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He knows his roles and how to be happy

By Staff | Apr 2, 2010

Joe Yates

When Marie Orlando Yates died in February, the news reported that she went “quietly and peacefully surrounded by her family.” It should have added full of love and contentment and gratitude for her long life of blessings. Marie left behind fifteen children, thirty four grandchildren and twenty five great-grandchildren.

Marie and Dr. Richard Yates moved to Olney, Maryland in 1951, eight years after they were married. Their large family was well on its way by the time they arrived. Olney was a little farming town in 1951 with lots of room to grow. And that’s just what the young family did. There was Timothy, Robert, Gregory, Jerry, Bernie, Cathy, Chris, Francis, Cecilia, Mary, Theresa, Matthew, Edmund, Monica and Joseph Bartholomew.

Joe Yates was number fifteen and if the other fourteen were anything like their little brother, Marie and Richard raised a whole crew of smart, talented, funny kids. “Yes, I’m the youngest of 15.” he said. “We’re all quite diverse but, I know that no matter what, there is a group of people out there who I can count on for anything, any time. I am quite fortunate.”

Richard Yates was “Doctor to the Nuns” of St. Peters Church in Olney for many years, and the Yates’ children all went to St. Peter’s School. The doctor never charged the church a cent for his services and the school reciprocated with free tuition for fifteen.

The Olney Theater is one of those community theaters that attracts great talent from all over and so it was in the 70s. Joe Yates started parking cars and working the concession stand at Olney when he was ten. They played fast and loose with working papers out in the country in those days. The young man took to the smell of the grease paint and the roar of the crowd like a duck to water. He met all the actors and his enthusiasm for the craft was captivating even to the serious Broadway talent. Sydney Walker, Richard Bawr, Halo Wines, Pauline Flanagan all played Olney and Joe spent hours, days, watching them rehearse and being bitten by the acting bug, a condition that still persists.

After a year at Sherwood High School Joe decided he wanted to go to the highly competitive Gonzaga College High School in Washington, DC. “I actually talked my way in.” He laughs like it’s easy to do that. Gonzaga had an excellent theatre program. So every morning young Joe left Olney on the 5:30 a.m. bus for the city only to return the same way in the evening. Before he graduated he had distinguished himself in the Gonzaga productions of “Good News,” “Half a Six Pence,” and “West Side Story,” where he took the leading roll of Tony.

Joe Graduated in ’84 and by this time his father had bought a home in Shepherdstown and set up a practice here. Joe entered Shepherd University as a Theatre and History major and while playing Ali Hakim in “Oklahoma” he met a young nursing major, Beth Wanger, (of the Shepherdstown Wangers.) “I played one of the town’s folk.” Beth said with omnipresent humor. “I am NOT an actor.” When Joe met Beth it wasn’t almost like being in love, it was the real thing.

That year Beth graduated with a degree in nursing, Joe graduated the following year with a Regents Bachelor of Arts. One week later they were married. Joe went to work for Jefferson Security Bank and Beth for Washington County Hospital in Hagerstown.

Life was good but the call of the wild was strong, so the young couple decided to pick up and move to New York City. Joe was now a founding member of the Mint Theater Company and Sleeping Dog Productions. He was also working for Chase Manhattan Bank. Beth went for the less glamorous, but no less dramatic, jobs including Intensive Care Surgery nurse at New York Hospital. It was an unforgettable time.

In 1997 Joe and Beth returned to Shepherdstown and into a 200 year-old home right in the heart of town. Joe dove back into regional theater and he also became a commuter. Joseph J. Blake & Associates, Inc. is a national commercial real estate consulting firm with a mid-Atlantic office in Georgetown. Joe has been an appraiser with JJB&A for more than twelve years. Fortunately, due the wonders of modern technology, today he telecommutes from home and that fun trip down 270 at rush hour is a lot less frequent.

The Yates have four children of whom their Dad said “My children are my life. I enjoy every moment I have with them and could not be more proud of who they are.”

Samantha, 15 and a freshman at Jefferson HS, is in the marching band, the symphonic band where she plays clarinet like a pro. Of course she does, her teacher is brilliant clarinetist Kevin Dolan (SU’10).

Sydney, 13, seventh grade at Shepherdstown Middle, is an accomplished flautist. She sits first chair in the orchestra which is no surprise because her teacher is the incomparable Anne Munro.

Then there’s 11 year old Richard Yates, fifth grade at Shepherdstown Elementary, who spends his time on the soccer field, basketball court, studying marshal arts and at the Shepherdstown School of Dance.

And, Alexander, 9, third grade, marshal arts, soccer, basketballAnd every one of them plays piano and gets good grades. Beth has been a stay-at-home mom from the very beginning. “That was always our plan.”

Joe’s theatrical background dates back thirty years. His recent directing and acting credits include work with Shepherd University, Harpers Ferry Historical Foundation: “John Brown’s Body,” “The Tender Land,” “Guys and Dolls,” ” The Mikado,” Orfeo ed Euridice,” “The Secret Garden,” and “The Pirates of Penzance,” Macbeth,” “McReel,” “Steamers,” “Bug,” and his personal favorite, “Flaming Guns of the Purple Sage.” His performance as John Brown in the “Anvil” at the Jefferson County Court House is practically legendary. These were at times, simultaneous, productions. Right now Joe is working on three Harper’s Ferry Historical Foundation projects coming up this year and exploring a production of Richard III. “

He jokes about his day job keeping him from having too much time on his hands but there’s his volunteer work in the schools, leading the drama club at Shepherdstown Middle, soccer coach with Jeff County Youth Soccer League, basketball coach with Upward Basketball and an active member of St. Agnes Catholic Church that keep that from happening.

Everything Joe does, he does with relish and passion and good humor because “being angry is a waste of time. And I am passionate,” he said, “passionate about my family, my church, volunteer work, being a coach, teaching kids, and the arts.

I love all kinds of music and I’ve been in theatre since I was in school. It’s never been about the applause. Theatre to me is about being able to crawl inside the character and become another person. I had a great teacher named Joyce Aaron. She was a former stage actor. She used to say that acting has to be based in truth. If it’s not based in truth, it’s crap. If you don’t believe it, it doesn’t work for you or the audience. Joyce was a huge influence in my life.”

People ask me all the time “Who’s in the column this week? ” When I said Joe Yates there was an array of responses. First, everyone either knows and likes Joe or knows of him, so I heard “Oh sure, he’s the actorhe’s a great guyhe’s the directorhe’s my son’s coach and I love working with him. Then someone said “He’s such Red Skins fanatic. Did he tell you about the time he broke his arm pounding it on the floor once after the critical Skins’ fumble?” Actually, no he didn’t mention that. But he was wearing a Maryland jersey the day of our interview, (March 4) relishing a fresh Maryland win over Duke. So let’s add sports nut to the list.

When Sydney Yates came through the door from school we were talking about their recent trip to Disney World. It was Sydney’s 13th birthday and interview or not, Dad’s attention immediately turned to the beautiful Birthday Girl, her day and her homework. Beth was running out the door to pick up the boys, Samantha was expected shortly and the family was going to party. Joe summed up his life with “I’m happy someone as fortunate as I know I am should always be happy.”