Michael Rosenberger ’01C, ’04L developed a love for the theater thanks to his mother, who began regularly taking him to Broadway productions when he turned three.
When she passed away many years later, he wanted to honor her legacy by giving something back to his alma mater. Then he lost his aunt, who was, he said, like a second mother.
To memorialize both of them, the dedicated son, nephew, and alumnus established the Judy Rosenberger and Marilyn Masters Memorial Theatre Expendable Scholarship Fund. The fund currently provides a $1,000 annual scholarship to senior Ryan DeForeest ’16CPS, an academically qualified student who has been a member of the St. John’s University Chappell Players Theatre Group for the last three years.
The Chappell Players Theatre Group grooms successful actors today thanks to Rosenberger’s experiences after arriving at SJU as an undergraduate in 1998. At the time, he was disappointed to learn that the group was understaffed and their shows were poorly attended. “I thought, ‘what’s going on here? This is a huge university in the heart of New York City, and there is no real theatre group.’”
During his second semester, he auditioned for the group’s production of Little Shop of Horrors. “I can’t sing a lick, and I got the part,” Rosenberger said. “Then I knew for sure something was seriously wrong.” The Astoria, NY, native’s mother taught him to “always follow his heart,” so Rosenberger set out on a mission to make the theater group into something important on campus. “Luckily, my dream coincided with the opening of the dorms,” he said. “There were students on campus at night, so we were able to hold auditions after classes.”
Rosenberger, the newly self-appointed president of the Chappell Players Theatre Group, saw his dream become a reality with the production of Grease. “The lines to try out were very long,” he said, “and we had so many incredibly talented students auditioning, I couldn’t even get a role.” He later launched, produced, and directed what would become an annual St. John’s fundraiser called Cabaret for Charity. The event is now in its 17th year, with proceeds going to St. John’s Bread and Life.
Today, Rosenberger’s interest in theater is helping to fulfill scholarship recipient DeForeest’s own dreams. “It makes me feel so grateful,” said DeForeest. Being a part of the Chappell Players, he added, allows him to develop leadership skills while nurturing other students’ love of acting. “We aim to give students the knowledge and training that will allow them to engage in all aspects of theatre through monthly workshops, play readings, and vocal lessons. We also challenge ourselves to be the best resource for students who want to be a part of the performing arts.”
Rosenberger, who now works as a New York State arbitrator with the American Arbitration Association, would like to expand the scholarship to reach as many as five students annually who share his passion for SJU and the arts. “The University gave me a lot,” he said. “I met my wife in college. We have two beautiful daughters, my closest friends are alumni, and I’m constantly surrounded by a feeling of legacy. “St. John’s gave me a great life.”