Moraine Chorus: Collateral damage from campus closure

It was bittersweet enough that last Sunday’s nostalgic performance by the Moraine Chorus at the Theatre on the Hill was the last foreseeable event there.

But it was doubly and triply sad that Peter Gibeau (pictured left), a beloved professor at the local UW campus, said it was his last day of employment and that it was also the last concert by the Moraine Chorus. As he retires, his leadership ends and so does the organization.

That ends 32 years of fine singing by the group. It was started by Peter Ayer, Gibeau’s predecessor as music professor and choral director at the former University of Wisconsin — Washington County. The two-year college was merged into the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee in 2018, and is shutting down as the spring semester ends.

Thirty-eight voices, some alumni of the ensemble, took the stage and sang 11 of their favorite compositions from yesteryear. Gibeau introduced each song with a flair for why they were popular with the chorus.

The audience at the nearly full theatre (296 seats) gave Gibeau and the singers a long farewell ovation.

Asked after the show if the chorus would find another location for performances, Gibeau said, “Nope.” Directing the chorus was part of his job description, and he is retiring from UW.

Some of the other professors and staff are retiring, and some are being terminated. A group of tenured professors are considering a lawsuit. They believe their contacts with UWM were breached.

If a Moraine Community College with both technical and baccalaureate tracks had been created through a merger with Moraine Park Technical College in West Bend, some of the experienced professors could have been hired. The professors at the West Bend campus were esteemed by local students.

Leaders of local performing arts groups that rented the UW theatre have been huddling to figure out ways to continue to use the facility or find other venues.

There is some confusion about who owns the campus buildings and grounds. It was once jointly owned by Washington County and the City of West Bend.

The ownership issue needs to be quickly resolved so community leaders can move ahead on alternative uses for the beautiful campus, surrounded by the beautiful Kettle Moraine forest.

Note that Jay Rothman, UW president, slammed the door simultaneously on the Fond du Lac campus, a satellite of University of Wisconsin – Oshkosh. I visited that equally beautiful campus, complete with a theater, arboretum and biking and hiking trails last weekend. It was also a ghost town.

To my knowledge, Rothman visited neither community before his uncreative solution to declining enrollments. A former merger and acquisition lawyer, maybe he gets his kicks from being a tough guy and down-sizing.

All in all, his shut-down agenda and process has been very disrespectful to many Wisconsin citizens, leaders and taxpayers, in my maybe my not-so-humble opinion.

No formal planning has been launched on the future of the West Bend 87-acre campus.

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