Every school has those teachers that truly live for and love what they do- and Michigan City High School is no exception. Geometry teacher and Theatre Manager, Charles Puetzer, is a teacher who perfectly exemplifies that concept.
Puetzer isn’t a Michigan City native, having been born in Waukesha, Wisconsin, but he would venture to many places over the years due to his father’s career as an engineer. His family moved from Wisconsin to Minnesota to Ohio and, finally, to Michigan City, where the Puetzer family settled down and Charles now calls home.
“I call Michigan City my home town because this is where I’ve been since second grade in 1980,” explained Puetzer. “This is my home town, and I’ve pretty much lived in Michigan City my entire life.”
Puetzer’s love of theatre, and where he traces the origins of his career in theatre, go all the way back to when he was in high school at Michigan City, then called Rogers High School.
“If you want to go back to the beginning, I guess we’re going to have to start with high school. When I was a freshman in high school, I played football. I actually blew out both of my knees, so playing football was no longer an option. Some of my really good friends were involved in theatre and said, ‘hey, you can’t do that anymore, why don’t you come and do this?’ So I started after the football season, and started doing theatre. I just fell in love with it. I just fell in love with every aspect of it,” said Puetzer.
No matter what aspect of theatre, be it the acting, directing, or technical aspects of ‘the craft,’ Puetzer’s career as a theatre geek had begun in earnest.
“I loved the building aspect, and the lighting and the technology aspect of it, that was the bite,” said Puetzer. “It really grabbed me. I did the end of my freshman year, my sophomore, junior year- by my senior year I was a student director, a lighting designer, a sound designer, a set designer, pretty much anything I could do in the theatre, I did. It was just a love of mine.”
Puetzer’s other passion, mathematics, also took center stage at an early age.
“Even when I was a freshman in high school, I was like, ‘I wanna teach math,’” explained Puetzer. “I had a love for math.”
Puetzer started college at what is now PNW’s Westville campus, and got involved in the theatre program there. Even after transferring to the main campus in West Lafayette, Puetzer would regularly travel back up to Westville to assist in PNW’s theatre program.
La Porte County Life has interviewed Puetzer and his students in the past, and one thing in particular stands out when talking to any of MCHS’s young actors: they feel like their theatre colleagues are family. Puetzer is no different.
“[In theatre,] in a short amount of time you spend a lot of time with people,” said Puetzer. “They really become like family to you. When I was a student here, the directors here were like my surrogate parents. I spent more time with them than I did my own parents! I’d spend all day at school, then all night [in the theatre], then I’d go home and go to sleep. It’s the same thing now. A lot of the kids who are involved with theatre now, it’s an escape for them, which is a good thing. It gives them an opportunity to act like themselves. It’s a family atmosphere.”
In regards to the other half of his career, Puetzer loves that he can help kids who struggle with math have that ‘aha moment’ that helps them understand the material.
“As a teacher, my biggest joy is when we’re going through a lesson and I’m explaining something, and you see a kid light up and go, ‘I got it,’” explained Puetzer. “To see that, that to me is one of the biggest and most important things about being a teacher, to see that lightbulb go off and see them say ‘I understand this, I can do this.’”
As busy as Puetzer is, he still finds time to do other things he loves, like work in his yard or on his house over the summer, or go on annual trips with his wife and 2 sons.
“My wife and I are both Disney World Junkies,” said Puetzer. “We love going to Disney, either by ourselves or with the kids. This is a yearly jaunt. We alternate taking the kids- 1 year we take them, the next we go by ourselves. It’s a fun week and 2 totally different experiences.”
Teachers like Charles Puetzer are the reason why students excel in class and find magic in extracurricular activities. The support he provides for his students, both in class and in the theatre, defines him as an exceptional example of someone who cares about what he does. Students in his classes and theatrical productions are provided not just with the means to understand sometimes challenging and difficult material, but also given a new family with whom they can open up and be themselves.