When Ellen Kleinschmidt received the call this month that she was named a "woman of distinction" by the American Association of University Women, she wasn't quite sure what to make of it.
"I thought, 'This is quite an honor, but what is it?' " Kleinschmidt said. Then she learned it was on the up-and-up, that she was one of three local women pegged for this year's award, which recognizes "women who have made a difference in their career and their community," and she was humbled.
"It was unexpected and very lovely," Kleinschmidt said. "To be recognized for being a teacher of the arts says something about the group, that they still recognize the arts in school as being very important. That was very special to me, and so, too, that my parents, both in their 80's, and my son, Brian, and my husband, Kevin, could be there when I received the award.
Also recognized as AAUW Women of Distinction for 2013 were Ann Marie LaBlanc, who organized the 50th anniversary celebration for Sun City Center, and Sandra W. Freedman, the first female mayor of Tampa. The awards were presented Feb. 19 at the Sun City Center Community Hall.
Kleinschmidt, who teaches music at Reddick Elementary School in Wimauma, said she was recognized "as a teacher and as the president of the Performing Arts Company of Sun City Center, which she joined when it started 10 years ago. It was founded by retired New York City actor Lew Resseguie, she said, who stepped down from president to become the chairman of the board.
Kleinschmidt has been at Reddick for five years; she taught previously at Cypress Creek Elementary School, for 18 years.
"When I went to college I thought I would follow in my mother's footsteps, teaching deaf children," she said. Then, she passed "the choir singing in the big rotunda and I just realized that was where my heart was."
"I just love helping children love music as much as I do," Kleinschmidt said. "If they love it and it becomes a part of their lives, that's important to me. I always feel that if they can get up there and sing a song, even if it is with a bunch of kids, then they can do anything."
For the past two years, Kleinschmidt has been working with two women she met in the theater, Teri Council and Kathy Strub. Together, the women wrote Aged to Perfection and Apartment 14-G, which they staged as well with the company they founded, Three Sisters Productions. The shows were produced by the Performing Arts Company of Sun City Center.
Aged to Perfection is "the story of three sisters who grew up in a vineyard in California and they come home to take care of family business," Kleinschmidt said.
Apartment 14-G is about three women, who live in apartments 13-G, 14-G and 15-G, in a New York City complex. "They meet in the middle apartment and help each other out," Kleinschmidt said. "The story is told through the eyes of the superintendent of the building they live in."
Kleinschmidt got her start in the Riverview Little Theatre, founded by Daron Hawkins, the theater teacher at Riverview High School, where her son, Brian, was a student.
"I saw that he could have all those starring roles in shows," Kleinschmidt said. "I thought, 'If he can do it, at least I can do the same thing."
Her first role, in the first Riverview Little Theatre performance, The Sound of Music. At auditions, she thought, "I could be one of the nuns in the back row." Instead, she landed the lead role of Maria.
"I just love becoming someone else and losing myself on the stage," Kleinschmidt said, about her attraction to the theater. "Again, I don't really like to do plays, but I just love to do musicals. Every song I lose myself in and there are so many songs yet to be sung."