Theater took center stage in Sue Decker's life at a young age.
Sue, who lives on Lake Wissota, recalled writing scripts and rounding up neighborhood children to act in her plays when she was 8 or 9 years old. She charged the audience five cents admission.
She has spent her entire life involved in theater, mainly as a director. However, at age 72, she's not certain how much longer she can continue in the role.
Even when Sue no longer basks in the spotlight, however, she will help put on shows in Chippewa Falls through the Sue Decker Theatre Endowment Fund.
As a longtime director of school plays, "I know I've made a difference in kids' lives because the students and their parents tell me," said Sue, whose former students also might recognize her as Sue Toske, Spencer or Eberhardt.
A third of her fund will be used for scholarships for McDonell Central Catholic High School students who've participated in school musicals.
"For the last three years I've been giving scholarships to students at McDonell just because I believe in education, whether they're majoring in theater or not," Sue said. Some of her former students are involved in theater professionally, including Michelle Lang, who has written scripts and acted in movies, and Jason Behnke, who produces film.
Another third will go to Chippewa Falls Senior High School's Thespian Drama Club, which she formerly advised, for theater trips, student projects and scholarships. A drama club has existed continuously at least 75 years at the school.
The final third will benefit the Heyde Center for the Arts in Chippewa Falls, designated for local theater productions.
She noted she probably could write a book about all the shows she has directed. She even rewrote Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" for one production. Her husband, Gene Decker, played Scrooge.
Sue grew up in Madison, where she acted in a summer community theater as well as high school productions. One of her two sons told her his daughter, a first-grader, wants to act in a show like her grandmother so he signed her up for a summer theater class.
Sue attended the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, where she majored in English and minored in theater. After graduating from UW-Eau Claire, she taught English, speech, and theater at Chippewa Falls public schools for 32 years. "I retired in 2000, but then I couldn't give up theater. However, I really loved giving up correcting papers," Sue said.
That same year the Heyde Center offered Sue the opportunity to direct its production of "Barefoot in the Park." She also started directing musicals for McDonell after she retired.
Being in theater gives kids skills that can't be measured by standardized tests, Sue said. Susan Zwickel of Chippewa Falls said acting in Sue's musicals had a huge impact on her children, especially her son Samuel, who graduated this year from McDonell. "He's going to Harvard next year. He's a real bright kid. I gave him the option of going to a private school in the Twin Cities, but he said, 'Then I couldn't be in Sue Decker's plays,' " Sue said.
"Mrs. Decker is really committed to excellence in all aspects of the productions she puts on. She dedicates an incredible amount of time and effort not only to shows but to the personal success of students involved in them," Samuel Zwickel said. Sue will direct shows at the Heyde Center this October and McDonell next February.
Grants support scholarships for McDonell Central Catholic High School students who've participated in school musicals, Chippewa Falls Senior High School's Thespian Drama Club, and the Heyde Center for the Arts in Chippewa Falls, designated for local theater productions.