Advancement & Public Services

Charlene CallisonCallison Theatre

'Glitter Queen' Donates more than 200 Items to the Theatre Costume Collection

Charlene Callison, flashy, fashion legend at Western Illinois University, recently donated more than 200 items (including some 100 hats) to the theatre and dance department’s costume shop.

“I would never have been able to part with these items,” Callison said, “had I not known that the theatre department would take care of them, appreciate them, and use them.”

The donated items all belonged to Callison, her husband, former WIU History Chair Larry Balsamo, and their daughter, Angie Balsamo, who has a MFA in theatre from Stony Brook University and works in New York City. The collection includes more than 100 hats for every occasion, from every corner of the world (Chicago, New York, Florence, Paris), designer clothes, men’s suits, ladies gowns, purses and shoes.

“I had all these things at home, and thought perhaps they could be of use to the costume shop,” said Callison. “Many are specific period pieces, and I know that often a few small items can really make a difference in a production.”

“The Department of Theatre and Dance truly appreciates Charlene Callison’s generosity of this donation of unique fashion items to our costume collection. We always have the need for a variety of costumes and accessories for our productions and concerts,” said Department Chair, David Patrick. “This donation gives our students more flexibility for costume design. Charlene and Larry’s support of the department over the years has been absolutely fantastic and our students and audiences have benefited immensely.”

Cyndi Lohrmann ’78, graduate assistant for the costume shop, assisted Callison in the inventory of the collection.

“Cyndi studied fashion design with me years ago and earned a degree in home economics in 1978. Now that she is back at Western pursuing an MFA in costume design, the timing to do this was perfect. With Cyndi’s professional expertise and my background in fashion, going through my closets together was fun and sentimental.”

Callison’s generosity to WIU is as legendary as her fashion status. The Callison/Balsamo family has established three scholarships (Charlene Callison Fashion Merchandising Scholarship, Marian Callison Non-Traditional Scholarship, and the Larry Balsamo History Scholarship); been steadfast supporters of the Performing Arts Society, Summer Music Theatre, Phi Kappa Phi, the colleges of Education and Human Services and Arts and Sciences; and champions of many special projects and causes over their many years of association with Western. Callison received the 2001 Honorary Alumni Award from the WIU Alumni Association. In the words of Cathy Null ’72 MA ’91 MS ’02, assistant to the dean of Fine Arts and Communication, “Charlene equals generosity.”

“I hope this contribution will inspire others to think outside the box,” said Callison. “There are lots of things we can do to help students; giving money is only one. I urge all my friends and colleagues to start thinking creatively and to start giving of themselves and their belongings to help the many students who are struggling to get through school in this economic climate.”