(Editor’s Note: This article was written based on articles written in July 2013. Updates have been added.)
Archbold is a community that is blessed with many active groups and organizations, providing a wide variety of services.
One group is the Archbold Community Theatre.
The history of ACT is a history of people making stories come to life on stage.
People like the late Charles Winzeler, a guidance counselor at Archbold High School.
In the late 1970s, Winzeler “had gotten grant money and created ‘Friends of the Arts’ to bring different types of arts into the community,” said Michael D. Short, an ACT veteran.
“They had some concerts, an art show, and community theatre.
“The first year, they did a community theatre production of ‘Our Town,’ presented at the old AHS auditorium (now the middle school small gym).”
“The second year, they did ‘The Miracle Worker’ at the Ridgeville school building (now Christ Community Church).”
Short, whose college minor was theatre, said he had been living in the Toledo area for several years. He moved back to Archbold between Christmas and New Year’s, about 1979.
“Charles knew I was moving back, and he was short someone to play in the cast of ‘The Miracle Worker.’ He asked if I would do it, and I said yes.”
After two productions as “Friends of the Arts,” Archbold Community Theatre was formed in 1980.
Diane Phelps, Archbold, another ACT veteran, said in the early 1980s, Nona Liechty was the babysitter for her daughter Kimberly, who, at the time, was about five. Nona was in the ACT production of “Godspell.”
“Our first musical,” Short said.
Diane and husband Bill took Kimberly to see the show. When ACT did its next production, Bill was a cast member.
For about 20 years, ACT was essentially “homeless,” performing on stages throughout the area.
Performances were at the Elmira School in Burlington Elmira (now The Candy Cane Christmas Shoppe), the Fayette Opera House, a church building in Pettisville, and at Central Mennonite Church.
“We were nomads,” Short said.
What equipment, props, and costumes ACT did keep were stored in a semi trailer.
Some of the equipment was actually homemade.
For example, there are special lights called “can lights.”
A form of spotlight, they look like empty cans with an opening on one end.
In the early days of Archbold Community Theatre, can lights were literally made from cans.
“We collected empty coffee cans. Gareth Short welded them and painted them black,” said Short.
Teresa VanSickle, current president of the ACT board of trustees, said in June 2016 the group still uses a lot of the old can lights.
“We hope to replace them within the next few years,” VanSickle said.
As ACT grew, its storage space expanded to an unused room in the Sauder Woodworking complex; the second floor of the downtown bank building that is now Childs Investments Group; a room at the Elmira school; and other places.
As the years passed, ACT took on bigger challenges.
The musical “Barnum” was presented at the Fayette Opera House and was the first ACT show featuring scene changes and “drops,” flat wooden frames covered with canvas that can be painted with scenery.
The drops are raised and lowered to represent scene changes.
For “Children of Eden,” ACT made it rain on stage.
“A guy came out from New York who had worked on Broadway, and he was amazed this little community theatre could make it work,” Short said.
“Nobody slipped and fell. Everybody stayed dry.”
ACT has been very lucky to have in its ranks some very technically talented people, the trio said.
Looking For A Home
As the years rolled by, ACT began looking for a permanent home.
At one point, ACT and others were considering purchasing the former Archbold Evangelical Church building, now the Templo Cristiano Assembly of God.
In fact, the Black Swamp Arts Council was formed as part of an effort to purchase the building and turn it into an arts center.
A feasibility study was even done.
“The sanctuary would have worked as a theatre,” Bill Phelps said.
“But when we heard what the utility bills were…” Short said.
Eventually, Marlene Nofziger, a real estate agent, contacted ACT with the idea of Giffey Hall in Ridgeville Corners.
Papers were signed in 1999 with Farmers & Merchants State bank for a $115,000 mortgage, and ACT became the owners of the downtown Ridgeville building.
“There was a lot of ‘Oh my gosh, what are we doing?’” Bill Phelps said.
“We’d never had a bill, like a mortgage or utilities. It was a big step.”
“Initially, it was just for storage, rehearsals, and set-building,” Diane Phelps said.
During its previous life, Giffey Hall had been a basketball court, roller-skating rink, factory, a hall for wedding receptions and other gatherings, and a restaurant.
ACT took out the old restaurant kitchen, transforming it into a kitchen for caterers.
After some $3,000 heating bills, the ceiling was insulated. Insulation had to be specially ordered to fit the old roof.
A stage was built on the upper floor, with seating for 200.
ACT began a capital campaign in the summer of 2013, seeking the help of the public.
Susan Short, ACT vice president of development, said the goal of the campaign was to raise $75,000 to pay off the mortgage on Giffey Hall.
To make the original purchase possible, six individuals, referred to in the capital campaign flyer as “six courageous individuals who believed in the arts and the benefits of live theatre in our community,” put their names on the mortgage, guaranteeing repayment.
Under the terms of the mortgage, a “balloon” payment was due in January 2014.
A balloon payment is a large payment at the end of the term of a loan. It makes for smaller payments during the life of the loan, but there is a large payment at the end.
Sue Short said F&M officials were willing to renegotiate the mortgage, but ACT leadership said it wanted to pay off the mortgage once and for all.
“That way, we could use what we have been paying on the mortgage to make improvements to the building,” Sue Short said.
Early in the campaign, she said ACT had raised more than $23,000 toward its $75,000 goal.
The money came from ACT memberships, local businesses, and other private donations.
S. Short said two of the most special donations “came from two teen girls who have been in our kids shows.
“They donated their birthday money, $10 and $25,” she said.
“That was pretty heartfelt.”
In October 2013, an anonymous donation of $75,000 was made to Archbold Community Theatre, allowing the group to fully pay the mortgage on Giffey Hall in Ridgeville Corners.
Sue Short said the group was notified someone in the area was interested in contributing the $75,000 needed to pay off the mortgage in early August, after a series of articles about ACT and its needs appeared in this newspaper.
The donation was official Wednesday, Sept. 18, the news being delivered by a local attorney.
Even ACT top officials don’t know who the contributor was, she said.
Allan Kinsman, commercial banker at Farmers & Merchants State Bank, presented a copy of the mortgage papers to ACT officials at the group’s Monday, Oct. 7, 2013 meeting, where the donation was announced.
The mortgage was then ceremonially burned.
Sue Short said with the money raised, plus the $75,000 donation, ACT was able to pay off the mortgage and have about $21,000 in cash left over for updates and repairs to the Giffey Hall building.
She said the donation to ACT came as “an absolute shock” to everyone.
“It comes from someone from Northwest Ohio who knows the value of money,” she said.
“Because it’s anonymous, it’s from someone who wants to do the right thing for the community. It could be the average guy on the street.
“Somehow, it makes you look at everyone in a little more kindly way.
“Everyone who contributed to the ACT capital campaign contributed with the same generosity as the person who put us over the top, and for the same reason– they like the community and they think what we’re doing is important.”
Solid Production Company
Today, Archbold Community Theatre has developed a reputation for being a solid production company, putting on quality shows.
But it would not be where it is without the support of the community.
From major corporations to “just people who know and understand what we need,” ACT has received many, many donations, Bill Phelps said.
Like, for example, paint.
“Paint is so expensive,” he said. “Someone will call us up and say, ‘I’ve got six partial gallons of paint– you want them?’ Yes, we do!”
“It takes time,” Michael Short said. “Much, much time.”
It is a labor of love, but sometimes, it feels like anguish, Diane Phelps said.
“It’s a rough road sometimes,” Bill Phelps said, “but when the curtain goes up, it makes it all worth it.”