Helen Manfull, who for 50 years was synonymous with theatre at Penn State, has died at the age of 89. She spent her final days under the care of nursing staff at the Village at Penn State and passed in the early hours of Sunday, October 15, 2023. She was born in Canton, Ohio, the younger daughter of James and Myrna Aungst. She was predeceased by her older sister, Elizabeth, who died in 2001 and her husband of 48 years, Lowell, who died in 2004. She is survived by their two sons, Benjamin and his wife Judith of East Haddam Connecticut and James and his partner Sharon, of Mt. Ranier, Maryland as well as three grandchildren, Nathan, Isaac, and Thomas.
Helen graduated magna cum laude from Western College for Women, now part of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. In her senior year she was awarded a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship which took her to the University of Minnesota where she received both her M.A. and Ph.D. degrees. It was there that she met her future husband, Lowell.
Helen and Lowell then went to the University of Wisconsin, where she worked at the Wisconsin Centre for Theatre Research and wrote her first book, Additional Dialogue, the Letters of Dalton Trumbo: 1942-1962. Helen followed Lowell to Penn State in 1965 as a part time temporary instructor. When she retired in 1996, she was a full professor, a Lion's Paw recipient, a winner of the Lindback Award for Outstanding Teaching, and was named an Honorary Alumna of Penn State. She continued her involvement with the university on various projects until her participation was finally ended by the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020.
She loved teaching and created a large Introduction to Theatre class in the 1970s, which included a small company of graduate students who performed for the class. She taught this class for over 30 years, during which time it was regularly voted "Most Popular Introductory Class." She also taught other acting and directing courses and directed or consulted on over 40 plays in her Penn State career.
Helen also loved acting, both with students at Penn State and professionally as a member of Actors' Equity Association. Probably her most widely recognized role was that of Grandma Boorg in the Farrelly Brothers film Kingpin. She always maintained that it was her beard and not her acting that got the attention.
In addition to the theater, her children, grandchildren, her many former students and colleagues, the Arboretum, and her garden were all important to her, as were her special projects like reading poetry with the Chamber Choir in the rotunda of Old Main. In accordance with her wishes, there will be a small, private service, with a Celebration of Life to be scheduled at a later date. In lieu of flowers, Helen would ask that you consider supporting future generations by directing a gift to either the Helen and Lowell Manfull Theatre Scholarship or the Helen and Lowell Manfull Music Endowment by visiting: raise.psu.edu/RememberingHelenManfull
Condolences may be mailed to:
3 Woodmont Circle
East Haddam CT 06423