This afternoon, Buffalo State College will rename its theater arts building in honor of Don Savage, a beloved former professor and active member of the local theater community.
The college had planned the ceremony as a chance for Savage's former students, colleagues and friends to honor him and show him how much he meant to Buffalo State's theater program.
But Savage died unexpectedly late Thursday, and organizers now are preparing for the event with heavy hearts. "He would have wanted it [to go on]. I'm absolutely convinced of that," said Emile C. Netzhammer III, dean of arts and humanities at Buffalo State.
Friends say Savage, who taught theater at Buffalo State from 1963 to 1987, was devoted to his students and cared passionately about passing his knowledge of theater to them.
"He created a magic with young people who need a little magic in their lives," said Gail E. Johnstone, president of the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo. Johnstone and her husband, D. Bruce, the former Buffalo State president, were longtime friends of Savage.
Savage, 79, earned master's and doctoral degrees at the University of Minnesota.
A Navy veteran, he moved to Turkey at 25 to teach English and direct plays at Tarsus American College. A biography provided by Buffalo State notes he put on a production of "Julius Caesar" with a budget of $6 that played to a full house there.
He joined Buffalo State's English department in 1963, before the college had a theater department, and he was deeply involved in that program's formation several years later. Savage taught a wide variety of courses, including acting, directing and play writing, and directed a number of productions at Buffalo State.
Savage remained connected to the theater department even after retiring in 1987. He made a planned gift to the department to set up a scholarship for promising acting students.
"He was a very intellectual man who really cared about Buffalo State and the state of the theater, and just couldn't leave it when he retired. He had to stay involved," Netzhammer said.
College officials decided months ago to rename the Theater Arts Building the Donald Savage Theater and Communication Building. The name change won the required approval of the College Council and the State University of New York board of trustees. Friends, former students and family had planned trips for today's ceremony.
Savage was hospitalized last week for issues related to his diabetes, but he had been released last Saturday, Netzhammer said. His death Thursday caught friends by surprise.