Wilda M. Donegan and Robert E. Woide, Catalysts for Arts Education,
19272007 (Woide)


Even as many urban school systems, strapped for cash in an era of eroding tax bases, continue to treat music and the visual arts as dispensable frills, studies continue to reconfirm the belief that the arts play a very important role in the development of young minds. The fact that certain opportunities are still provided not only to students in the Cleveland Municipal School District, but to Cleveland-area schoolchildren, is due in no small part to the dynamic leadership of two individuals in the 1970s and ‘80s, when the district was struggling with court-ordered desegregation and the fiscal fallout of municipal default.

The hard work and shared vision of Wilda Morey Donegan and Robert E. Woide (pronounced WOY-dee) are still in evidence each time busloads of schoolchildren (at one time as many as 25,000 annually) troop up the steps of Severance Hall to take their seats for an educational concert performed by one of the world’s greatest orchestras, and when the drawings done afterwards of what they heard and saw are displayed and praised. Who can measure the appreciation for excellence kindled in many of these children, or the precious insights conveyed in a language that transcends words in Bach’s D Minor Toccata and Fugue or John Adams’s Short Ride in a Fast Machine?

Building bridges between Cleveland’s classrooms and its tremendous cultural resources were only a part of Woide’s and Donegan’s legacy. For almost two decades, as director and supervisor, respectively, of the music and fine arts programs of the Cleveland public schools, they worked hand in glove with each other to connect teachers with the resources and supplies they needed, while guiding and supporting the arts education of the district's enrollment of more than 70,000 students . In the early years, Donegan recalls, that meant keeping in close communication with fine art and music teachers working in more than 100 elementary, junior and senior high schools.

The contributions of these two extraordinary individuals to arts education had, however, begun more than 15 years earlier. A graduate of West Technical High School, the Cleveland Institute of Art and Kent State University, where he earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in visual art education and arts supervision, Robert Woide pursued additional postgraduate studies at four other universities here and in England before being hired as assistant director of the Canton Art Institute in 1951. The following year, he was hired away by the Cleveland Museum of Art, in whose education department he would serve for the next 16 years (1952-68) as instructor, supervisor and lecturer. The Cleveland public schools also wanted to take advantage of his talents, and over the next 33 years Bob Woide would hold positions in the district ranging from art teacher to head of (visual) art education to director of fine arts education.

In 1985, he was persuaded to accept tandem appointments as professor of art education at Case Western Reserve University and vice president of University Circle, Incorporated, where he would spend the next 12 years developing opportunities for community education.

Belying the old saying that “Those who can’t do, teach,” Woide was also a talented professional artist listed in Who’s Who in American Art, with more than 100 exhibits of his own paintings and watercolors and 30 exhibits of photography to his credit; he even ventured into computer-generated art. One of the reasons Bob Woide was the "perfect mentor to student teachers was [that] he had done it all,” said longtime colleague Tim Shuckerow, director of art education at Case Western Reserve University (CWRU), whom Woide had spotted in high school and nurtured.

Woide himself had been a childhood tap dancer and vaudeville entertainer who performed in USO shows while with the Army Air Corps during World War II and contributed cartoons to Stars and Stripes (including a panel titled “Last Woid by Woide”). In the early years of Cleveland television, he gave art lessons on TV, to anybody who wanted them. But one of his greatest contributions, says Shuckerow, was coordinating the development of the Cleveland public school's pioneering standards for art and music education, which, in the absence of state guidelines, became the model.

Like Woide, Wilda Donegan came to her work in art education as a talented practitioner. A graduate of Baldwin-Wallace College Conservatory of Music, where she studied violin with George Poinar, she has performed with the Baldwin-Wallace Bach Festival Orchestra, the Youngstown Symphony, the Opera Orchestra at Plymouth Rock School of Music and Drama in Duxbury, Massachusetts, the Parma Symphony and the Cleveland Philharmonic. She is the co-author, with Francis Grant, of Forty-Eight Folk Songs for Strings, a popular compilation of arrangements for violin, viola, cello, string bass and piano used throughout the United States and abroad.

Following her graduation from Baldwin Wallace in 1951, she accepted a position with the Cleveland public schools teaching music at the elementary school level. In 1960, she was named assistant supervisor of elementary instrumental music for the entire system, and in 1967, supervisor of the newly merged departments of music and the fine arts. Besides organizing citywide music groups and festivals in which children could be involved and coordinating attendance of record numbers of schoolchildren at the Cleveland Orchestra’s educational concerts, as well as on- and off-site educational presentations by other Cleveland cultural institutions, it was Donegan who established (and conducted) Cleveland’s All-City Elementary Orchestra.

After her retirement in 1985, she remained active in the cultural life of the city, chairing the student competitions of the Michelson-Morley Centennial Celebration at CWRU, which brought together chemistry, physics, the visual arts, organ, violin, poetry and dance; serving on the professional advisory council of the Cleveland Music School Settlement and, for more than 20 years, as educational consultant to the Martha Holden Jennings Foundation.

Her many awards and honors include the Baldwin-Wallace Conservatory of Music’s first-ever Alumni Achievement Award (1973); the Mu Phi Epsilon International Fraternity Award for Music Therapy Activities (1977); and a special award in 1982 from the Cleveland Board of Education for a music program presented at East Technical High School. The ceremony was attended by 1,500 community leaders, many of them no doubt the beneficiaries of the superb work Wilda Donegan and Robert E. Woide had done for the children of Cleveland.

—Dennis J. Dooley

Cleveland Arts Prize
P.O. Box 21126 • Cleveland, OH 44121 • 440-523-9889 • info@clevelandartsprize.org