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Lamberson leaves mark in CLC theater program

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Dennis Lamberson, a man known for his creativity and love of the theater, who had been with the Central Lakes College (CLC) Theater Department for the past 30 years has passed away.

Lamberson died shortly before midnight Tuesday at the St. Cloud Hospital at age 62.

Lamberson, who had a massive stroke in February of 2012, was staying at the Pierz Villa before being admitted into the St. Cloud Hospital for an infection that affected his heart, said Nancy Smith, a friend and colleague of Lamberson’s.

Smith said Lamberson was hospitalized about four or five days ago and his kidneys failed.

“Dennis has had his ups and downs this past year,” said Smith, who started work the same year with Dennis as a CLC instructor in 1987. “(When I got the phone call that he passed away) it was kind of a relief because Dennis was not suffering anymore. He did the best he could ... with all the ups and downs it was just a matter of time.”

Smith said that Lamberson had a big heart.

“His heart is as big as his voice,” Smith said with a smile. “I like to compare Dennis with Italian bread. He was soft on the inside, but tough on the outside. He cared a lot about art, theater and the people.”

Smith said she was involved with theater productions with Lamberson. She said Lamberson had her sing “The Old Man is Back” in a play entitled “Yuletide” and another song in “Hot dish Holiday.”

David Wilson has been Lamberson’s partner since the two met on Oct. 13, 1994, at Coco Moon in Brainerd.

“I was 29 and he was 46,” said Wilson. “We knew right away it was love at first sight ... The reason why we lasted so long is because we were perfect for each other. I did everything that he would ask and he did everything that I would ask.

“I was his sidekick at CLC. I did a lot of volunteer work, I pretty much did everything he asked me to do.”

Wilson said in the theater productions, Lamberson was gruff, direct and he got things done.

“He expected people to be prepared,” said Wilson. “He ran a professional theater at CLC. He started the children’s theater program. He was a very good children’s director.”

Wilson said Lamberson never had a bad word to say about anyone. Wilson said Lamberson was generous and donated to various charities, including the Heartland Animal Rescue Team, because of his love of animals.

“He loved the theater, he loved it more than me or more than anything,” said Wilson. “He brought out the best of people.”

Wilson said in 2008-09 Lamberson attended the University of Oxford in England to discuss education with children with disabilities through the Rhodes Scholarship program. Wilson said Lamberson made all the Scholars stand up and dance. Wilson said Lamberson was told that it was the first time in history that anyone was able to get all the Scholars to stand up and dance.

“I’m going to miss him,” said Wilson. “It’s hard ... I’m going to miss all of his bizarre stories. He was funny, weird, driven and motivated.”

CLC Theater Director Patrick Spradlin said he has worked with Lamberson since Spradlin arrived in Brainerd in 1991.

“Dennis was responsible for changing the nature of the theater program at CLC,” said Spradlin. “He had a unique personality and attracted a core of dedicated followers. Dennis made lasting contributions with his work in children’s theater and theater for a diverse population. He spent countless hours working; the theater truly was his life. His absence has been felt since he first took ill.”

Dwayna Paplow, CLC theater technician, who met Lamberson in 2005, said Lamberson’s death was not unexpected but everyone grasped onto the hope that he was going to be OK. Paplow said she’s still trying to sort out her feelings about Lamberson’s death.

“I can’t go visit him anymore,” said Paplow. “All the small things haven’t hit me yet.

“Dennis kept me on my toes creatively. He directed and designed the sets and costumes and I had to make his sets and lights for it to become a reality. He was the old dog I could learn new tricks from. He had so many ideas.”

Paplow said that she wrote a show and dedicated it to Lamberson last August that she performed at the Minnesota Fringe Festival. Lamberson performed a show at the festival in 2010.

CLC President Larry Lundblad said: “We’re saddened by the loss of Dennis. He’s been out on medical leave for several months. He left a gap in what we do here in theater. He was very much an artist, especially with the children’s theater. He had an eye for the stage.

“We really miss him ... He left behind a big void. He was a colorful individual. He very much had an artist temperament and it was a good way for him to connect with students, someone who is not afraid to show emotions. He was an unique individual.”

Kelly McCalla, interim vice president of academic affairs at CLC, who has known Lamberson since 1989, said Lamberson won numerous awards for his work with students in the Occupational Skills Program, which he launched in 2001. Students helped write and act in theater productions about people with occupational needs.

“He was always so genuine with the kids,” said McCalla. “The way he engaged with the students was a special thing.”

Steve Waller, CLC public information specialist, said: “Dennis was a perfectionist who nevertheless respected individuals for whom theater acting and appreciation had yet to be fully developed. He led upstart actors and audiences to a fuller understanding of what makes drama effective and important. He also worked faithfully behind the scenes, where his expertise put the spotlight on costumes and sets as well as special effects. His gifted devotion to college theater in our community and our region will be remembered.”

JENNIFER STOCKINGER may be reached at or 855-5851. Follow me on Twitter at