Recently refurbished Elkader Opera House is becoming a center for arts in the community. A state certified cultural and entertainment center, Elkader, completed renovation of the opera house in 2003. It was originally built in 1903.
The opera house burnt to the ground two weeks after it was originally completed and the locals went out and raised $10,000 to immediately rebuild it. At that time it was known as Turner Opera House. It later became a roller rink and then home to the local fire trucks, according to Bud Miller, a bus driver for Northeast Iowa Community Action Corporation. (NEICAC)
Now, returned to its original splendor, the opera house is fast becoming a hub of activity drawing performers from around the globe. January 28, the opera will launch the first of its 2007 piano series, Kevin Ayesh, winner of many awards for performance and composing, and the head of the music department at Blue Ridge Community College, NC, will kick off the series with audience favorites, such as Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.
Amidst all the excitement and anticipation of acts that are set to appear there is the disappointment felt by those that can’t get to the opera house. They could miss out on acts, such as Eddie Piccard and his Quartet, August 12, pianist Jim McDonough, who has yet to confirm a date, the Ozark Jubilee, pianist Dr. Christoper Atzinger, opera singer, Ann Tormela of New York, local pianist Kirstin Dyer, opera singer Teresa Buchholz, formerly of Elkader who now works in New York, opera house players shows of ‘Noises Off,’ and ‘The Baker’s Wife,’ The Keystone Chorus, among many other acts that will perform on the stage this year.
Surprisingly it is not cost that keeps some seniors away from the opera house but a desire not to discriminate against the few who cannot afford it. Elkader Care Center’s, Mary Leonard, who has been activity director for 22 years, explained.
“We have three group activities going daily, evening activities at least once a week, a daily exercise program attended by about a third of our residents. We have van excursions, religious and musical activities and children visits,” Leonard said. “We have bingo, they love their bingo twice weekly. A church group plus volunteers from Rise come and play with them. We involve ourselves in the community, for example, we went to the Central Sate Bank dinner on December 16,’ she added.
Leonard took a whole van load of residents to Johnson’s restaurant for the bank dinner. There are various sizes of vans, but they tend to use the one that holds 20 passengers.
“Having the van as an option for our elderly in assisted living and residential care at the home is quite an asset. It gives residents the opportunity to connect with the community,” she said.
The van excursions have been going for four years and are funded by donations from the community, family and friends.
“We have not made it to the opera house because the residents are on a limited budget, some of the residents have very little money and so we rely a lot on donations from individuals and local businesses for the extras like going to the movies or the opera house,” she said. “Some of the residents would be able to afford $2 to $3 for a ticket to the opera house, but others who wanted to attend would be left out, so sponsorship is needed. You have to and you want to give the opportunity to everyone,” she explained.
No matter what Leonard does she is forced into a difficult predicament of choice. She can either discriminate against the ‘have nots,’ or the ‘haves.’ Either way nobody gets to go the opera house. This is a terrible shame she explained because the residents love live entertainment and they love their trips in the van.
Even with Opera House Sunday Matinee tickets reasonably priced, generally at $6 for adults and $4 for Students, they are still beyond the budget of some seniors.
Leonard wanted to thank the many businesses, such as Central State Bank, Freedom Bank, and many others, plus individuals, friends and family relatives of residents for all the donations and assistance that they have received to help with van outings.
Miller was the one that began raising money to enable Elkader seniors, who could not normally afford to go anywhere, the chance of an inexpensive day out in the van, just driving around and looking at the countryside.
Miller explained that the vans have lifts and can accommodate wheelchairs. A van for 20 people normally costs $20.40 an hour.
Monica Roderick of NEICAC explained that they are basically a city bus in a rural area with cost varying depending on the service requested.
“Transit is always looking for caring individuals to drive in the local community,” she said. “We take great pride in providing reliable, reasonably priced transportation,” she added.
The opera house wants to encourage seniors to come and enjoy the piano series and for their convenience most of the piano series shows will take place as a Sunday Matinee. As not all of the performances are sponsored by the Opera House Board of Directors, each show has to be priced individually. Most performers set their own ticket prices and the board is not able to give concessions for those performances.
However, as Tom Chandler explained, they want to see people coming to the opera house to enjoy multi-cultural and stimulating entertainers and so they price the tickets accordingly. They are not trying to make a huge profit. They are more interested in nurturing the opera house as a place for the community to come and share in order to enrich their lives.
The most important thing is that these wonderful performances at the opera house are accessible to everyone in the community, Chandler said.