she’d created in 2008.

Powell summarized Kelly’s contributions to the early UWP era and the related Sing Outs: “Kathy has taken-on this monumental, thankless task without being asked, but for the love of us.

Kathy Kelly is the heart and soul of our era and is an inspiration for all of us, going above and beyond.

Leanne Markle Hamilton

Lee Ann Markle Hamilton’s (77-D) nomination for the 2022 Reunion Cast Rep Award, received the overwhelming support from nearly fifty fellow cast members. Hamilton’s continuing impact on the cast was summarized by Susan Swain who said, “Lee Ann is our glue.  She has been our sole cast rep for 45 years. LeAnn is singularly responsible for maintaining the bonds between us. She reports on life events, encouraging us to support one another through good and bad times.”

Hamilton has been active in many aspects of Up with People and the International Alumni Association over the years.  A Tucson resident, she and her alumnus husband, Randy (79-B), have hosted 25 students over the years.  Hamilton was a founding member of the UWPIAA leading to its 1988 launch, subsequently served on the Board of Governors, and for years volunteered on the UWP Reunion Host Committee.

The late Greg Reynolds wrote of his castmate, “Lee Ann has done an outstanding job of keeping us together even in the years [prior to] email and social media.”  Expanding on this theme, Kathy (Stubbs) Ziola wrote, “Since way before the internet and email, she has kept us in touch, from cast newsletters via US mail to tracking down lost cast members, keeping our contact information up to date, creating a cast FB page, hosting zoom gatherings, and keeping us apprised of celebrations, birthdays, deaths, UWP events, requests for student support, and Alumni organization updates.  We would be lost without her!”

Hamilton serves as the Assistant Director of the University of Arizona’s Campus Health Services.  Her numerous community activities led to the 1997 James E. McLennan Everyday Hero Award.  “Lee Ann exemplifies Up with People’s mission of “Building Bridges of Communication Throughout the Globe” through her professional and personal life,” said Susanna Peretti Binazzi.  She continued, “Lee Ann created a program to lead groups of students on extended trips to Europe to meet with health care professionals there, giving them enriching educational opportunities along with valuable cultural exposure, as she regularly drew upon her host families and other Up With People contacts to provide them with the chance to meet and dine with locals in whatever place they visited.”

Former cast director James Cauthorn (multiple casts from 1975-78) said, “Of all the cast members over those years, none has been even remotely as consistent, active, and effective as Lee Ann in building and maintaining enduring, positive connections between cast and staff members.  Former cast director Jeffrey Kinder (73-B, 74-A, 75-C, 76-C, 77-D, 81-D) added a personal note.  “I want to thank Lee Ann for making the connections between the cast members, keeping the information flowing, and providing the personal boost and loving touch it takes to keep us all interested, involved, and caring for each other.”

Hamilton summed-up her year on the road and the forty-five years that have followed with this: “While most students who traveled with UWP look forward to having the “experience of a lifetime” (which it was), I know now that my year on the road actually provided a “lifetime of experiences” from which to grow and learn thanks to the connections and confidence that I gained in UWP.”

Marisa (Burgener) Connors

“Nobody has done more to keep the cast together,” said Brent Gorzynski.  He was speaking of castmate Marisa (Burgener) Connors (95-E) who is a recipient of a Reunion 2022 Outstanding Cast Rep Award.  Gorzynski is not the only one to sing praises of Connors.  Seventy-five fellow UWP 95-E travelers had their own thoughts to share: “Marisa does everything she can to get cast members involved, even though she gets never enough sleep,” added Mike Immer. But the comments are more than organizational; they are personal: “Her passion, reliability, and love for every single one of us and UWP/UWPIAA in general is overwhelming!” is the way that Nadja (Ernst) Gantz put it.

Why serve as a cast rep?  Connors explains, “I made so many friends who have remained close and will last a lifetime. There are people who I don’t see in person for years at a time but when I do see them, we are able to pick up as if no time has passed. This deep connection from our shared time together on the road is one of the reasons that I love my ‘job as Cast Rep.”

Beyond the accolades, several people outlined all that Connors does on a regular basis.  Shannon Neudecker observed, “She has kept our cast together via Facebook, email, Messenger, WhatsApp, and others.  She hosts monthly Zoom meetings at various times to suit people across ALL time zones, tracks down those we have not heard from for years, organizes in-depth online reunions for us all and is so inclusive of everyone and all the things life has given us over the years. She keeps us up to date with UWP news, cast member information and world events that might affect any one of us. She is the first to reach out to check on you if something is happening close to your home, even though she is across the other side of the world.”

For many, it is more than just updated address lists and regular communication.  “Leading up to what was to be our 25th reunion, Marisa went the extra mile by making a post for each cast mates’ birthday, including pictures and an update. This was also shared on WhatsApp and via email to keep everyone involved. She also made it possible for the whole cast to attend a castmates wedding virtually, as well as another cast members’ funeral. Marisa coordinated 50th birthday wishes [during the pandemic].” added Gantz.

Some of our experiences on the road or as alumni are funny, some uplifting, some are impactful.  In musing over her experiences from 1995, Conners recalled an experience that touched her.  “What moved me almost to tears was a lesson [I was leading] in Tucson, AZ.  I asked a class of third graders to raise their hands if they knew someone who had been hurt by gun violence and EVERY hand in that classroom went up. Realizing what these children lived on a day-to-day basis was a huge eye-opener for me.”

All that we lived and shared as alumni is the basis of our IAA relationships. The key is keeping us together.  It was all summed up by Maribel Aniceto.  “Marisa’s commitment to keep us united and well informed is truly inspiring.”


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