Mike Mennard, baritone singer, composer, and performer, is an assistant professor of English and communications at Union College. Named "Nebraska's Poet Laureate of Silliness" by the newspaper in Lincoln, Nebraska, and tagged as the "Renaissance man for kids," he is known for his promotion of literacy through music and his efforts in getting students to participate in the arts.
Born in Texas, Mennard, a shy child who grew up in California, came out of his shell when one evening his mother handed him an ice cream scoop, told him to pretend it was a microphone, and challenged him to entertain her. This simple act unleashed a flood of silly poems and songs that has continued nonstop to the present.
Prior to coming to his present position, Mennard was a Christian recording artist during the 1990s who had released two CDs, Grace (and Other Stuff) and Life With a View. He also wrote for the Pacific Union College alumni magazine, Viewpoint. During his travels throughout the U.S. as a performer of serious Christian music, he found that audiences most often requested ditties that he was doing just for fun during his concerts, fare that was enjoyed by the kids as well as their parents.
In 2002, his wife, Michelle, was offered a teaching position at Union College and soon after their arrival at UC, Mike began teaching in the English and communications department. He released his first CD, Something's Rotting in the Refrigerator, in 2004. He has since performed for the young in many public schools and libraries not only in Lincoln, but also throughout the state of Nebraska, as well as on stage in concerts.
Mennard has since released four CDs with equally colorful titles such as When Mother Goose Laid an Egg, Night at Whaler's Inn, and We've Got it All in Nebraska. A holiday album is planned for the fall of 2010. A full-length musical comedy, That's What Makes Them Pirates, his first attempt in this art form, was based on his CD Pirates do the Darnedest Things.
The musical, presented on the UC campus February through April 2010, was a huge success and enjoyed several well-attended showings. Mark Robison, professor of English, and Dan Lynn, professor of music, assisted in its production. The play unfolds aboard the ship Jolly Nostril. As described in a press release by Priscilla Jones:
The notorious Captain Rapscallion and crew, searching for adventure, revenge, and sword fights, are beset by the infamous Captain Blake, who Rapscallion believes killed her husband. Throughout the dancing, avenging, and romancing of the pirates, the audience will be asked to participate in this musical comedy for all ages.
Mennard uses a wide variety of musical styles, including bluegrass, country, rap, hip-hop, opera, and others to connect with the young. He is committed to promoting literacy and since 2008 has attended state reading conferences, encouraging teachers to use nonsense to get students involved in the arts, which he feels are "the essentials of life." His creative genius, ability to communicate with the young, and many activities have won him awards and accolades as a poet, folklorist, songwriter, speaker, and storyteller.
He has authored three books: Can't Keep My Soul from Dancing (2003), Shall We Gather at the Potluck (2004), and To the Ledge of the Edge of the Universe (2010).
A 1991 graduate of Pacific Union College, Mennard earned an M.A. in English at Sonoma State University. He is presently working on a doctorate at the University of Nebraska.
Sources: Biography for That's What Makes Them Pirates, and other materials at www.mikemennard.com; Alan J. Bartels, "Nebraska's Silly Songwriter," Nebraska Life, March/April 2010, 34; MM, "Final Thoughts: I might have been a linebacker but chose too sing baritone instead," PUC Viewpoint, Winter 2005, 31; Wikipedia.