Brian Dennehy | Sun-Times photo
BRIAN DENNEHY, actor:
“Has there ever been a more productive leader in the fiendishly difficult world of not-for-profit arts organizations? Has there ever been a more graceful organizer, fundraiser, hand-holder and massager of easily-bruised egos? Has there ever been a better dresser? Roche Schulfer, with his quiet smile, his self-effacing manner, his dogged determination, his great clothes, has presided over the mature development of one of the great arts institutions of this country.
He has a unique combination of intelligence, taste and discipline; and ability to eat endless meals of rubber chicken, and sometimes humble pie; to drink enormous amounts of bad wine, or pretend to; to become an expert air-kisser, or worse, hugger; to deal endlessly with architects and agents and city inspectors and union representatives and fire inspectors and police captains and vendors and aldermen and lawyers, and more lawyers, and, worst of all, writers, directors and actors, all of whom want compensation of one kind or another.
He has done an impossible job with grace, good humor and enormous success. He has had the most difficult job in helping to build this beautiful organization. No one else could have done it. No one. And he’s a good guy, and I like him.”
DEANNA DUNAGAN, actress:
“One of the great things about Roche, and something that makes him so valuable to the Goodman, is that he is genuinely interested in shows being done at other theaters around town. You often bump into him — not necessarily at openings — but during the run of a show. In other words, he’s there not to be seen, but to see for himself. So he is very aware of what is going on around the city — what’s interesting to audiences and what’s not, what’s already been done, and what is yet to be done or needs to be done.
“I’m not sure if he still does this, but for years on opening nights around the city there would always be a telegram on the call board from Roche, congratulating the theater and the cast on their opening and sending his wishes for a successful run. A nice gesture of the good will and collegial relationship among the Chicago theater community.
“Also: We are both huge baseball fans — just fans of teams on the opposite sides of the city. Roche is a SERIOUS White Sox fan. A die hard. Years ago I ran into him at a Sox game. Surprised to see me, he asked, ‘What are you doing here?’ and I answered jokingly, ‘Slumming.’ I don’t think he found it very funny. And he has mentioned it a number of times since.”
ORA JONES, actress:
“I can’t promise to know all of his official doings on the fourth floor. I know I wouldn’t want his job for anything.
“What I can do, is to say thanks for all the moments of generosity that only happen behind the scenes. A quiet word of appreciation, a small favor, sometimes a big save at the 11th hour. Kindnesses, large and small, that go unnoticed by the rest of the world, but mean a great deal to those who receive them. Things we can’t begin to repay, and always remember with gratitude.
“And speaking as a Notre Dame grad, it’s nice to have a brother Domer somewhere in the arts. He never let me out of a Saturday matinee to run over to South Bend for a game, but that’s another conversation ....”
PJ POWERS, artistic director, TimeLine Theatre:
“Roche has been an incredible mentor and friend. He epitomizes what it means to be a leader and gentleman in the ever turbulent field of not-for-profit arts management. When faced with big questions or challenges, some people turn to their pastor or rabbi or shrink, or perhaps their bartender, for counsel. I call Roche.
Countless times through the years I have reached out to him or plopped down on the couch in his office to ask for advice, insight or feedback. Always a tremendous listener, Roche continually provides thoughtful input with his inimitable wit, charm and encouraging spirit. He’s a true mentor and the ultimate champion of Chicago theatre, supporting companies of all sizes, and eager to herald the next great playwright, director, actor or upstart organization.
“I distinctly remember Roche coming to his first TimeLine show in 1999, just months after we took up residence on Wellington Avenue when we were still in our organizational infancy. Since then, he has been a regular and vocal supporter of our work, and I am continually grateful that he makes the time to see and support so much work happening all over town. Maybe I need to get a bracelet that says WWRD (What would Roche do?) because I find myself continually striving to emulate his classy leadership and generosity of spirit.
“Many years ago — when TimeLine was a much smaller and younger organization — I had the privilege of serving on the Board of the League of Chicago Theatres and sitting around a table regularly with esteemed leaders like Roche who had far more experience than I did. One day he called me and said, ‘They want me to be the new President of the Board, and I will do it only if you agree to be Vice President.’ Somewhat shocked, I happily agreed, and Roche took me under his wing and taught me more than he probably will ever know. That gesture he showed to me epitomizes what Roche is about. He knew the value of having a small, emerging company at the table with the big boys because that is what Chicago’s theater community is all about. He’s a class act through and through.”
MARY BETH FISHER, actress (and Mrs. Roche Schulfer):
“When we golf together (often), we play for money. He LOVES to win, but he’s ecstatic to see ME win. Nothing makes him happier than the success of others; that’s why I think he’s a fantastic producer.”
LES CONEY, life trustee and former chairman of the Goodman:
“Roche is a visionary leader who, at his core, cares about the people who work at the Goodman, doing everything he can to make the artists, staff and trustees a family. I applaud his commitment to diversity, on and off the stage; during my chairmanship, I was proud to take the incredible foundation that Roche had laid, and amplify it in some small way.”
VICKI V. HOOD, vice chairman of the Goodman and trustee since 1995:
“I know it is a bit of a cliche, but there are those very few special people who enter your life at some point who just make you a better person by bringing out the best in you, and Roche is one of those people for me. He has been, and continues to be, a real friend who speaks honestly and is clearly dedicated to the Goodman, but more importantly, to the people who make the Goodman.”
JOAN E. CLIFFORD, vice chairman and former Women’s Board President:
“Roche Schulfer has been an extraordinary leader and visionary for the Goodman Theatre. His business sense, as well as his love of the theatre, has nurtured the Goodman over the years and has contributed greatly to its award-winning regional status. Visiting Roche’s office, filled with baseballs, autographs and photos, one would think he was working for the Baseball Hall of Fame, but over the years I have come to realize that there is no question: The Goodman is really his top priority.”
— Hedy Weiss, Theater Critic