James Lewis Casaday (1907-1990) played a unique role in the life and culture of South Bend. Over a period of over 60 years, he mounted or participated in some 500 performances of school and community theatre groups. He brought to these performances a thorough knowledge of theatrical literature, high standards of production, a vivid, highly developed visual imagination, a love of music, "hands-on" abilities in costuming, a contagious enthusiasm, a strong interest in the artistic and personal development of his performers, and a unique, dominant personality. His impact on those who worked with him was very great.
The grandson of William Lewis Casaday (1844-1910), founder of the South Bend Chilled Plow Company and holder of some 200 patents for various kinds of machinery, the young James Lewis grew up in his grandfather's house surrounded by mementoes from a grander past. (His father, James Oliver Casaday - named for the great South Bend industrialist and friend of William Lewis - was less successful.
More cultural influences were absorbed from his mother, Emma Myer Casaday, who was a talented seamstress; and his aunt, Ada Myer, a singer and lover of opera and theater who made an independent life for herself in Chicago as proprietor of a team room, and much later, after the death of James Oliver Casaday in the 1950's, came to live with James and his mother. Both women were staunch Christian Scientists, with an expansive, positive concept of the universal mind which included all people.
In addition to the strong influence of his family, the young Casaday absorbed the general culture of South Bend. In the years 1900-1930, the city brimmed with "live" theatrical performances and concerts by touring and local groups. There was a positive attitude toward the arts, literature and education among many. Included in this were Casaday's teachers at South Bend Central High School - a place where artistic talents were enthusiastically nurtured.
Casaday had a chance to refine and perfect his techniques at Williams College, in the Master's summer theater programs at Iowa State University and elsewhere, and in his many early productions. Casaday came back to South Bend after graduation in the 1920's and began a long career as a drama teacher in the South Bend public schools. He taught theater and worked with students at South Bend's Central, Riley, and Adams High Schools. He also did much work with young people and theater in the Michiana area over the years, as well as helping to put on many many adult productions in the area over the years of his life. Biographical sketches written at the time of his "Tributes" in the 1970s and at the time of his death outline the rest of his story.