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RHS alumna’s influence touches Hollywood

By Staff | Dec 27, 2019

Morgan Abramson/ Klamath County School District Jayne Stuntebeck (left) is greeted by 1958 Henley High School graduate, director and screenwriter Larry Ferguson.

A popular bumper sticker carries the message, “If you can read this, thank a teacher.” Many people do.

In fact, some people thank teachers for more than their ability to read, write or do math problems.

Famous doctors, scientists and others who changed the world have given credit to teachers who influenced their work or inspired them to push past boundaries.

Hollywood screenwriter Larry Ferguson credits his own teachers, who include Rugby native Jayne Lee Stuntebeck, for his successful career writing for such productions as The Hunt for Red October, Presidio and Alien 3.

Stuntebeck recently told the Tribune she’s kept in touch with her former student over several decades since he graduated from Henley High School in Klamath Falls, Ore. in 1958.

Jayne (Lee) Stuntebeck's senior photo as it appeared in the 1952 Rugby High School yearbook.  Stuntebeck said her experiences at Rugby High influenced her teaching style. 

Stuntebeck said Ferguson visited his alma mater in September and reconnected with her and his other former teachers.

“It was kind of fun seeing him again,” Stuntebeck said.

Ferguson reflected on his time as a Henley High student in a press release from Klamath County School District published in the Klamath Falls Herald and News.

“I was a little different,” the publication quoted Ferguson as saying. “Most of the time that got me in trouble because you’re supposed to learn a certain way, you’re supposed to do things a certain way.”

Ferguson said in the article Stuntebeck and fellow teacher Barbara Dehlinger “didn’t beat me into submission until I could regurgitate something they decided was wisdom. They basically created a world where I discovered wisdom for myself.”

Stuntebeck said her experience growing up in Rugby and attending Rugby High School influenced her work as a teacher.

“I think so, absolutely. I just feel like my classmates and I grew up in the best of times, in the fifties. The war was over; things were moving up; the atmosphere was positive and we had good role models and good parents. I believe in small town living, I really do. There are so many advantages in a smaller town.”

Small town high school students have an advantage over students in larger high schools, Stuntebeck said.

“They get to be in a music program; they get to be in the sports program; they get to be secretary or treasurer of their club; there’s so many more opportunities. If there are 3,000 kids, what chance do you have for leadership?”

The high school where Stuntebeck taught “was about the size of Rugby High School, so you knew everybody. It wasn’t a huge school with thousands of kids.”

“A lot of the students were country kids and they were very accepting of each other very much so,” Stuntebeck said.

Stuntebeck said she enjoyed her time growing up and attending Rugby High.

“I graduated in 1952,” Stuntebeck said with a laugh. “I’m old!”

Stuntebeck said after she graduated from Rugby High, “I went to North Dakota State, and got a degree in teaching, and I wanted to live in a state where there are mountains, so I came and got a teaching job at Henley High in Klamath Falls, Oregon, and stayed.”

“Teaching jobs were easy to get in those days,” Stuntebeck noted. “I love the area and I love teaching.”

Stuntebeck said she found it easy to establish a bond with Ferguson when she taught him in her class as a young English teacher.

“We just had something in common,” Stuntebeck said. “We both loved words; we both loved poetry, and we made that connection.”

Stuntebeck said she noticed Ferguson’s aptitude for acting as well.

“He wanted to be in the plays and he had quite an ego. I even had to kick him out of one of the plays because his ego got too big,” Stuntebeck said with a laugh.

Stuntebeck said after Ferguson graduated from Henley High, “I know that he did act at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, and I know he went out to Hollywood. He contacted me by phone occasionally.”

Stuntebeck said she taught for “about 22 years. I taught for a few years at the high school, then got married and had a family, stayed home and raised them, and then went back to teaching when I was in my late 30s, or early 40s.”

Stuntebeck added, “I’ve had a few former students who have contacted me and said nice things and I always keep those letters. I still have one student that we send Christmas cards back and forth, and I follow her family. But others, you know, it’s been quite awhile, and after a couple of letter exchanges, you lose track.”

“You know, it isn’t all the smartest, best students you make contact with,” she added.

“I always kind of liked the boys who were “D” students who were trying, but it was hard.”

Stuntebeck says she’s kept her connections with Rugby and her Rugby High classmates, too.

“In fact,” she noted, “I was there two or three years ago. I came and stayed with Ruth Fedje and some of the classmates from Fargo came up, and I got to see Marjorie Fay and Marnie Torson, well, those are their maiden names.”

“Ruth has been a good friend, and she came out and visited me here,” Stuntebeck added.

“I kind of felt the last time I was there that it was my last visit. I love the prairies; I love the mountains. I wanted to get back to Rugby and be there and go out to the cemetery where my parents are buried. I wanted to just feel North Dakota again, because I thought this is probably my last trip.”

Stuntebeck said she was an only child, and her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren all live in the Pacific Northwest.

Rugby, however, will always have a special place in Stuntebeck’s heart.

Stuntebeck stays connected to Rugby with cards, telephone and text messages, “although it’s hard to keep up with all this electronic stuff. I remember, because of my age, when you could just turn things on and off. There weren’t six buttons to push.”

“I always watch the weather on t.v.,” Stuntebeck said. “I always check the local weather; I always check North Dakota weather or where I have friends. I just go around the weather map and find out what’s going on with you in Rugby and everybody else.”

“I think it’s important. I just don’t want to lose track of friends,” she added.

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