Lansing theater fixture Marilyn Steegstra dead at 73.
‘Cookie Witch’ a beloved figure…
Marilyn Steegstra did just about everything during her five decades in local theater, acting and directing and taking on office or backstage roles in hundreds of productions.
But in recent years, she was known to her friends as “the Cookie Witch,” both for her baking prowess and the witch roles she played in several productions.
“She loved to bake, she was the hostess who organized the refreshments,” said Lee Helder, a longtime friend. “One of the roles she had was the cookie witch, so we started calling her that.”
Steegstra, who had been in ill health for several years, died Thursday. She was 73. A memorial will be held later this summer, friends said.
Steegstra taught drama and English at Eastern High School, retiring in 2000 after 39 years with the school district. At Eastern, she founded the drama club’s “Fun Machine,” which still visits elementary schools with interactive skits to promote literacy.
Steegstra joined the Community Circle Players when the troup was formed in 1958. The volunteer group staged productions on Sheridan Street before moving to the Okemos Barn Theatre and, ultimately, the Riverwalk Theatre. Steegstra also worked with the Lansing Civic Players.
“She really was one of the best actresses all along,” Helder said. “She would take small roles or big roles, work backstage or in the office. She just enjoyed working on plays and being with the theater.”
Steegstra was a talented character actress, appearing in local films and commercials, as well as hundreds of theater productions, winning many awards along the way, said Carol Ferris, a former student of Steegstra’s at Eastern.
“She was remarkably prolific in backstage work, doing props, set dressing, those kinds of things,” said Ferris, whose husband, Tom, is president of Riverwalk Theatre. “On stage, she was such a pro. She brought it for every role. You could always count on Marilyn to know those lines and be there when she was supposed to be.”
Steegstra did a number of children’s shows and played a witch several times, said Jane Shipley Zussman, who did her first show with Steegstra in 1972,
In 2003, Steegstra played the cookie witch in “Hansel and Gretel Meet Goldilocks” at the Riverwalk Theatre — a role written for her by Shipley Zussman.
Steegstra sat on the Riverwalk board for many years and served as the theater’s baker, catering numerous events. As her health began to fail, her theater friends stepped in to care for her because most of her family was gone, Shipley Zussman and others said.
In her will, Steegstra asked that her memorial at Riverwalk includes “lots of show tunes,” Ferris said. Friends plan to reproduce some of her recipes for the celebration, she said.
Besides her theater family, Steegstra is survived by a sister-in-law, Shelly Rose Steegstra, and a nephew, Andrew.