Gift from Prather family endows theatre scholarship

Scene shop is named for cherished Rider University professor Tharyle J. Prather
Diane Cornell

Rider University is pleased to announce the dedication of the Tharyle J. Prather Scene Shop and the creation of the Tharyle Prather Endowed Scholarship to support theatre majors with an interest in technical theater.

The fund was created with a generous gift from Prather's niece, Darra Prather-Day, and her husband, Rick Day, in honor of their uncle. Tharyle Prather was a long-time faculty member of Rider’s School of Fine and Performing Arts. Family, friends and former students of Prather also contributed to the scholarship.

The dedication and naming of the scene shop took place during Rider’s Homecoming and Family Weekend. Prather lent his many talents to countless theatre productions at Rider and worked for more than 35 years as director of theater facilities before retiring in 2011. He died in August 2018.

“Tharyle was a vibrant person who bred creativity in himself and others,” says Darra Prather, who funded the endowment with a $25,000 gift to the University. “I wanted something that could live on in honor of his very unique set of talents — talents which seldom get ‘front of show’ recognition. I would love to see that sort of talent nurtured and passed along in others.”

Miriam Mills, who was married to Prather for 39 years and is an associate professor of theatre in the School of Fine and Performing Arts, says the tributes are perfect ways to honor her husband’s legacy of creative set design and his unflagging dedication to students and the University.

“He would meet students once and he would remember their names. He never forgot them,” says Mills. “He was always a gentleman, always kind and always treated people with grace and dignity. He loved this University. He loved that it wasn’t huge and that he knew everyone. He felt like this was his second home.”

Prather began his career at Rider in 1979. As technical director, he helped produced several annual main stage productions, overseeing design, equipment, sound, lighting, music and other technical aspects of the theater. As a lecturer, he taught stagecraft, lighting design and set design, among other subjects.

Mills recalls that Prather would often decorate the sets of productions with items borrowed from their own home. “I remember once coming into my living room to sit on my couch and my couch wasn’t there. He had brought it to the theater to use for a show,” she says, laughing at the memory. “He did that all the time, even taking stuff off the walls. He was dedicated to making a set look as good as possible.”

Prior to coming to Rider, Prather worked at Rutgers University as technical director for the Mason Gross School of the Arts theater program.

Westminster College of the Arts Dean Marshall Onofrio says Prather helped shape the theater curriculum at the School of Fine and Performing Arts: “As a passionate advocate of theater art, he was a role model for countless students, inspiring those he taught.”

Online messages about Prather reveal his commitment to his students. “You were my favorite teacher and always someone I could count on in my time at Rider,” commented Kevin Coughlin ’83 in a tribute posted shortly after Prather passed away.

“Tharyle was one of the most altruistic human beings I have ever had the chance to learn from,” wrote James Brown ’97 in another comment memorializing Prather. “His patience and ability to work through anything was nothing less than inspiring.”

Before beginning his career, Prather graduated from Manchester College in Indiana with a Bachelor of Science in Speech and Theater-Fine Arts and earned a Master of Fine Arts in Design and Technical Theater from Rutgers University’s Mason Gross School of the Arts.

The Tharyle Prather Endowed Scholarship is for qualified theater students with demonstrated financial need beginning in their sophomore year of study. Preference will be given to those pursuing a concentration in technical theater. To contribute to the scholarship visit or contact Associate Director of Leadership Giving for Scholarships Gabrielle Rinkus at [email protected] or 609-896-5344.