Of the Keizertimes

McNary High School lost a faithful ally last week with the passing of Dan Hays.

Hays, 67, succumbed to failing health Sunday, Feb. 19, but his impact on a generation of McNary High School students was indelible.

Hays worked with Celtic drama students for more than 14 years, he was known as the theater department’s dramaturge, providing research and printed materials for the department, and directed the school’s Shakespearean efforts for a number of years.

“He directed, he provided a historical and a literary context for every McNary production, he wrote press releases. He would come in and spend the day with kids in class. He was essentially a second instructor with a huge amount of experience,” said Linda Baker, the former director of the McNary theater program.

Hays grew up in Medford and attended Southern Oregon University where he became a protege of Angus Bowmer, the founder of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Baker said he was offered a position that would have led to him directing at the festival but turned it down to pursue acting.

“He traveled and acted spending time in Scotland. He went on to earn two master’s degrees from the University of Oregon and finally landed in Salem,” Baker said.

In addition to reviewing books for the local daily newspaper, Hays became deeply entrenched in the local theater community.

“Dan would say life is art and theater is life. He loved the community of theater and the potential for theater to deliver a message,” Baker said.

Baker enlisted him early along with McNary technical director Terry Rohse to help produce William Shakespeare’s works at McNary.

“We had adults from Rohse’s Windrider Productions would come in and play the adult roles and McNary students would play the younger roles. Dan just stayed and he was wonderful,” Baker said.

Baker described Hays as “a man of towering intellect with a deep love of language.” Work in the theater department morphed into a role as a mentor for students struggling or looking to excel at the written word.

“There were few 20th Century authors Dan didn’t have a direct connection with. The kids would write papers for class and he would review them and occasionally he would put them in direct contact with the authors themselves,” Baker said.

In recent years, he volunteered as a reader for McNary’s English department. Hays would read through submitted work and offer guidance for clarifying thoughts or structure.

There were times when he and Baker disputed the stage directions or other aspects of McNary performances, but even those often led to moments of tremendous levity.

“The was one time when we were going at it hammer and tongs during rehearsals and we’d be hollering at each other and the kids were rolling their eyes. Finally, I just looked back at him one day and told him ‘Dan, we have to stop arguing in front of the children,’” Baker said.

At times his quiet and commanding presence felt like a barrier between him and students, but as soon as they discovered his large heart, Hays formed strong bonds.

“He was a shy man and it made him nervous. The kids were just all energy and physical and he’s all intellect, but they met at the heart,” Baker said.

In an outpouring of comments to Baker’s Facebook announcement of Hays’s passing, former student Anthony Hudson offered the following: “Today’s been Dan Day in my house. I think a candle and some Shakespeare is going to have to happen before bed.”

An open house to celebrate Hays’s life will be held Saturday, March 3 from 4-7 p.m. For more details, check Dan Hays’s Facebook page.