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Home » Cougar Foundation Hall of Fame » 2002 Cougar Foundation Hall of Fame Inductees » Gael Rooker Stirler, Class of ‘73, Entrepreneur, Designer, Business Woman

Gael Rooker Stirler, Class of ‘73, Entrepreneur, Designer, Business Woman

Over the years since Gael attended Sahuaro High School, she has taken a long circuitous path back to the endeavors she learned and loved in Mr. Burgess‘ Drama classes. She says it’s hard to see how being a businesswoman would owe so much to her training in stagecraft, but that a day hardly goes by that she doesn’t call on the skills that she was encouraged to develop in those special hours so long ago.

She always wanted to be a star and have the leading role in one of Sahuaro’s productions.  She says that she was only cast in one leading role in Little Red Riding Hood on Trial.  Looking back, she realizes how bad she was at acting.  But thankfully, she said “Mr. Burgess found my ‘real talent off stage’”.  He encouraged her to take on a different duty in every position in the theatre.  She did have minor roles including a dog in Spoofydoof’s Funnybone – one of her favorite roles. 

She loved costumes.  As an artist she enjoyed the creative side where she did paintings of each character in costume.  She also came to love the business side where she had to bring her ideas within the budget.  Prop work was even more challenging.  She recalls, “We were doing We Have Always Lived in the Castle and we needed a stuffed dog.  I actually talked a taxidermist into loaning us one for the show.  All he had was a stuffed coyote pup in attack posture complete with snarling face.  It was so frightening, but it somehow worked in that gothic horror.”

Gael graduated in ’73 and went to NAU.  After a year, she and her boyfriend Jake decided to get married.  Her parents objected and cut off her college money so she had to drop out and move back to Tucson.  She recalls, “I visited Sahuaro often like to many other of Bill’s students.  I wrote a children’s play in 1977 called Piper’s Magic Flute that Bill agreed to stage with his freshman drama class.

After trying to promote a musical theatre group at church (without success), she went to work as a real estate agent.  She found she had a head for business.  She got involved with someone and she and Jake broke up.  After less than two years, though, they made up and remarried.  Gael says, “the most important thing we learned was that we had to find mutual interests and pursue them together or we would be driven apart.”

She returned to her interest in art and painting. She even painted Bill’s cat in the garden. She went to Pima College to get a degree in computer art and desktop publishing. Even before she graduated she had plenty of work as a graphic designer. She also founded an organization for people in her field called Computer Using Graphic Artists or CUGA. (Once a Cougar always a Cougar). She did a lot of public speaking with that group and found that she hadn’t lost her poise in front of an. audience. She still enjoys public speaking today and was just asked to speak at a national conference of the Direct Marketing Association.

She began to search for the ideal business to run.  She came up with an idea for a catalog that would sell all manner of Medieval, Renaissance, and Fantasy stuff like swords, armor, costumes, jewelry, books, patterns, and whatever else she could think of.  She states, “I got the idea from my hobby, historical recreation in the Society for Creative Anachronism. I drifted into that hobby because of the interest in history, costumes, Shakespeare, and pageantry that I first experienced as a child living in Germany and later in Mr. Burgess’ classes.” Gael designed costumes and found people to make them, made up the catalogs and other advertising materials. She ran the accounting department, directed the customer service operators, designed the set for the store, wrote the scripts for the telephone sales, wrote business plans – and as time went on she even learned to act the part of a successful business owner.

Although she spent a great deal of her young life imagining becoming a professional actor, director, or playwright, she never went into professional theatre.  However, she did put all of her skills to work in her career. She stated. ”My company, Chivalry Sports, made over $2 million in sales in 2000. We published nearly half a million catalogs that year and we won an award for the fastest growing small business in Tucson. The next year we won Southern Arizona Small Business Retailer/Supplier of the Year for 2001. We have a staff of 25 people now and every one of them is unique and a little bit off. They have to be to work for me.”

Gael says, ”All we want to do is make people happy by helping them to explore their feelings and create a personal mythology based on history and fantasy. We help our customers act out-as in stage games and improvisational theatre experience where the audience is as much a part of the show as the actors. If our customers are any indication, then drama has burst through the walls of the playhouse and swept out into the streets and byways, saturating everything in its path ‘With the juices of life’. As Hamlet says ‘All the world’s a stage and we but mere players’.”