116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Sullenberger remembered for kindness, excellence
Co-founder of Revival Theatre ‘changed the theater scene in Cedar Rapids’
CEDAR RAPIDS — Cameron Sullenberger didn’t seek the spotlight. He was the spotlight, shining on the actors, voice students, music students and church choir members he challenged to do their very best.
Sullenberger, 54, of Cedar Rapids, died Saturday, Feb. 11, after suffering a heart attack at CSPS Hall, before a rehearsal for Revival Theatre Company’s upcoming production of “Million Dollar Quartet.” The show, for which he was music director, was slated to run Feb. 24 to March 5 at CSPS, but has been postponed to March 1 to 5.
In 2014, Sullenberger co-founded the professional theater troupe with Brian Glick, and in a social media post, Amy Blades of Cedar Rapids said he “changed the theater scene in Cedar Rapids. The joy he brought to rehearsals and performances was inspirational.”
“Cameron always would say, ‘Be a first-rate version of yourself,’ ” Glick said. “He exemplified that.”
Sullenberger moved in three different worlds — his private world, his musical performance and education world and his church music world. As news of his death spread this week, actors, educators, students and friends from all those facets have flooded social media with tributes to his kindness and excellence.
Those worlds will connect this weekend to honor his memory during a visitation from 3 to 8 p.m. Friday at Noelridge Christian Church, 7111 C Ave. NE, Cedar Rapids, followed by the funeral service at 11 a.m. Saturday at the church, where he served as senior director of worship, music and creative arts, and spiritual growth coordinator.
A Celebration of Life is planned for 7 p.m. March 25 at Theatre Cedar Rapids.
Sullenberger was born in Tehran, Iran, where his mother’s family settled after fleeing the Armenian genocide in the early 20th century. His father, the late Fred Sullenberger, worked for NASA in the Middle East, where he met and married Nazee (Aslanian) Sullenberger. They moved to El Paso, Texas, and raised Sullenberger and his younger sister, Rosanna.
Their mother “loves music, and both of her kids are musical prodigies,” said Julia Schmoker of Princeton, Texas, who met Sullenberger during their undergraduate years at the University of North Texas. Both musicians, they didn’t meet in the classroom. They met at Macaroni Grill, where they sang for customers at their tables.
“(I would) introduce myself and start singing a little Italian song for people,” Schmoker recalled. “Well, one day, the next thing I know, this guy comes up from behind and he locks arms with me, and he starts harmonizing with me — big ol’ smile on his face, just having the greatest time. When we were done, I looked at him and we just started laughing, because he just comes up and improvises harmony … and then after that we were best friends.”
After she moved from Texas, he loved to surprise her by showing up unannounced wherever she worked, from Montreal to Minneapolis. Aside from the silliness and the gifts he gave to her and his loved ones, Schmoker admired him for his wisdom.
“He was just a font of wisdom. And regarding relationships with people or with business colleagues, he was really good at negotiating those and being diplomatic and kind. And making sure to treat students, teachers, administrators, parents, friends — everyone — with respect.”
Sullenberger taught middle school music in Texas, earning accolades and building his national reputation before moving to Chicago to study for his master’s degree at VanderCook College of Music. The Windy City is where he met his partner, Dr. Steven Craig, who has a podiatry practice in Clinton and maintains a home in Fulton, Ill.
“He was the love of my life,” Craig said. “I was his everything, and vice versa. When he found me, he said, ‘This is it. Even if you were to pass, I'm never going to find anybody else. This is who I'm with.’ ”
They loved travel and fine dining, and playing a word game where one of them would toss out a word and they would sing every song they could think of that had that word in it. Sullenberger loved all musical genres, Craig said, amazed at the way he could tap out the beat of any song that came on the radio.
“He did that with the piano, too,” Craig said. “Without looking at anything, you just picked the song and he just seemed to be able to do it.”
Ready to seek work outside of music, in 2008 Sullenberger and Craig were going to open a Jimmy John’s franchise near the Paramount Theatre in downtown Cedar Rapids, but the flood washed away that prospect. Craig kept his medical practice in Clinton, and they were going to figure out a way for Sullenberger to commute. He gravitated back toward music, assisting a grad school friend, Matthew Armstrong, who taught vocal music at Washington and Kennedy high schools.
When a music position opened at McKinley Middle School, Sullenberger returned to the classroom.
“Cameron could light up a room and keep kids’ attention like nobody else,” said Armstrong, now director of choral activities at Wayne State College in Nebraska. “Not only was he able to discover extraordinary talent and nurture it and develop it, but I think he made everyone feel good. And everyone learned in his classroom.”
He also had a way of getting even the timid kids to audition for solos or find an outlet for the rambunctious ones through music and show choir.
"It was always just fun to see that he had this way of featuring somebody and finding special things for people to do that everyone else wouldn't think of, and people wouldn’t have expected those kids to have these prominent roles,“ Armstrong said. ”I think the confidence that he was able to build in those people, and maybe even more importantly, the way it rallied the whole group, because they would be so happy to see others succeed. It was really impressive.”
Throughout his career, Sullenberger continued working near and far, in demand as a conductor, recording artist and adjudicator. He opened a private vocal studio, Singer By Distinction, teaching youths and adults, and collaborated with musical direction for Orchestra Iowa and Theatre Cedar Rapids projects, as well as Revival Theatre shows.
Glick and Sullenberger met during Theatre Cedar Rapids’ 2012 production of “Meet Me in St. Louis,” where Glick was onstage and Sullenberger served as musical director.
“We just sort of hit and off and became friends,” Glick said.
The summer of 2013, they collaborated on the musical “Baby.” Then Glick moved to New York City the day after that show closed.
“We still kept in touch on a regular basis,” Glick said, “talking about musicals, and the things we liked about musicals, the kind of musicals we wanted to do, the kind of musicals we thought the community should be doing or could be doing, and how they can be done — not realizing that we were forming what would later become a company.”
In 2014, they launched Revival Theatre Company, with Glick as artistic director and Sullenberger as musical director.
“He would color outside the lines, and what I mean by that, is he would take something that you thought was good, and he'd make it better. He'd play it better, he’d sing it better, he would teach the vocals to a soloist or a choir in such a way that made it its own stamp. And that was part of the uniqueness that made up Revival and the things that he was directly involved in,” Glick said. “There just wasn't anyone else with his skill level.”
But Revival will go on.
“We will get through it, we will move on, and Cameron would want us to move on,” Glick said, recalling a strategic planning meeting in the company’s second year, where the board president asked what they wanted Revival’s legacy to be.
“We both said, ‘This is not a pet project,’ meaning we will not be around forever, we will not be here forever, we will move on at some point in our lives or something will come up. That's how our industry works. And we want this company to live on and grow, because we feel that professional musical theater is an important fabric for our community, and we want that to live on. So he would want us to go on with the show.”
For his obituary, go to thegazette.com/obituaries/cameron-sullenberger-2
Comments: (319) 368-8508; firstname.lastname@example.org