Playing by the roles

Reprinted with permission of the News-Register. Find more News-Register stories about Linfield College here.


Dawn Graff-Haight, with husband Walt Haight

Marcus Larson/News-Register
Dawn Graff-Haight and Walt Haight have made creative expression a priority in their lives, which they’ve shared for nearly 30 years.

Jan. 3, 2014

By Karl Klooster of the News-Register


“All the world’s a stage. And all the men and women merely players.” So go the Bard of Avon’s immortal words, as spoken by the character Jacques in Act II, Scene VII, of “As You Like It.”

To borrow a quote from William Shakespeare as a metaphor for a thoroughly modern married couple may be an oversimplification. But methinks thespians Walt Haight and Dawn Graff-Haight of McMinnville won’t mind.

Married for nearly 30 years, the Haights have helped each other grow and succeed in their careers, while also encouraging their mutual need for self-expression. In so doing, they have found a balance between the necessity for pragmatism and the yearning for the kind of creativity that makes life more fulfilling.

Left-brain activities, which provide their livelihoods, demand discipline and focus. Right-brain ones allow freedom to dream, to escape from the ordinary, or perhaps do unselfish things that bring a sense of satisfaction and achievement apart from one’s work.

Walt is an electrical staking technician with McMinnville Water & Light. An Albany native and University of Oregon graduate, he is charged with figuring out how to supply power for new customers and additional power for existing ones, using existing infrastructure insofar as possible.

In concept, it sounds fairly straightforward. But in practice, it can be considerably more complex. That’s why this one medium-sized, municipal power company employs three people to do it full-time.

Dawn is a professor of health education at Linfield College. She hails from Wisconsin, where she earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education at the University of Wisconsin-Lacrosse.

After teaching high school in Wisconsin for seven years, she decided to up her educational ante. She applied for Oregon State University’s doctoral program in health education and was accepted.

By then, Walt, a geography grad, was working as a cartographer for the city of Corvallis.

Their paths crossed at the Museum Tavern, a popular Corvallis watering hole. The setting was a pinball competition in which both contestants emerged as winners in more ways than one.

Apparently, the mutual attraction transcended in-state collegiate rivalries. They went together for a year and a half while Dawn completed her doctoral studies in education.

In 1984, they tied the knot in Albany. Then they moved to Montana, where she had signed a one-year contract to teach at Montana State University in Billings.

Pursuit of a tenure track opportunity led her to Portland State University in 1988. As an associate professor of health education, she was able to mentor students destined to become health educators or health service professionals.

Dawn gained both experience and perspective over the course of eight years in Portland. Meanwhile, Walt worked for Washington County in Hillsboro.

As a result, they joined most students on the downtown campus in getting to know commuting life all too well.

In 1996, Dawn got an offer to join the faculty at Linfield College in McMinnville.

“A small school where I could do it all, a collegial environment and a great town,” she said. “It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”

Walt parlayed his city and county government experience into a spot on the McMinnville Water & Light team in 1998, and the Haights settled in to make Mac home for them and their daughter, Delaney.

Dawn managed to multi-task as mother, professor and author, and earned that much-coveted tenure over the course of seven years. Her published works include contributing to or co-authoring three textbooks, including the teacher’s edition of “Comprehensive School Health Education: Totally Awesome Teaching Strategies,” published by Prentice Hall.

In addition to the collegiality of the campus and the congeniality of the community, McMinnvllle also extended the Haights an extracurricular benefit that has become an important part of their lives. That benefit came in the form of Gallery Theater, home to local live theater productions since 1968.

Both Walt and Dawn performed in high school plays and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Neither had since mustered the time or inclination to step back onto the stage, but it wasn’t long before they found themselves bitten by the acting bug.

Walt leapt into a wide range of roles. Dawn stuck largely to musicals, including “The Music Man,” “Sound of Music” and, most recently, “Taffeta Memories,” so she could utilize her singing talent.

Dawn has also taken to mentoring young drama students.

“I enjoy teaching theater as much as acting,” she said. “It’s wonderful to work with young people.”

A longtime Gallery Theater board member, Walt has been cast in more than two dozen plays since winning his first Gallery role in 1998. He also served six years on the board of McMinnville Community Media, which operates the local public access channel.

Recently, he directed “Born Yesterday.”

Asked to tackle a classic comedy, he said, “We looked at a lot of possibilities, and this was the one that stood out for me. A couple of my friends at Pentacle Theatre in Salem really came through and I’m very happy with the result.”

Judy Holliday starred when the Garson Kanin play debuted on Broadway in 1948. She went on to win an Oscar for her reprisal of Billie Dawn in the 1950 George Cukor film version, which co-starred William Holden and Broderick Crawford.

Walt is currently in rehearsals for “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” directed by Ted Diesel. The play, promising shades of Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman, is scheduled to run from Jan. 17 to Feb. 1.

Being on stage is by no means the only volunteer involvement from which the Haights have derived personal satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment. Both have long been active in other roles as well.

Walt joined the McMinnville Rotary Club in 2001 and will be serving as president this year. Dawn served on the Yamhill County Commission on Children and Families from 1996 to 2009.

And that’s what I found out while OUT and ABOUT — standing up to applaud Walt and Dawn Graff-Haight, who scale the heights in this writer’s playbook.

Karl Klooster can be reached by e-mail at or phone at 503-687-1227.