There are many faces and facets to Rachelle Fortenberry Steinhauer of Hattiesburg. She’s an actress, director, crafter, crocheter, attorney, wife, mother, daughter – and the list goes on.
And on any given day, there’s a chance she wears several of those hats.
Originally from the Hub City, Steinhauer went to junior high in Louisiana and to high school in Wasilla, Alaska, a suburb of Anchorage. She said while it was cold there, being in the southern part of the state, it wasn’t that bad. “It did get well below zero, but we did have a summer,” she said. “We didn’t have an air conditioner, but it’s so dry up there we didn’t need one. I loved it, especially the opportunity to hike every day. It was beautiful.”
“My father was a chemical engineer, so we kind of moved around everywhere,” she said. “I moved back here just in time to go to USM.”
At Southern Miss, she majored in radio, television and film. “I was going to be a big actress at one point, but the closer I got to graduation thought practicing law might be something I wanted to do.”
She headed to law school at Ole Miss before coming back to her home base.
These days you’ll find Steinhauer as staff attorney in Judge Johnny Williams’ office, where she’s been for 15 years. The office works in five Pine Belt counties, which rotates. When not in court, Steinhauer is back in her office overlooking Main Street writing opinions and dealing with other legal matters.
“I never thought about practicing on my own,” she said. “I love it here. I think this is where God put me and I’ll stay as long as they will keep me.”
A corner of her office features a child-size table and chairs, a bulletin board with all kinds of handmade creations, a trophy wall of sorts, and more kid-friendly toys under a table to keep little hands busy on occasion while mom works.
And while the courtroom is a stage of sorts, it’s another stage that Steinhauer really enjoys.
As a one-time actress wannabe, she dabbled in acting during high school and college. She took the stage with Just Over the Rainbow Theatre (JORT) in 2003, where she has participated in state festivals on several occasions and also served as president.
“JORT has been like a second family to me,” she said. “We all got real close.”
Steinhauer loves being on the stage in acting roles or serving as a director. “With a very intense job, this is a nice outlet,” she said.
The stage is also where she met her future husband, Tony, an architectural engineer. From New Hebron, Tony came to Hattiesburg for college and just never left.
“He came to see me in the first play I ever did,” Steinhauer remembers. “We had a mutual friend who wanted to introduce us, and that’s when I met him.”
Three years later ,they performed in “The Foreigner” together and then started dating. She also had the opportunity to see how he handled taking instructions when she directed him in “Bridal Terrorism.”
That’s when they became engaged. They married on April 4, 2009, with Judge Williams as the officiant. They now have two children, Abe, a kindergarten student at Oak Grove Lower and Lenora Rose, who attends preschool at Main Street United Methodist.
Steinhauer enjoys all types of roles – from comedic to dramatic – and she’s also a fan of murder mystery. “I really love it all,” she said.
The acting bug hit her when she was in the second grade. “I went to stay with my grandparents and they took me to see a production of The Apple Tree, a local production. I just loved it and decided I was going to be doing that. And I did.”
Steinhauer, a fan of Neil Simon plays, played Truvy in Steel Magnolias while in college and has directed “Rest of the Red Hot Lovers.”
While she enjoys both sides of the stage, “I love to direct more than to act,” she said. “I love to see it all come together, dress the set, etc.”
And then there is Steinhauer’s even craftier side.
The painted canvases hanging in her office are her own creations, but her real love is crocheting. She comes from a long line of such artisans, so it was only natural for her to pick up a crochet hook.
“My Mom, grandmom, great grandmother, just about everybody in my family crochets,” she said. Some of her first creations were mermaid tails, but her repertoire has grown to include other creations including afghans and shawls to superheroes, bunnies, bears, ballerinas, sock monkeys, the Ninja Turtles, cheerleaders, angels, unicorns and even nativity scenes.
She recently found an out-of-print pattern for Noah’s Ark and thinks that might be on her list of projects. She also takes special commissions.
The dolls take about a week to complete, but that’s no problem for Steinhauer who carries a bag with yarn and her crochet hook around with her. She may get in a few stitches while waiting in the school pickup line, but the majority of her work is done at night after the kids are in bed and she has some time to herself.
Lenora Rose has picked up the crochet hook herself, but she calls it “yarning.”
The family, who calls Oak Grove home, is always out on the town doing stuff. Lenora Rose is a big dancer and Abe is the artist of the family. A border collie, Pippa, rounds out the family.
Tony makes bentwood rings, but photography is his real passion, which is evident in some of the photos that accompany this article, as well as the ones found on Steinhauer’s Facebook page.
Beth Bunch is manager of Signature magazine and its sister publications, The Hattiesburg Post, The Lamar Times and The Petal News. She once took a crocheted afghan to the cleaners and had it returned with a tag, “one large African (afghan)” and the price.