Walden Theatre is sad to announce that Nancy Niles Sexton (77) passed away Thursday, November 10 with her family at her side.

A visionary in the field of arts education, Mrs. Sexton founded Walden Theatre in 1976 to give young people the opportunity to grow and develop through the study and experience of theatre. Her leadership as Producing Director oversaw the organization’s inclusion as a member of the Fund for the Arts and the purchase of its property on Payne Street, where the Nancy Niles Sexton Stage honors her legacy.  She served as Producing Director until 1999, though she maintained an active role with young actors and playwrights beyond her official retirement.

Mrs. Sexton shared her expertise as an educator with lectures and workshops on theatre training for young people throughout Kentucky as well as in Indiana, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Ontario. Along with founding Walden Theatre, she launched a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 1976 that led to the creation of the first Shakespeare Festival by and for young people in the United States. She also started Walden Theatre’s young playwrights program, which continues to develop and produce new student works every year for the theatre going public.

Mrs. Sexton wrote 15 original works for Walden Theatre, and several of her plays — covering everything from the life of Thomas Edison and the 1937 Louisville Flood to the Tuskegee Airmen of World War II — are still performed for area school students. She co-authored the play My Days as a Youngling which was based on the early years of her uncle, Kentucky balladeer John Jacob Niles, and a performance of the play was broadcast on the KET public television network. 

My Days as a Youngling was recognized with the Distinguished Play Award presented by the Children’s Theatre Association of America in 1983. Other major recognitions include the Presentation Academy Tower Award for Women Leaders in 1999, a Gheens Premier Award in 2007, and Walden Theatre’s inaugural Stage-Setter Award for Arts Community Impact in 2008.

Mrs. Sexton earned a BA in English/Drama from the University of Kentucky, and she did graduate work at the Yale Drama School. She was a member of Actors Equity Association, and she performed the folk music and legends of Kentucky all her life. She directed widely throughout her career, including an AFTRA Award-winning production ofThe Taming of the Shrew for WKPC-TV. As an actor, she performed with the Kentucky Opera, Actors Theatre of Louisville (including the Humana Festival of New American Plays), Stage West (Springfield, Mass.), and Walden Theatre.

She took huge delight in the achievements of her grandchildren and had fond memories of all the students she taught over the years. She is survived by her loving husband of 53 years, Robert Sexton; children Robert Franklin Sexton III (Nancy) and Charles Niles Sexton (Laura); grandchildren Aaron, Ian, Ben and Rena; sister, Beverly Niles; niece, Sandy Bennett.

Her funeral service will be 10 a.m. Thursday, November 17, 2011 at St. Matthews Baptist Church, with burial in Cave Hill Cemetery to follow. Her visitation will be 2-8 p.m. Wednesday, November 16, 2011 at Pearson Ratterman Brothers Funeral Home, 12900 Shelbyville Road. In addition, there will be a memorial celebrating Mrs. Sexton’s life and career on Saturday, November 26, 3-5 p.m. at Walden Theatre.

In lieu of flowers, donations in Mrs. Sexton’s memory can be made to Walden Theatre.