Each week, we look back at what the interesting stories of the day in years past were, and do our best to catch up to present day. Recently, we spotlighted the space shuttle Challenger disaster of Jan. 26, 1986. We included an interview of Harrison Middle School student Lance Werth, who had been a member of the “original 30” future-astronaut class held at the Kansas Cosmosphere and Discovery Center in Hutchinson.
We thought we’d found the right Lance Werth, but it turns out the one that graduated from hays High School in 1990 was actually a distant relative of the young man in question. The real Lance Werth contacted the Tribune by email.
“I read your recent story about the Challenger disaster in 1986, and I thought I’d let you know that the Lance Werth quoted in the original story graduated from Great Bend High School in 1991 and moved to New York City where he is currently a television executive at the Showtime Network.
I know this because I’m Lance Werth. I was interviewed because I had gone to space camp at the Cosmosphere and had some knowledge about the space program.
If you wouldn’t mind updating the story on the web I’d really appreciate it as my father still lives in Great Bend and I think he’d get a kick out of seeing the story.”
With Lance’s permission, we went one better. He agreed to share the exciting adventure of his life so far. Here, a transcript of our email interview.
Tribune: Lance! It is so awesome that you contacted me. I would love to find out more about you and update the story. Our readers would love it as much as I think your dad would. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve had someone write in to set me straight -- we do our best with what’s on hand, and usually get it right, but now and then there is the odd person with a same name and it coincides so closely, we miss the turn and end up at a different destination.
I’m curious, with your interest in science, what organizations were you involved in during high school? How did your interests evolve over time? And how did you end up picking New York City for college? As the shuttle program began to move ahead again after the 1986 tragedy, did you think about it much, or were your interests already changing? What were your thoughts when the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster occurred? Were you already in television at the time?
Lance: The two Lance Werths are pretty confusing. I think we are only a year apart and may have both been born in Hays. And I just found out Nebraska Lance is a cousin to one of my aunts by marriage. I don’t know what that makes our relation to each other, but it certainly explains how you could easily pick the wrong Lance for your story.
I’d be happy to answer your questions! Let me know when I’ve bored you.
My interest in science and space travel continued after the Challenger accident- so much so that a couple years later I attended a second space camp through the Cosmosphere that took me to Houston and the Johnson Space Center. But by this trip I was starting to realize that while I was smart, my talents seemed to lean more towards the verbal. So I joked with the instructors that I wanted to be the first lawyer in space. By the end of the second camp, I was pretty sure I didn’t have “the right stuff” and came home focused on how I was going to do enough chores to pay back my parents for these camps. I guess it’s sort of like kids wanting to be firemen. It seems like fun until you have to put out a fire. So I wasn’t going to be Mr. Spock. But maybe I could be a guy who gets to act like Mr. Spock.
I focused on debate and competitive speech with Barbara Sharp at GBHS and won medals across the state for performance. I starred in school plays under the direction of Kim Keiswetter as well as participating in the BCCC Spring musicals. By my senior year I was convinced I was headed for stardom. Even though I’d never been any farther east than Missouri, I knew New York City was the place for me to go to study acting and get on Saturday Night Live. So I got on a plane for the first time and headed for the Big Apple to become bigger than Jack Kilby. Life rarely goes as planned...
For years I auditioned for acting roles and studied improv comedy at Gotham City Improv. I rose through the ranks to the main performing company and even taught and directed. I then decided to start writing my own plays and created a theatrical group called The Sweater Set and performed all over town. One of my favorite projects was a two-person musical comedy called Reddy or Not about two obsessed Helen Reddy fans that became a cabaret club favorite and even allowed me to meet Helen Reddy herself! Meanwhile to earn money, I worked as an executive assistant at Showtime Networks. As time passed I rose through the ranks and my position at Showtime became more influential and made more money than my acting. So I transitioned from struggling actor to television executive.
And that’s where I’m at now. Who knows what’s next?
By the time of the Columbia shuttle disaster, I’d already been through 9/11 so national news tragedies left me a little numb. The worst aspect of that accident was that the NASA engineers had a good idea those astronauts were doomed but didn’t tell the crew because there was nothing that could have been done. What a terrible burden to shoulder.
I guess working in television is a little safer than space exploration.
Tribune: I hadn’t considered the 9/11 aspect of your history. It makes sense. Were you in New York when that occurred?
How do you think growing up in Great Bend has contributed to your career? Do you feel there is benefit to growing up here, and then later moving to a larger city like New York?
It sounds like your parents were very supportive of you and wanted you to follow your passions. . Would you like to add any further comments about that?
Lance: Happy to answer more questions, Veronica!
I was in New York on 9/11. I was down in Tribeca shooting a comedy pilot. Normally I would have been far uptown in my office, but sadly, that day I got a front row seat to the World Trade Center collapse. Nothing can really communicate the surreal devastation of one minute seeing two skyline landmarks on fire- and the next, one is gone in a cloud of smoke. And then the second until there’s nothing there. No buildings. No people. Devastating day. They’ve done a beautiful job on the memorial. A wonderful place to reflect.
Growing up in Great Bend has definitely left its mark on me. I have a very strong work ethic and pride in what I create. I assume that comes directly from my German farmer roots. I also find that I have carried my Midwestern friendliness with me- not to the point that I say, “Good morning!” to everyone I meet (there are 8 million people here after all) but I definitely give people the benefit of the doubt and am usually willing to engage with strangers in a friendly manner. I also carry a strong sense of personal values. The Midwest tends to foster strong convictions- and while I may not agree with some of the beliefs I was raised under, I have been able to find ideals that I believe in. The great thing about living in a large city like New York is that you learn very quickly that other people have beliefs and lifestyles as well and you have to learn from them- just as they will learn from your unique beliefs. I don’t know if anything could have prepared me for moving to New York City- but the resourcefulness and drive to be noticed that I learned by being an oddball in high school certainly helped.
My parents really weren’t in a great position to pay for those camps. And while I “worked” it off by doing chores- I am grateful that they made the sacrifice for me to have a world-enlarging experience- which is what I needed to become the person I am today. My parents have always been supportive to varying degrees of me pursuing my goals- But I have to admit that as a headstrong teenager, I really gave them no choice.
Note: We have updated the Jan. 26 Out of the Morgue post online with a correction and link to this week’s story.