Jerauld Joseph Reinhart, whose Ross Summer Music Theatre has entertained area audiences for decades and served as the stage classroom for generations of theater hopefuls, died Thursday in Merrillville surrounded by friends, family and the music that filled much of his life.
Born in Princeton, Ind., on Jan. 24, 1929, to Rose and Henry Reinhart, he began his lifelong involvement in the arts as a member of his high school band and choir before attending Indiana University and receiving a degree in music education. He later earned a master's degree from Roosevelt University.
His son Mike Reinhart said Tuesday that after his dad served in the U.S. Air Force for two years he moved to Merrillville with wife, Margilee. They started their large family and he began teaching music at Merrillville High School, where he remained as both music teacher and choir director until retirement in 1994.
"My dad brought musical theater to the small community, founding Ross Summer Music Theatre in 1963 and advocating for the building of a state-of-the-art auditorium at Merrillville High School, which was then named in his honor," Mike Reinhart said.
"Through Ross Summer Music Theatre, he learned to design and build sets, direct shows and put on quality performances for 50 years."
He said his father's last production involvement was to direct the pit orchestra during a production of "Les Miserables" in August.
Mike Reinhart said with the help and partnership of his wife, Melinda, and the guidance of his mother, Margilee, the community theater organization started by his father will continue.
Although he produced many shows during the years, from "The Sound of Music" to "Beauty and the Beast," one of his father's favorites was "The Music Man."
"For the thousands of people he touched as an educator, director and surrogate father, he truly was Northwest Indiana's Music Man," Mike Reinhart said.
Visitation is from 4 to 8 p.m. Friday at Geisen Funeral Home in Merrillville. The funeral is 10 a.m. Saturday, with burial immediately following at Calumet Park Cemetery in Merrillville.