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A decade apart – brothers share role in The Pirates of Penzance

Ten years ago, Mars Hill Academy sophomore Peter Cunningham starred as the honorable yet naïve Frederic in The Pirates of Penzance. Last month, his brother and MHA senior Andrew Cunningham played the same leading role with his own sense of style.

“It was a dream come true. As a kid, I watched the movie The Pirates of Penzance at least once a day. It’s a show I’ve always wanted to do since I saw Peter as Frederic,” said Andrew of Liberty Twp., who served as a pirate usher when MHA produced the classic Gilbert and Sullivan musical in 2008.

During a special 10-year anniversary presentation, seventh-twelfth grade MHA students took to the stage March 22-24 at Parrish Auditorium in Hamilton as sentimental pirates, dewy-eyed daughters, and bumbling policemen. Set on a rocky Cornish coast, this musical comedy tells the story of a bumbling group of pirates and their young charge Frederic, who has decided it's time to hang up the sword and become a respectable gentleman. As the pirates attempt to bring him back into the fold, there are confrontations with the police and romantic entanglements with the Major General’s daughters. The youngest Cunningham brother, freshman Christopher, performed as a policeman during the show, which was his first MHA performance.

“I love seeing this next generation of Mars Hill students tackle some of the same vocally challenging work that we took on,” said Peter, who designed the set for this year's production. “The Pirates of Penzance is a great show and one worth performing over and over.”

Peter, who said Andrew’s voice training and acting experiences made him a perfect fit for the challenging role as Frederic, recalled his own difficulties on stage. During his opening night, Peter was to look through a telescope and then hook it onto his belt and wear it for the rest of the show.

“However, with all that extra audience-induced adrenaline, I collapsed my telescope with some extra vigor. As it closed, it caught my thumb, and I started bleeding on stage. I then had to hide my grimaces from the pain (and the blood!) for the rest of Act One,” he said.

Andrew, too, had some prop issues.

“I had the most realistic sword – it was metal, and whenever I would bend over, it would slide out,” he said.

Andrew, who plans to attend the University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music this fall, will take to the stage again May 25-27 when the Royal Theatre Company in Mason presents Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Peter, MHA Class of 2010, has spent his time since graduation exploring and exercising his passion for the arts. He studied English literature, minoring in art and music, at Wheaton College and recently completed his Master of Architecture at the University of Maryland.

“It’s been quite fun to watch Andrew play the role his big brother played 10 years ago,” said mother Lisa Cunningham. “Each brought his own interpretation to The Pirates of Penzance, and I think the audience loved the new Frederic as much as they loved the old Frederic. Thanks, boys, for giving your best to the glory of God!”

Photo: A decade apart, Andrew Cunningham (left) and his older brother Peter shared the lead role as Frederic in The Pirates of Penzance.


MHA teacher Dave Liebing enjoys new role as Dean of Men

MASON -- Mr. David Liebing has worn many hats during the past 10 years at Mars Hill Academy, including Rhetoric and Grammar school teacher, facilities manager, volleyball coach, and father of five graduates. He currently teaches sixth grade and serves in the newly-created position of Rhetoric School Dean of Men.

Mr. Liebing's B.S. in Business Administration, background in the business world, and years of teaching experience in church, co-op, and homeschool settings gave him the expertise to manage MHA facilities on a part-time basis in 2008. He also taught seventh-grade Logic that same year. Because of his love for the school and its mission, he eventually left the business sector to join the faculty full time.

Mr. Liebing shares more about his unwavering love for the school's vision for its students.

Q: Why did you decide to become a teacher?
A: I have believed whole-heartedly in the mission of Mars Hill Academy, in what the school is trying to accomplish since the beginning. As the school has grown, keeping focused on our mission is a challenge I want to support.

Q: What do you enjoy most about teaching?
A: I love interacting with the students, especially in Bible, and helping them think of implications of what they know to be true but perhaps never thought about very seriously. We dig deep into Scripture, asking, "What does it really mean?" I love seeing light bulbs come on.

Q: What is your role as Dean of Men?
A: The Dean of Men exists to guide and counsel Rhetoric School men, ideally mentoring and assisting them with biblical solutions to teen-aged issues. I pray regularly with the Senior men, semi-regularly with Junior men, and have had a number of meetings with students in grades 7-10. As a elementary school teacher, I'm not yet organically connected to the Rhetoric students. We cross paths incidentally, or I may deliberately seek them out, keeping in mind their time commitments. I hope to be more personally involved in their lives as I grow in this position. By definition, this is a long-term initiative — one year is barely a start.

Q: With five graduates (Ben, '04; Anna, '07; Caleb, '09; Faith, '13; and Abby, '16) and your wife, Ellen, a former MHA teacher, how has the school impacted your family?
A: MHA significantly has influenced the Liebing family's worldview. MHA's goal for graduates is to think and speak clearly and precisely in order to communicate our hope in the Gospel. This applies in all areas of life. For example, as a physician's assistant, my son, Caleb, must communicate with patients and families and has been told by co-workers he is gifted in communicating in this difficult area. Caleb gives all the credit to his education, as it taught him to articulate his thoughts clearly.

Q: What is a favorite MHA memory?
A: My absolute favorite is Scripture memory. Having those Bible passages in my heart — and helping students "hide" them in their hearts — is so valuable. The time spent memorizing and thinking about the verses is precious. Some of my favorite memories as a family involve the commute to school. We recited Scripture together, memorizing each other's passages. Saying it out loud, together, was a great way to learn those verses. We still recite them together often.

Q: What is something most people may not know about you?
A: If I had no responsibilities in life, I would be in the mountains every day. I love to hike, especially unmarked trails where you never know what you'll find. I prefer deserted places – make that high, deserted places! One of my favorite nearby hikes is White Rocks of Cumberland Gap. The view from the top is an incredible panorama of lush green hills and valleys. The memories of those hikes keep me going back for more. I will never get tired of the mountains. (Eldest son, Ben, reports Mr. and Mrs. Liebing have been known to sing John Denver songs loudly – and in harmony — while driving to the mountains.)


MHA teaches alumni “how to make a life”

The year was 2006, and students could be found tearing down the Mars Hill Academy classrooms each Friday, transforming North Cincinnati Community Church in Mason back into a house of worship. On Monday morning, classrooms reappeared. 

“We didn’t complain – we knew it wasn’t what other schools did, but it was part of being a student at Mars Hill,” said Miss Amanda Hall, a 2006 alumna. “When there was no space for our Spanish class, we had Spanish conversation time at Panera.”

MHA provided an outlet for her love of music – she was a member of the first Chamber Singers and Madrigal dinner and performed in the school’s musicals. Those years at MHA had a profound impact on her life. 

“Mars Hill gave me the tools of learning – how to study, read carefully, write well, give presentations, speak in front of people,” she recalled. “My teachers passionately loved their subjects and were experts in what they were teaching. Their love for learning was contagious.”

In fact, it was so contagious, Miss Hall caught the bug herself – and joined the teaching staff in Fall 2013. 

Miss Hall, who is engaged to be married this summer, roomed with classmate Betsy Peters Howard at Hillsdale College where she majored in both music and Spanish while Mrs. Howard earned her degree in English, Spanish, and religion. Miss Hall went on to earn her Master’s in Music Education from Bowling Green State University, and Mrs. Howard earned her Master’s in English Literature at the University of St. Thomas. Mrs. Howard currently is working toward her PhD in English Literature from the University of Minnesota. 

“I am profoundly thankful for the six years I spent as a student,” said Mrs. Howard, extolling that “unique sense of shared life that Mars Hill gives to its students—what I would call a spirit of holding ‘uncommon things in common.’”

Today, she  applies the skills  learned at MHA as an English instructor at the University of Minnesota and adjunct faculty at Bethlehem College and Seminary. She also founded Wandeling Press — a collaborative, women's publishing house for children’s books – with Laura Kern, wife of former MHA teacher David Kern.

“A classical liberal arts education, such as the one Mars Hill provides, seeks to connect students of today with authors and texts and readers of countless generations in succession,” she said. “A Mars Hill education exists to extend the fame of God’s name, as it offers an education in a wide range of disciplines.” 

Ben Cox, who graduated in 2008 with Mrs. Howard’s brother Michael Peters, finds himself in a completely different discipline – he currently is serving in a neurology residency at Mayo Clinic Rochester. 

“Mars Hill did much more than teach me how to memorize or how to pass tests; it taught me how to think,” he said. “As a neurology resident, I see very complex diseases that affect the most complex organ system in the body, the nervous system. I've learned a lot of medical science in college (Grove City), medical school (University of Cincinnati), and residency, but the basic process of being able to logically think through a complicated issue, figure out what assumptions are being made, and explore alternative explanations is something I learned at Mars Hill in eighth grade Logic class.”

Dr. Cox reflected fondly on “the most influential years of my life” – playing in the Celtic band The Real McCoys, performing on stage, and jumping kilt-clad into the pond with Michael Peters after their last final. That fateful dip is now an MHA tradition for seniors.

“The most important lessons I learned were the unspoken lessons of seeing Christ modeled daily in my teachers and peers. MHA gave me a taste of what living in Christian community is like and this, above anything else, prepared me for life,” he said. “Mars Hill taught me that education is not just about how to make a living, but about how to make a life.”



Alumni Amanda and Betsy: A photo from the Mars Hill Academy archives shows Miss Amanda Hall (top left) and Mrs. Betsy Peters Howard (top right) as students performing during the school's production of "Bamboozled."

UCD_9545: Mars Hill Academy 2008 graduate Dr. Ben Cox

Hall_Amanda: Mars Hill Academy 2008 graduate Amanda Hall now teaches music at the school.



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