Special event October 15 will celebrate success of O.P.E.R.A. 'Next Step' fund drive

A special reception – open to the public – will be held Friday, October 15 at the Ellendale Opera House to celebrate the successful completion of O.P.E.R.A.'s latest fund drive.

The celebration will feature the 'live' performance of the "Willow Creek Folk School" from the stage of the opera house auditorium.

The public reception begins at 7 p.m. followed by viewing of the Willow Creek program at 8 p.m. It will be streamed live from the opera house and can be viewed on Facebook. The link to the program can be accessed at: www.facebook.com/plainsfolk.

Tom Isern, a distinguished professor of history at NDSU, and Suzzanne Kelley, NDSU Press Publisher/Editor-in-Chief, began the weekly Willow Creek program more than a year ago when the pandemic began.

Through folks songs, Isern and Kelley provide "just that much more knowledge and understanding" each week of "the Great Plains of North America that is our 'home on the range'."

Each Willow Creek program includes a new, original ballad devoted to events and thoughts of the day. The ballad in composition by Isern for October 15 is called "I Stand for Stories" and invokes the history and value of the Ellendale Opera House.

Since 1983, Isern and Jim Hoy, a professor emeritus of English at Emporia State University, have been writing a weekly column called "Plains Folk," which is featured weekly in regional newspapers. Tom also writes and voices the weekly "Plains Folk" column broadcast statewide on Prairie Public radio and featured by National Public Radio's "NPR One."

The performance by Isern and Kelley will take place in the now vacant second floor of the auditorium, but because of safety code regulations no audience will be permitted. The program will stream over the internet and be shown on a large screen monitor in the first floor Lobby & Gallery of the opera house.

Light refreshments will be served at the reception. At the conclusion of the performance, the final total of the fund drive will be announced.

Copies of Isern's latest book "Pacing Dakota" will available for purchase and signing with the proceeds going to the O.P.E.R.A. fund drive. Additional books from NDSU Press also will be available for purchase the night of the performance.

The Next Step fund drive began in May with the goal of raising $50,000 to help pay for renovations that will enable the organization to increase community use of the historic opera house.

"We're very thankful for all those who pitched in to date to reach our ambitious fund drive goal," Executive Director Justin Meidinger, said. "It has been a difficult year for fund-raising, but the response to date has been great and an indication of public support of our efforts to renovate the Main Street landmark."

O.P.E.R.A. began its current "Building Our Future and Preserving Our Past" campaign to raise funds to restore the 1909 opera house in late 2018.

In 2019, O.P.E.R.A. raised nearly $80,000 as part of the 80th birthday celebration for long- time opera house advocate Jeanette Robb. The group raised another $13,000 in donations from the book "Visions from My Childhood" with images created by Ellendale native Kevin Kendall.

Last year, the group raised nearly $40,000 in a matching fund drive to help pay for rebuilding part of the building's north wall. The $200,000 wall re-construction was completed with a combination of O.P.E.R.A. funds and a U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development loan and grant.

Now that the critical wall improvement is complete, the organization is turning its focus to upgrades that will help increase use of the building by business and community groups.

That work would include: upgrading electric service for the first floor of the building; adding a fire detection/alarm system; renovating the storefront space next door to the Opera House Lobby & Gallery; upgrading the rear building entrance to meet ADA requirements; completing interior work on the remaining unimproved street-level storefronts.

"With the building stabilized and the proposed electrical and fire detection/alarm improvements, O.P.E.R.A. will be ready to make greater use of the opera house for community purposes," Meidinger said.

O.P.E.R.A. – Organization of People in Ellendale for Restoration of the Arts – was formed in 1992 to save the 112-year-old landmark from the wrecking ball.

To contribute to the opera house, mail your donation to O.P.E.R.A., Inc. at P.O. Box 334, Ellendale, ND 58436, or donate online at: www.ellendaleoperahouse.com. Because O.P.E.R.A. is a charitable non-profit organization, all donations are tax deductible to the extent allowed by law.