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$250,000 gift sets stage for theatre department’s success

Florence Dunning Sikes (BA theatre ’55, MA theatre ’60) dedicated her life to helping others achieve success in theater and performance.

Sikes — who passed away in July 2009 — was so passionate about her vocation that she donated a portion of her estate to DU’s theater department to support the hopes and dreams of aspiring performers.

Sikes’ gift amounted to almost $250,000. Each dollar will be matched by a DU fund that supports the performing arts.

“We are humbled and encouraged by this support,” says Anne McCall, DU’s dean of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. “It is a great example of philanthropy for us all.”

The department plans to use the money for experiential programs to support students’ professional growth. Programs receiving funds could include senior theater projects, mentoring sessions and workshops with professional actors, producers, directors, choreographers, playwrights, designers and casting agents.

“What was near and dear to Florence’s heart was the ability to affect students by providing experiences,” says theater department chair Rick Barbour. “We will weave her into our story. People will get to know the name ‘Florence Sikes,’ and there will be a constant awareness of her permanent generosity.”

Sikes was born in 1933 to members of a traveling theater troupe in the Midwest. But during the Depression, Sikes’ parents were forced to leave the show. As a young girl, Sikes and her father — who joined the Army Corps of Engineers in World War II — performed comedy acts to entertain troops preparing to fight overseas.

Sikes’ passion for drama carried over into high school and college. While studying at DU, Sikes discovered her talent for technical theater and worked on plays including Three Men on a Horse and Bernadine.

After graduating, Sikes taught speech, English and theater at Denver’s West High School then at schools in Texas, Florida and California.

“She was very strict but was beloved by the kids she had in the theater,” says Patsy Campbell, Sikes’ sister. “They just loved the fact that she was such a great director.”

In 1977, Sikes became a speech coach for TV news anchors.

“I think she considered her true memorial to be the people who had benefited from her teaching and direction,” Campbell says. “She really wanted to be remembered as somebody who was dedicated to excellence in the theater and presentation of news.”

Editor’s note: An earlier version of the story listed an incorrect high school. Ms. Sikes taught at Denver West High School.

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