Relationship with Harvey and Betsy Powers lasted decades for former student actor
By Joe LoGrippo '60
Harvey Powers led the theatre department at Bucknell when I was an undergraduate. His wife, Betsy, was an instructor in biology labs.
A required course for sophomores in world literature had a Saturday morning lecture. Each professor did a lecture on his specialty. One Saturday morning, Harvey Powers did Oedipus Rex. Most of these lectures were boring, and I did not pay too much attention, but Harvey’s was an exception. He knew how to put over a speech. His voice was quite professional, and he knew his subject. I left the lecture that morning and thought, “This guy is very good.”
I never had a class with Harvey, but I became acquainted with him and Betsy when, at the urging of my fraternity brothers Lester Greenberg '61 and Marvin Kahan '61, I auditioned for the Cap and Dagger production of A Streetcar Named Desire. Harvey directed the show and cast it with the aid of a few students who were heavily involved in theater at Bucknell. I auditioned for the parts of Pablo and Stanley and received the not- too-coveted role of Another Man. Thus, I became a member of Cap and Dagger and lifelong friends with Harvey and Betsy. They lived at 20 S. Water St. in Lewisburg, and they never locked the front door. Cast parties were held at their house, and students were always welcomed. Betsy, especially, counseled the coeds in matters of academia and the heart. I was in seven productions at Bucknell, and my parts grew from Another Man to Whirling Joe Ferguson in The Male Animal. My relationship with Harvey and Betsy also grew. I didn’t have such a personal relationship with any other professor.
The relationship continued after my graduation, as I returned to campus every year and visited them. One of my visits was November 22, 1963. I got off the bus in Lewisburg that Friday afternoon and discovered President John Kennedy had been shot and killed. The Bucknell-Delaware football game that was scheduled for the next day was canceled. I spent most of Saturday visiting with Harvey and Betsy.
In early 1965 I decided to attempt a career in the theater. I returned to Bucknell in early June and attended the Cap and Dagger production of Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mama’s Hung You in the Closet and I’m Feelin’ So Sad. It was a very good production that was stolen by Edward Herrmann ’65, who played Jonathan. Herrmann went on to a very successful career. I informed Harvey and Betsy that the following week I was going to apprentice at the playhouse in Cape May, N.J. They encouraged me and said that I was good enough to succeed, but “theater is a tough business.” I certainly learned through the years just how tough the “business” was.
As the decades passed, I returned to Bucknell periodically to visit my two friends. They were always interested in the theater work I had done since my previous visit. I married Carol in 1969, and we both visited Bucknell. In 1977, Carol, our daughter Valerie and I moved to California. (Besides his stage work, Joe had small roles in The French Connection and The Godfather movies in the 1970s.) Our relationship with Harvey and Betsy continued through the mail. In 1983 I decided to give up on a theatrical career.
In 1983, Harvey was hit by a car and sustained a broken leg. Carol and I returned to Bucknell at Commencement in 1984 and attended the Cap and Dagger production of Hamlet that Harvey directed. We went over to 20 S. Water St. after the show and breakfast there on Sunday morning. I mentioned to Carol that Harvey had slowed up. We hadn’t seen him for seven years, but he was only 63 or 64. Occasionally, he seemed to be searching for the proper word. What I didn’t know was that although his leg had healed, he also had a head injury from the accident. Apparently the head injury set off a form of dementia. Within a couple of years Betsy placed him in a nursing home in the Lewisburg area. We returned one summer and visited with Harvey for about an hour. There were short intervals when the old Harvey resurfaced, but for the most part Harvey retreated to whatever land he was living in. It was a totally sad experience. This brilliant man had become someone else entirely. I never saw Harvey again.
After Harvey’s death in 1993, we remained friends with Betsy.
We returned to Bucknell every year and sometimes stayed with Betsy. We always brought a gift for Betsy, and one time I discovered a sweatshirt at the Country Cupboard in Lewisburg that stated GRANDMA in big letters, followed by smaller letters: babysitter, teacher, counselor and cook. Betsy had excelled at all of those roles. We gave her the sweatshirt, and she wore it the entire day.
In October 2007 Bucknell awarded Betsy the Association for the Arts Award for Artistic Achievement. Carol and I attended the ceremony. By then, Betsy was using a walker, but she announced that she and her daughter Dianne were booked for a trip to Egypt in March 2008.
Unfortunately, Betsy never made it to Egypt. In January 2008 she died unexpectedly. Carol and I made it to a lovely ceremony where Gary Sojka, former Bucknell president, gave a moving eulogy. He spoke for about 20 minutes without notes and said that Betsy’s life was a three-act play, and the final curtain had descended. Everyone in attendance was deeply moved by Mr. Sojka’s eloquence. Many tears were shed that afternoon.
We have returned to Bucknell less frequently in recent years since Harvey and Betsy are no longer there to greet us with their hospitality and warm friendship. I think of them often and miss them a great deal. It is not often that friendships last a lifetime.
After ending his career in theater, Joe LoGrippo ’60 worked for Avon Products as a standards coordinator for 18 years. He has been retired for the last decade and lives in Port Chester, N.Y., with his wife, Carol Gutenberg, an actress in theater productions.
Photo, top of page: Nancy Diamond and Joe LoGrippo '60 act in Amphitryon 38, a play by Jean Giraudoux, during winter 1960.
Herbert Wilcox ’50 tracked the remarkable paths of six Bucknellians from campus in the early ’50s to noteworthy careers to retiring within 300 yards of one another in the same Florida retirement community.
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