Meet the Arts Staff
Dr. Pat Fortney
Interim Director of Performing Arts
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Phone Number: 402-941-6337
Known for his passionate conducting style, Dr. Patrick Fortney brings not only his 38 years of musical experience to the stage, but also his commitment to the music, performers, and audience who share the experience. A proponent of new music, Fortney has commissioned and conducted works by noted composers Loris Chobanian, Steve Bryant, William Ballenger, Rusty Banks, Randall Snyder, and Alfred Reed, who wrote and dedicated his Twelfth Night (A Musical Masque After Shakespeare) to him. A frequent wind band/orchestra adjudicator and clinician, he has conducted groups throughout the United States and Australia, and most recently was the conductor of the Alaska Activities Association All-State Band. As an active researcher, he has presented at regional and national meetings and published in major music education journals. Fortney’s degrees include a Ph.D. in Music Education from the University of Miami, a Bachelor of Music Education, and a Master of Education from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a music education emphasis. As a tubist, he has studied with Vernon Forbes, Craig Fuller, and John Olah, and played professionally with the Lincoln Symphony Orchestra and Nebraska Chamber Orchestra.
Assistant Director of Arts
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Phone Number: 402-941-6217
Keaton Kreikemeier graduated from Midland University in 2018 with a B.A. in Arts Management with a concentration in Marketing and Theatre Performance. During his time at Midland, Keaton was actively involved in theater, technical arts, vocal music, residence life, and various student-led organizations. After graduation, Keaton worked as a Residence Life Coordinator in the Department of Student Affairs.
Since February 2022, Keaton has been serving as the Assistant Director of Arts at Midland University. In this role, he has been responsible for overseeing recruitment efforts, marketing, and retention of students in the MidlandUArts program. Keaton is passionate about helping students pursue their interests and achieve success through higher education, no matter where they are in their academic journey.
Keaton currently resides in North Bend, NE with his wife Faye and their dog Pepper. When he isn’t working, Keaton loves to play video games with his wife, watch the newest entertainment, or whittle small figures for his friends and loved ones. No matter what he is doing, you can be sure that he is doing it while jamming out to musical theater.
Dan P. Hays
Director of Theatre
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Phone Number: 402-941-6390
Dan P. Hays is an educator, actor, director, music director, choreographer, and highly sought-after clinician. He is currently serving as the Director of Theatre Activities at Midland University in Fremont, Nebraska. Dan also serves as the director of the Nebraska All State Musical. Before his career in education, Dan spent many years in the professional world of performing as an actor/dancer/director/singer/choreographer. In Omaha, Nebraska, Dan worked at the Upstairs Dinner Theatre, the Firehouse Theatre, the Omaha Community Playhouse, and for years was on the performing staff of The Emmy Gifford Children’s Theatre. He also worked professionally all over the country: a national tour of The Music Man; and many regional theaters in Missouri, Massachusetts, Michigan, Texas, California, Iowa, and Nebraska. Dan has received many awards including the Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Nebraska Kearney, Show Choir Camps of America Teacher of the Year, Nebraska Choral Director Outstanding Director of the Year, Nebraska Music Educator Of The Year, Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Education and the Sertoma Club Man Of The Year Award.
Director of Vocal Music
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Joel Johnston conducts the University Choir the Clef Dwellers, Midland’s contemporary a cappella ensemble. Additionally, Joel teaches courses in Music Education and Vocal Pedagogy. Known for his positive and dynamic leadership, Joel is in demand as a vocal clinician, conductor, choreographer, and adjudicator. He has conducted more than 40 choral festivals throughout the Midwest. Since 2005, Joel’s second “home base” has been the SNJ Studio of Music in Omaha, where he teaches voice and conducts the SNJ Singers, a select High School A Cappella Choir. Joel is Chorus Master for the Omaha Symphony Christmas Celebration at the Holland Center in Omaha. He served as President of the Nebraska Choral Directors Association, as well as Chair of Choral Affairs for the Nebraska Music Educators Association. He was named NMEA’s Outstanding Music Educator of the Year in 2003 and NCDA’s Young Choral Director of the Year in 1998.
Dr. Adam Knowlton
Director of Forensics
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Phone Number: 402-941-6381
Adam Knowlton has been the Director of the Midland University Speech & Debate program since the spring of 2017. Originally from Omaha, Adam was an out-round competitor in Communication Analysis, Informative Speaking, Prose Interpretation, Dramatic Interpretation, and Duo Interpretation on the national level. Following his undergraduate career, Adam earned an M.A. in Communication Studies from the University of Nebraska-Omaha, and a Ph.D. in Rhetoric and Culture from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Over his 13-year coaching career, Adam has coached 5 National Champions, 6 All-Americans, 21 state champions, and over 61 out-round events.
Director of Technical Arts
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Phone Number: 402-941-8004
Jerry R. Ditter was previously the Technical Director for THEATREWORKS, a professional theatre company in Colorado Springs, CO. and has extensive experience in professional management of theaters. Jerry has a Master of Arts in Dramatic Arts – Direction from the University of Nebraska at Omaha and his undergraduate degrees in Theatre, Vocal Performance, and Dance from Central Missouri State University. Jerry was formerly the Artistic Director at the Stages of Omaha Millennium Theatre.
Director of Dance and Dance Coach
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Phone Number: 402-941-6488
Erin Sibbald was hired as the Director of Dance and the Head Dance Coach during the summer of 2022. Prior to taking the leadership role at Midland, she was working for Tribe99 Choreo Connect as the Assistant Project Manager.
A native of Harlan, Iowa, Erin brings an extensive dance background back to Midland, her alma mater. After graduating in 2015, she was immediately hired as the Head Dance Coach at Iowa Western Community College, where she spent two seasons building the Sapphires Dance Team. After her time at Iowa Western, she was hired as an Assistant Coach for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Husker Spirit Squads, focusing on game day events with the Scarlets Dance Team (2018 – 2020).
Erin acquired her Bachelor’s Degree in Human Performance and Exercise Science from Midland (‘15) and spent her college career as an active member of the Midland University Warrior Wildfire Dance Team. During this time, she was a part of teams that won multiple NDA National Championships (2013 NAIA NDA National Champions, 2015 NDA DIII Hip Hop National Champions).
At present, Erin resides in Omaha, NE, alongside her husband Tom, their daughter Lucy, and their dog Winston. Her passion for music and movement extends beyond the dance studio, as she dedicates her spare time to teaching Beat Based Cycling and fitness classes. Erin is thrilled to be back on campus, giving back to the program that provided her with lifelong memories and some of her most cherished experiences.
Assistant Professor of Art and Design
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Katy Jones is a sculptor born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska. After earning her Bachelor of Arts with a professional emphasis in Art, from Doane University, she earned her Master of Fine Arts in sculpture, metal casting, blacksmithing, and fabrication, from Fort Hays State University. Katy has exhibited at the state and national level and after a brief hiatus from the art world that brought her back to her home state, she is currently at Midland University as an assistant professor of art and design. In addition, Katy is pursuing a Ph.D. in Philosophy, Visual Theory, and Aesthetics at the Institute for Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts, anticipated to graduate in 2027. In her free time, Katy enjoys volunteering with local organizations and spending time with her dogs, Greta and Darci.
Katy’s sculptural forms are created around the psychology of illusions, perception, experience, truths, and deception, bringing attention to how they affect our sense of self-constructed identities. Her work also investigates the effect of our complicit acceptance of others’ illusions within interpersonal and group relationships. Katy utilizes anthropomorphic, figurative forms to give life to these narratives. Ultimately these forms, inspired by personal experience observations, and the experiences of others confront this sense of constructed illusion and deception that we are faced with every day, while simultaneously expressing the basic animalistic impulses all humans share, which must be navigated with each individual’s personal, subjective sense of truth.
Collaborative Pianist and Music Instructor
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Phone Number: 402-941-6393
Kyu is an actively performing pianist and educator who has won awards and performed in the United States (including Carnegie Hall in New York), Europe, and Asia. After graduating from the Korean National University of Arts with a Bachelor of Music in Piano Performance, Kyu attended the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. There she was awarded a Master of Music in Piano Performance, and a Professional Studies Diploma in Piano Performance and Historical Keyboards with an emphasis on Fortepiano. Kyu then received a full scholarship to attend the doctoral program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, studying Piano Performance and Literature. Kyu was also awarded the position of Opera Coach at the University of Illinois.
Kyu is passionate about teaching piano. She completed the Pedagogy internship at the University of Illinois. Kyu is also a Nationally Certified Teacher in Music (NCTM) and is a Specialist in Piano from the Royal Conservatory of Music in Canada. Kyu’s students have been selected as winners of competitions, and auditions in both the state and national levels.
Kyu has served for Missouri Music Teachers Association, St. Louis Music Teachers Association, and World Piano Teachers Association as President, and Vice-President for many years. Currently, Kyu is serving as Public Relations Chair of the Nebraska Music Teachers Association and District Festival Chair of the Omaha Music Teachers Association.
Kyu is an Artist-Faculty at Omaha Conservatory of Music and joined Midland University in the fall of 2023.
Instrumental Jazz Instructor
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Gabe started his musical journey at the age of 8, taking classical piano lessons. A multi-instrumentalist, over the years he has tried his hand at most anything he can get his hands on! He graduated from the University of Nebraska-Omaha with a BA in Jazz Performance where he studied piano Kristin Jonina Taylor (Classical) and Christopher Leach (Jazz). In addition, he studied double bass with Jeremy Baguyos (Classical) and Andy Hall (Jazz).
While at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, he had the opportunity to perform with and participate in masterclasses with several notable jazz artists including Chris Potter, Stefon Harris and Benny Golson. He also performed with the University’s top combo and had the chance to tour Europe and Asia with performances at the Shanghai Conservatory Jazz Festival in China and Saulkrasti Jazz Festival in Latvia. Gabe went on to get his MM in Jazz Studies at Northern Illinois University, studying with professor of Jazz Saxophone Geof Bradfield and Director of Jazz Studies, Reggie Thomas.
In addition to his role as adjunct faculty at Midland University, Gabe currently teaches piano and guitar lessons at Omaha School of Music and Dance.
Adjunct Professor of Theatre
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Phone Number: 402-941-6388
Lee Meyer has a Bachelor’s Degree in Speech/Theatre with minors in music and English. She holds a Master’s Degree in Music from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She was a music and theatre teacher in the Nebraska public schools for over 35 years. She taught at Fremont High School for ten of those years. Lee has worked at Midland for 12 years teaching voice, music and theatre classes and directing Shows.
She has been a member and officer of Nebraska Music Educators, Nebraska Choral Directors Association, Nebraska Thespians and Nebraska Speech Communication Theatre Association. She is the Executive Director of the Fremont Opera House and continues to direct shows for them as well.
Lee Meyer was named Thespian Teacher of the Year, NSCTA Teacher of the Year, Fremont Rotary Teacher of the Year, Nebraska School Activities Volunteer of the Year, Milford Citizen of the Year and Fremont Tribune Pathfinder.
Assistant Dance Coach
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Krista Hinrichs has enjoyed being involved in dance for the past 20 years and has experience in various styles. She was also a member of the Midland University Dance team from 2016 to 2020 and was a member of the game day team as well as the NAIA national championship team, Warrior Wildfire. She enjoys staying connected to the dance world while coaching the next generation of fabulous dancers.
Dr. Marjorie Simons-Bester
Director of BlueNotes
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Dr. Marjorie Simons-Bester is currently serving as the Director of BlueNotes, a vocal jazz ensemble at Midland University. Prior to joining the Arts Department at Midland, Dr. Simons-Bester taught in Bellevue Public Schools for 44 years and served as Director of Choral Music Activities at Bellevue East High School for 31 years. Dr. Simons-Bester conducted the East High Singers, Mixed Chorus, Freshman Chorale, Take II Varsity Show Choir, and E St. Jazz.
She also served as the Music Director for the annual Bellevue East Spring Musical and taught Music Theory. Under Dr. Simons-Bester’s direction, the Bellevue East High Singers were a featured ensemble with the Omaha Symphony Orchestra numerous times. They received consistently superior ratings at the District Music Contest and the annual Worlds of Fun Festival of Choirs Competition. There, they consistently placed in the top three choirs and were named Grand Champion eight times. East High Singers made their second appearance at the Nebraska Music Educators Association Fall Conference Clinic in November 2016. The Bellevue East choirs have traveled to New York City, Washington D.C., and Orlando, Florida. Under Dr. Simons-Bester’s direction, East High Singers returned to New York in March 2023 for their second appearance in concert at Carnegie Hall.
Students under Dr. Simons-Bester’s direction were consistently selected for membership in honor choirs at the state, regional, and national levels. She is extremely proud to acknowledge several former students who have joined her in the field of music education, in addition to others who are leading successful careers in the performing arts.
Dr. Simons-Bester’s prior teaching experience includes five years at Fort Crook Elementary School and nine years at Mission Junior High/Middle School in Bellevue. Dr. Simons-Bester received her BA in Music Education from Midland Lutheran College in Fremont, Nebraska (now Midland University). She received her Master of Music Education from the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, Colorado, and her Doctor of Education degree in Curriculum, Administration, and Instruction from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.
Marjorie currently serves as a member of the School for Music Vocations Advisory Board. She has served as President of the Nebraska Choral Directors Association, and Repertoire and Standards Chair for Multicultural Music and Perspectives for the North Central division of the American Choral Directors Association. She is a member of the steering committee for the 2024 Midwestern American Choral Directors Convention; and is a frequent guest clinician for choral festivals and contests across the state of Nebraska. Marjorie has sung with The Mastersingers, the Omaha Symphonic Chorus, the Opera Omaha Chorus, and with The Omaha Chamber Singers.
On a personal note, she is married to Michael Bester. They are the proud parents of their daughter, Michelle. Marjorie maintains membership in the following professional organizations: NAFME; ACDA; National Association of Negro Musicians, Jazz Education Network, and NEA.
Sharon North Jones
Adjunct Professor of Voice
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Soprano Sharon North Jones is a skilled artist and dedicated music educator with a rich background in Vocal Performance and Pedagogy. She earned her Master of Music degree in Voice and Opera Performance from Northwestern University under the tutelage of the internationally acclaimed soprano, Sunny Joy Langton. Additionally, she holds a Bachelor of Music Education degree from the University of Nebraska-Omaha.
Throughout her career, Sharon has graced stages across the United States, showcasing her exceptional talent in opera, concert, and musical theater. Some of her cherished roles include Lucia in Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor” with Opera di Cornetto and Helen Cooper in the world premiere of “Under the Arbor” with the Alabama Symphony. She has been a valuable figure in Opera Omaha, performing in over a dozen productions, including a memorable portrayal of the Duchess of Mantua in “Rigoletto,” alongside Fabian Veloz and Rachele Gilmore.
Beyond her performing career, Sharon North Jones is a seasoned music educator with over three decades of experience as a master vocal pedagogue, adjudicator, and clinician. Her impact on music education is evident through her roles as co-director of The Center for Voice in Chicago, IL, and Director of Competitions for the Society of American Musicians. She has also served as a scholarship adjudicator for the University of Nebraska-Omaha, an All-State adjudicator for the Nebraska Music Educators Association, and a solo adjudicator for the National Association of Teachers of Singing.
In 2002, Sharon took a significant step in her educational journey by founding SNJ Studio of Music. Her vision was to cultivate the next generation of musicians and music enthusiasts through top-quality music education. Today, SNJ Studio of Music stands as one of Nebraska’s premier private performing arts schools, with over 625 students participating in a diverse range of programs. Supported by a team of over 35 professional faculty and staff members, with studios in Omaha and Elkhorn, SNJ Studio of Music continues to play a vital role in shaping the future of the performing arts in Nebraska.
Graduate Assistant of Theatre
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William (Will) Hastreiter graduated from Midland University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Arts Management, with a focus in Theatre. Before that, he spent some time touring with a group called The Young Americans, where he received his Associate’s Degree of Arts in Performing with an Acting Emphasis. He is currently pursuing his Master’s Degree in Learning and Talent Development.