Astronaut, chemical engineer or theater designer topped the boyhood ambitions of Richard C. Hay. But it was at Indiana State University that the young man found his true passion.
Today, Hay is president of Quest Theatre Ensemble, which has been providing free theater to Chicago residents for more than a decade. He and his wife, Carla, also are founders and co-owners of Twenty Six Design LLC, a premier provider of customer-centered software and design solutions based in Celebration, Fla.
How did a boy growing up in the small Indiana community of Brazil develop such varied interests and intriguing career paths? Mainly through his parents, his childhood experiences and his time as a Sycamore.
“I was fortunate to be exposed to many diverse opportunities as a child,” Hay said. His father, Dick, was a professor of ceramics at Indiana State, and his mother Nancy, an Indiana State alumna, was a second-grade teacher in Terre Haute.
“I got a taste of the ‘big city’ through frequent family trips to Chicago, and I was exposed to the wonder of the ocean from near-annual trips to Sanibel Island or Daytona Beach,” Hay said. “I went to Space Camp twice — including as part of the International Space Camp where I earned a ‘Right Stuff’ award.”
When he turned 16, Hay began working at Hardee’s. “That job taught me more about responsibility, money and life than nearly any since.”
At Northview High School in Brazil, Hay developed a love of the performing arts, which continued when he entered Indiana State.
“My decision to attend Indiana State was based on receiving a competitive scholarship that covered in‐state tuition, as well as from my familiarity with the campus and my interest in the theater and English programs,” he said. “I also wanted to live on campus — something that was easily possible at Indiana State. And, with many of my high school friends attending the same school, ISU brought a sense of familiarity, friendliness and collegiality that was missing from some of the other schools to which I applied.”
At Indiana State, Hay developed friendships he still values today, and he expanded interests that helped lead to his choice career.
“First and foremost, I remember the friendships,” he said. “My college roommate, Andy Park, has become one of my closest friends. In addition to being the best man at my wedding, Andy and I share a passion for the theater — a passion that was developed at Indiana State and that has continued in his work in Chicago and my work as both a graphic designer and as president of Quest Theatre Ensemble, which was developed primarily by ISU alumni.”
In particular, Hay recalls working for the Indiana State theater department to design and acquire props for the SummerStage professional theater company, now known as Crossroads Repertory Theatre.
“For a couple of years, I answered hundreds of questions from students and staff while working as a help-desk technician. I also remember my time as photo editor for the Statesman, as editor-in-chief for ISU’s IQ Magazine and as a writing center consultant — a position that led to WCONLINE, a scheduling, record-keeping and reporting solution that I developed and that is now used by thousands of educational centers.”
During his senior year at Indiana State, Hay opened a retail computer store named Computer Creations on Wabash Avenue. “That helped me learn about business and about balancing college with other responsibilities,” he said.
Among his fun college memories, Hay recalls “sitting by the fountain, meeting with professors in Root Hall, having dinner in the Student Union, workouts with friends in Le Club, talking with friends in the dorm.”
After graduating magna cum laude in 2000 with an English degree and minor in theater, Hay enrolled in graduate school at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. While there, Hay opened a small business that focused on developing WCONLINE. The company provided graphic design and printing services, developed complex web applications and created opportunities and training problems for people with disabilities.
It was in Milwaukee that Hay met his wife, an Olympic-class long-track speed skater. They were married March 26, 2011, at the Milwaukee Art Museum with 200 family and friends — many from Indiana State — in attendance. Trading the snowy winters of the Midwest, the couple bought a home in Florida, where they hike, bike and walk all year long.
But Hay hasn’t forgotten his hometown or his college. A few months ago, the couple worked with Quest and College of Arts and Sciences Dean John Murray and ISU Foundation development officer Ken Menefee to host an alumni event at the theatre in Chicago.
“I am happy and proud of being part of the active ISU alumni,” Hay said.
As for future plans, Hay hopes “to continue developing my business — to continue trying new ideas, even if some fail — and to see what this business can become,” he said. “Carla and I also hope to continue our quest to hike in every national park.”