Loeschke grew up in Parkville and recalls a childhood world of rich imagination and innovation in the alleys between the rowhouses. She and her friends couldn't afford to go to a miniature golf course, so they made their own.

"I started about five businesses in that alley," she says. "I was a bossy little kid, so they let me."

The first day she walked into Parkville High School, she saw tryout signs for a student production of "Our Town." She got the lead part.

She fell in love with the stage and made plans to study theater at the University of Maryland. But her life's course changed when an abrupt man showed up in her high school drama class, saying he needed recruits for a new acting program at Towson.

"I did not care for him at all," she says of that guy, Gillespie. "Except he was brilliant, and he set the bar so high for us."

When she declared that she'd study theater, her father, a county highways worker, said, "I'm not paying for that." But Loeschke didn't care.

At Towson, she joined a small group of dedicated actors. She showed her moxie when, as an 18-year-old freshman, she confronted Gillespie about his perpetual lateness. Fine, he said, be my assistant and keep me on track.

"Not unless you do what I tell you," she recalls telling her mentor. "So I spent the next four years marching around telling him what to do."

That was hardly the end of their testy relations.

"She was always angry at me, because I didn't cast her very much," he says over an omelet at the Towson Diner. "She had this terrible Baltimore dialect."

So Loeschke spent the entire summer between her sophomore and junior years listening to recorded plays and dialogues. "When she came back in the fall, I nearly fell over," says Gillespie, whom she married in 1981. "She had a completely different voice."

She had every intention of decamping to New York after graduation and living the vagabond life of an aspiring actor. But Gillespie asked her to stick around for one more semester and fill in for a departed acting instructor.

To her surprise, she liked teaching.

"Performing is a personal satisfaction that you've used your talent to move somebody," she says. "But when you're teaching students and you gently tell them how to improve a scene, and it's so much better when they come back, I don't know that there's anything more rewarding."

Shohreh Kaynama, the dean of Towson's business and economics college, had little use for acting when she registered for Loeschke's class to fill a requirement back in the 1970s.

"But she was such a powerful teacher that she transformed me and a lot of others," Kaynama says. "When I think back to courses I remember from my undergraduate days, there are few. But hers is at the top."

Loeschke was able to form a personal connection with each student, Kaynama says, and empathy for others lay at the core of her acting instruction. "I still use a lot of things that I learned in the class," she says.

But Loeschke the teacher wasn't all about inspiration. Gillespie says her toughness put his own to shame. She insisted that advanced acting students show up on time or flunk, arguing that if they showed up late to auditions in New York, they'd never get hired.

Once, a student was late and Loeschke ordered the class to move past the young woman's scene. Moments later, a policeman walked in with the tardy actress. She had been driving on the Beltway with two flat tires, endangering fellow drivers as she vainly tried to make Loeschke's class.

Loeschke finally relented and allowed the student to perform her scene. What did that mean for the lateness policy? "It means that if you're late," Loeschke told the class, "you better show up with a cop."