For many people in the Tecumseh area, you cannot talk about the TCA without including long-time City of Tecumseh employee Karen Bunch. During the month of February 2021, Karen shared her memories at the theater including the first time she ever performed here.
“My first experience with the theater was playing in the Pit Orchestra for the Tecumseh Players’ shows, Anything Goes and Sweet Charity,” stated retired Technical Director Karen Bunch. Both were produced by the Players in the first year of the theater’s opening. “As a performer myself, it was wonderful to play in the auditorium. I had never played in a Pit Orchestra before and it was an exciting experience.”
Prior to the theater being built, Tecumseh Players was performing shows in the Glass Room, located in Hayden Mill Building, just east of downtown, at 703 E. Chicago Boulevard. Karen recalls seeing several shows in the Glass Room prior to the auditorium being built. “Seeing a show in the Glass Room was small and intimate. There were pros and cons to being so close though,” Karen recalled with a smile and a laugh. “You were literally right on top of the performers. I remember It took a while for everyone to get used to playing in a bigger space on the TCA stage.”
Tecumseh Center for the Arts didn’t have microphones for shows when it first opened. “If vocalists didn’t sing loudly enough during shows, they weren’t going to be heard over the orchestra. On the other hand, the orchestra always needed to be aware of that because, if you played too loudly it would bounce off the back walls,” commented Karen. “The acoustics in the theater have always been impressive.”
Even when touring shows came to the theater, Karen recalled how these acts from all over world would be impressed by the acoustics. “I remember crew members and performers would come on stage and say, ‘Wow, this is a great space for a town this size.” Karen added, “They would walk on stage and clap their hands just to hear the acoustics in the auditorium.”
Karen remembers the first-time microphones were used at the theater, “it was a big deal! It was for the youth theatre production of Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat. There is a narrator role in that production and the theater purchased two Shure microphones, handheld microphones used specifically for roles such as that.”
Karen began working at Tecumseh Center for the Arts in 1983, along with Harry Sabourin and Lynne Smith. One of her first employee memories was being hired to stand in front of the stage during a performance by Maynard Ferguson, in which Tecumseh native Tim Ries was a part. “My first job was to be a bouncer and keep anyone from getting up on stage while they were performing,” laughed Karen. “That was quite the experience. It was fun to interact with them during the show.”
Other early shows included Lil’ Abner and Finnian’s Rainbow. She recalled working with Don Dobrowski, Alice Travis, Terry Hunt, Eric Korte, Jim Rice, Donna Andre and so many more.
“I remember what a big deal it was when the second theater director Jack Raeburn, oversaw the construction of the Scene Shop and Green Room,” commented Karen. “That was an exciting time to have the added space. I believe those rooms were built around 1986-1987.”
Prior to those additions, everything had to be built on the stage or in the wings and then be thrown out after a show or performance. It is much different than today when renters can build in the shop for weeks prior to their show or even store props and set pieces after a show has finished.
“I remember life before internet, cable television, and social media,” laughs Bunch. “The theater was the place to meet up with friends and neighbors. I remember my parents had season tickets to the Kiwanis Travel Series. It was always a nice night out for them and many others in back in the day.”
Karen also remembers the role the Herricks played at the theater. “The Herrick Foundation had been the anonymous foundation that gifted the auditorium to the City of Tecumseh. I think most everyone knew it was the Herricks, because they were very generous and community minded, but they just didn’t want to make it a big deal,” stated Karen. “They took very good care of the building for us over the years. Seems like, anytime the theater needed something, Mr. Herrick would take care it.”
Working at the theater as an employee for 37 years and being part of its history since the beginning, has given Karen a lot of experiences and memories at the theater. She has worked with all the past employees and directors, thousands of performers, and musicians, and is incredibly knowledgeable about the who, what, when, where and how things happened.
When asked about some of her favorite contributions and memories, Karen replied, “There are too many great memories and people. It’s been a huge part of my life. If I had to pick one thing, it would be working with kids who wanted to be part of the behind-the-scenes crew. Our Student Tech Corps has been a great starting point for many young people to learn what it's all about. Some even chose the industry for their career, as producers, stagehands, lighting or sound techs, riggers, or shop foremen in Theatre or Live Performance, or even in the Theatrical Lighting Manufacturing industry as a project engineer - that's been neat to be a small part of!”
Though Karen officially retired in July 2020, she is still involved with the theater. She is currently helping Tecumseh Youth Theatre’s production of Disney’s Moana Jr. She is also a vital member of the TCA Big Band & VocalAires, as well as a member of the Friends of the TCA, and part of the production team for the TCA Nutcracker Ballet.
One of the proudest moments for her was the start of the TCA Big Band & VocalAires with Lynne Smith back in the early 2000’s. “I remember Lynne and I going to talk to Rob Steele (the fourth TCA Director) and asking him if we could start a Big Band.” Steele committed $1,000 for the startup of the Band. The funds were used to purchase a drum set, music and polo shirts. “I remember sending out letters to the community to see if anyone would be interested in being a part of the band,” commented Karen. “There was a great response and the rest, they say, is history.”
The TCA Big Band & VocalAires is still part of the season’s lineup today. Prior to the pandemic, the TCA Big Band & VocalAires performed twice a year, once in May and again in December.
“The last year has been challenging,” stated Karen. “2020 has thrown a lot of punches and it’s incredible to think it’s been a year since I worked a show at the TCA, and the last time the big band rehearsed together. I just keep thinking we will get through it. We just need to keep looking out for each other so we can all be together again once the theater reopens.”
Currently, Tecumseh Center for the Arts is open but at limited capacity. Stay tuned, as Tecumseh Center for the Arts makes plans for late spring and early summer 2021.
In honor of the TCA's 40th season, TCA Director Kelly Jo Gilmore met with Theresa Powers, the president of the Elizabeth Ruthruff Wilson Foundation to talk about the past, present and future of the theater.
Do you remember when you first became involved with Tecumseh Center for the Arts?
My earliest memory of the TCA was when our then 5-year-old daughter played a munchkin in the Wizard of Oz…..this was through Tecumseh Youth Theatre so it was right around 1987…one of the biggest casts ever….it was awesome.
How important do you think the arts and music is to a community?
I feel the arts and music are a vital part of children’s educational experience. And having a venue where they can go even further in their lives with their love of music or acting is the best! I love watching our local adults in Pops or Big Band and the local children in TYT! I’m kind of jealous because I have no musical talent….I tell everyone that I’m good at being in the audience!
As president for the Elizabeth Ruthruff Wilson Foundation, what programming are you most proud of supporting at the theater? The program I’m most proud of is watching the Tecumseh Schools Orchestra perform at the TCA. There have been tears of joy more than once! When Elizabeth passed away in 2001 one of my biggest regrets was that we had not been able to get an orchestra program started in Tecumseh Schools for her. It was her dream and it hurt that we had not fulfilled it. BUT in 2003 we got a break and with the help of Bob Phillips and many others we made it happen….that was the best!
Do you think Elizabeth Wilson would be proud of what the theater has accomplished over the past 40 years? Yes, I believe Elizabeth is very proud of what you have accomplished at the TCA. BUT I do think that one of the things she would still complain about is that there is no way to get from the lobby to back stage! That always bugged her….I’m hoping some day we can change that!
The annual Veteran’s Day event has been a special event for you … one you have been involved with over the years … why do you think this program is important to the Tecumseh community? Elizabeth started the Elizabeth Ruthruff Wilson Foundation around 1995 and she asked me to be on her board of directors…one of the first things we talked about and she wanted to do was support a Veteran’s Day Concert. She felt it was very important to honor those who had fought for our freedoms…so we have tried very hard to make sure that we always have a concert every year….one of my favorite events each year….a great reminder for all of us!
You have worked with a lot of people at Tecumseh Center for the Arts over the years, what are some of your favorite memories? One of my favorites is in the fall of 2001…during a conversation with Rob Steele and he mentioned they were trying to get the seats recovered before the show “1776” and only had a couple teenagers doing it. My husband had just retired so I figured he needed something to do. So I talked him and one of his buddies into going down there with me and helping. So here I come and start giving orders and got a system going and away we went! (The two kids asked Rob if I was a community service person! lol) Well in about two weeks we had all the seats repaired and recovered. (and all too the tune of “Hotel California” because they were working on the sound system at the same time! And we must have heard it at least a hundred times!)
Another favorite was when we had the Canadian group Bowfire come and play with the Tecumseh Schools Orchestra. They rocked the place and became one of my favorite groups!
One real highlight was when Amy Welke (a TSO student) was the first to play with Tecumseh Pops…Elizabeth would have loved it!
And last but not least meeting and becoming a friend with Karen Bunch is right up there.
What would you tell people who have never been to Tecumseh Center for the Arts? I would tell people to give it a try…you will be pleasantly surprised. The TCA is truly a gem of our community!
What would you like to see Tecumseh Center for the Arts accomplish in the future? I would love to just see us keep on growing the way you have in the past few years … I would also like to see us bring back some of the great fiddle groups like we've had in the past!
Any other thing you would like to share?
A way to get from the Lobby to the back of the auditorium without going outside! Elizabeth would love that! Maybe someday!
The Early Years with Lynne Smith
Interview: February 2021
Forty years of entertainment, cultural events and community programming have flown by for many of those who were involved in the early years of Tecumseh Center for the Arts. Lynne Smith was one of the original technicians hired at the auditorium in 1981. Current TCA Director Kelly Jo Gilmore interviewed Lynne in February 2021, in celebration of the theater’s 40th anniversary.
KJ: What were the first years like at the auditorium?
LS: There were a lot of groups interested in using the theater in its early years. Many of the groups are still having events today like Tecumseh Dance Workshop (now renamed The Ballet School) and Tecumseh Pops. I remember multiple events being planned at the same time and everything had to fit behind the mid-traveler because there wasn’t a wall at the back of the stage or a shop area to store sets and equipment.
KJ: How did you store everything before the shop and hallway?
LS: We outgrew the theater almost immediately because it was built as an auditorium rather than a performing arts theater like it is today. Storage was an issue so we would only build things we needed for that specific show coming up and then store things wherever we could fit them! (laughing) The Baby Grand Piano was stored stage left in the wings, in a box that we would roll in and out to make room for different events.
KJ: Youth Theatre has always been an important part of the theater. What are some of the early shows that were performed here, or individuals involved?
LS: Oh my, so many names come to mind when I think about those early shows. Tom Serra, Ron Frenzen, and Mark Deming come to mind. Tom had an amazing eye when it came to producing shows like Finian’s Rainbow. Of course, all of them were involved with producing shows. They would teach the kids how to project their voices, they even had accents and the acting was unbelievable. We didn’t have microphones or a sound system then, so the youth performers were taught how to project. Tom had this amazing way of bringing out the best in everyone and have so much fun while doing it.
Youth Theater was under the TCA at that time and we did 1-2 productions a year. I remember people being upset because we would sell out so fast that we would have to add more weekends and performances. If I remember right, Shirley Herrick really wanted the auditorium to be a place for the youth to perform and helped to start the youth theatre.
KJ: TCA Technicians have always been a big part of the theater too. Who were some of the early technicians?
LS: Harry Sabourin was the very first technician, I believe. Jim and Mary Ann Bone, Don and Dawn Yeadley, and Rick and Diane Marsh are some of the earliest technicians that I can recall. Of course, many of us weren’t necessarily professionally trained but we were all willing to jump in and help and it made for some great memories.
KJ: I know the Kiwanis Club of Tecumseh was popular in those yearly years with their Travel Series. What was that like in the beginning?
LS: Kiwanis Travel Series was hugely popular with 300+ in attendance at most of their shows. It was a real family outing back then. The early Kiwanis Travel Series was all slideshows. Technicians would have to run anywhere from 9-20 different Kodak Slide Projectors. It would take technicians all day to set up for a Kiwanis show. Older couples in the community loved the series. It was the place to be and they would bring their grandkids with them. It was a family affair every time they had a show.
KJ: I know that Big Band concerts were also popular?
LS: Ken Herrick loved Big Bands and it was one of the reasons we always had a Big Band in our season lineup. It was why we had so many greats back then like Count Basie, The Glenn Miller Orchestra, and Maynard Ferguson. It was also one of the reasons Karen Bunch and I started the TCA Big Band in the early 2000’s. Karen and I went to then Director Rob Steele and got the okay to create the TCA Big Band. We were given $1,000 to start and were able to get a group together, buy some music, shirts, and equipment. We’ve been performing ever since.
KJ: Tell me about the first show you ever worked at the theater?
LS: The first show that I worked at … it had to be Li'l Abner. I reached out to Bob Soller, the Artistic Director at the Croswell Opera House, about coming over and giving me some pointers. Bob was so gracious and informative. He was always willing to help and would regularly work both Croswell and TCA shows. It was such an amazing experience to learn from him and collaborate with another theater. I remember we would always invite Adrian Dominican Sisters to our dress rehearsals back then too, so we always had a full audience – even for the rehearsals. Back then local elementary through high schools would come and watch the matinees during the school day as well.
KJ: I know the National Touring Shows has been around from the very beginning. What was it like to bring those bigger shows to town?
LS: The touring season was something else. We would have magicians, circus acts, and road shows. Every other season we would work with Dennis Young at Jackson Community College to share techs and bring in some of the larger shows. Most of the time, it was me and Karen (Bunch) grabbing our friends to come and run shows. Many had no idea what to do! Lol
KJ: Was there any other events you can share?
LS: There have been so many of the years. In fact, we even hosted the Catholic Church for a while when the church was being built. Karen and I would trade off weekends to work Sunday Mass. We would also work closely with Croswell and try not to overlap any shows. I remember a Community Arts calendar being created and we would all coordinate our seasons together. It was just a lot of collaboration and fun. The theater was just the pride and joy of Tecumseh for so many years, a very long time. It was a big deal for many years. The place to be in Tecumseh!
KJ: What was the overall feel when the theater first opened its doors?
LS: Excitement! The new theater got Tecumseh Players out of the Glass Room. It gave schools a place to perform. Tecumseh Pops was born, and this was their home stage from the very beginning. It was just so exciting to have the TCA. There was this underlying energy that you could just feel. The theater was for the community, a place for community groups to perform, where the community could come together and enjoy shows together. It was a very big deal. Youth no longer had to perform on gym floors or in cafeterias. It was just this amazing feeling that the arts were coming to Tecumseh – it was in the air. There was just something exciting about having a theater this size in a little community like Tecumseh.
Interview with Kieran Cavanagh
Producer, RHYTHM OF THE DANCE
Q. So Kieran tell me how it all started for Rhythm of the Dance?
A. Back in 1998 I got the opportunity for our Irish dancers to tour America with our National Orchestra. The tour was such a success that we then toured Scandinavia in March & April of 1999 without the Orchestra, as it was much too expensive to move the National Orchestra around. Now here we are all those years later still touring the world for 40 weeks of the year every year.
Q. You have now played in 50 countries I believe across four continents. Tell me of your experiences around the world and the highlights over the last decade or more…
A. It never ceases to amaze me how many countries we have actually toured and some of them are non-English speaking territories like Russia, where we generally start a tour as far over as Siberia and then work our way back to Moscow over a 5 week period of one-nighters going from town to town overnight by train. It’s pretty amazing and the people come out and fill the theaters and sometimes bring Celtic song books and literature with them to show to us and we have sometimes even played music with them in our hotel. They cannot communicate with us, only through the music. It’s fantastic to see this happen, how music can bring different nations and cultures together. One of the biggest highlights for me was when we were invited to perform in Shenzhen City in China for the Millennium New Year’s Eve TV special.We had an 8-minute slot and the show was broadcast to 1 Billion viewers in Asia on CCTV. Can you imagine being able to reach that big of an audience in one TV show? It was amazing and I was emotional when it happened, it was our finest hour for sure and we now tour China every year.
Q. You have also toured places like Taiwan, Lithuania, Romania, Serbia, Egypt, China, India, South America , North America, Adriatic region, Russia, Poland, UK, the list goes on and on, it is truly an International production.
A. We cover a lot of Territories around the world annually and we try to create and open new markets all the time.
Q. I have seen the show and I cannot believe the pace of your dancers! How do they keep that up for two hours?
A. Well it’s pretty frantic to watch alright, however our cast have been dancing and trained since they were four years old and they are incredibly fit and have to take care of their body and their diet. But each day at the Venue we have a dance captain in the show who will have a drill with the dancers prior to the performance, where they get to warm up their muscles and exercise and the rest come natural to them.
Q. You also have a great band in the show and I didn’t even know what some of the instruments were. Can you explain what instruments you have in the band?
A.OK, well first all our musicians play live on stage and that to me in very important and I have always prided myself on continuing to carry a big band around the world to play our music live to the audience.We have an array of instruments, like the Flautist, Fiddle, Accordion, Bodhran drum, Whistles, & Banjo, so there is a vast array of musical instruments in the show and it is not unusual for one musician to play several instruments.
Q. You also have singer(s) and I have to say they were great and very entertaining.
A.I always had a boy & girl vocalist and because we play repeat territories annually, I always keep the show fresh. When I introduced some Tenors to the show some years ago , they were an instant hit and they still wow the audiences every night. And of course they give our dancers a much needed breather and time to change costumes, as we have about 25 costume changes in the show which is a lot, especially sometimes when the dancers have literally just seconds to make that change to a new costume or it could be switching shoes from the hard shoe, which makes the loud tap on the stage, to the soft shoe which is for what we call light pieces of dance.
Q. What can the audience expect when they go to see Rhythm of the Dance and what separates you from Riverdance, how is your show different?
A. The audience can expect to visit Ireland for 2 hours, they will leave the theater feeling that they have been on a trip around Ireland and they will have a strong impression of our culture and our music. Irish music is loved all over the world as is our Dance now. I think what sets Rhythm of the Dance apart from Riverdance is that we tend to be a bit more traditional and purist and we rely less on the technical support than other shows do, like Pyro’s & large lighting rigs, although we do carry quite a lavish production.
Q. Where do you recruit your dancers? Does The National Dance Company Of Ireland have their own Dance Academy or do you advertise to find dancers?
A. Our choreographer runs our dance studio. We always have a wealth of dancers available to the show, which is a great tribute to the show and my creative team.
Q. What does the future hold for Rhythm of the Dance?
A. Irish dance continues to be hugely popular all over the world and I believe that Rhythm of the Dance will be around for many years to come. We remain true to the art form and keep making the show interesting and entertaining for the audience, that’s the most important factor. I would hope we have many good years of touring ahead of us.
Q. You are offering a streamed performance now. This is new isn’t it?
A. Yes. The pandemic cancelled all tours. The streaming company WatchLive came to my attention. We taped one of our live shows in September 2019 using six cameras that turned out really well. It has not been made available for public viewing of any kind. We have teamed with WatchLive to make it available to theaters world-wide to offer to their audiences during this St. Patrick’s Day season. The response has been gratifying. We are considering continuing making a show available to places where our live tours are not yet possible.
Q. Kieran Cavanagh, it’s been great talking to you and I love your show, do you have a final word for our readers?
A. Come and enjoy a magical 2-hour Irish experience. You’ll be glad you did. It really is out of this world as seen by 7 million people in 50 countries, and as we say in our commercials, ENJOY THE PASSION, THE ENERGY, THE RHYTHM. The Rhythm of the Dance.
An interview with Jeanette Meyer.
Tecumseh Pops Orchestra held its first concert at Tecumseh Civic Auditorium (now Tecumseh Center for the Arts) on May 3, 1981, with performances at 2:30 and 7:30 pm. The enthusiasm of Tecumseh having its very own pops orchestra was exhilarating for those performing and for those attending.
The new Tecumseh auditorium had been open just a few months when Tecumseh Pops took the stage for the first time. Their very first playbill included the following message:
The Tecumseh "Pops" Orchestra is proud to be able to perform in our new Civic Auditorium. As a performing arts center, we believe it is one of the finest, and an exciting place to perform. Without this facility, the orchestra would still be a dream.
The orchestra would like to grow, and has as goals, the purchase, along the way, of some capital assets. These include chairs, music stands, music folders, and some musical instruments, which would facilitate our practice and performances.
To accomplish these goals, the orchestra will be looking to our patrons and benefactors, during the 1981-1982 season, to help more firmly establish our "Pops" orchestra.
We sincerely hope that you are able to share with us in the excitement of live performance and support our growth as a quality performing ensemble.
The dream of Tecumseh Pops was that of none other than Elizabeth Wilson. Elizabeth who grew up in Tecumseh and later returned to Tecumseh after her retirement will forever play an important role in the musical culture of the Tecumseh community. In fact, she served as one of the original Tecumseh Pops Board Members along with:
“I grew up meeting Elizabeth Wilson through my piano teacher, Ardyth Oberlin, ” said Jeanette. “She and others helped encourage my love of music. These ladies were members of the “Tecumseh Music Club” in town, which was also a state affiliated organization. The group and Elizabeth Wilson also created a student club, the Tecumseh Music Makers. We would gather at homes and perform. We were also given opportunities to perform at local & state festivals in Michigan for ratings.”
Of course, the Music Makers grew up and started their new professions once adults. It was during the construction of the new theater that Jeanette learned that Elizabeth Wilson was working on starting the Tecumseh Pops Orchestra. Through a discussion she had with Richard Reamsnyder, another TPS Music Teacher, Jeanette learned of the date and time of an upcoming meeting.
“I was so excited I just invited myself and showed up,” Jeanette stated. “I never left!”
The Tecumseh Pops Orchestra’s motto is “There is one driving force that brings us all together … and that is the love of music!” Tecumseh Civic Auditorium, now known as Tecumseh Center for the Arts, has been the concert home for the Orchestra since its beginning.
After the first season, Tecumseh Pops Orchestra continued to grow. Not only with the addition of orchestra members, but with new music stands and chairs as well. Just two years later the Community Chorus was established in 1984. One of their many talented conductors through the years, James Hammann, conducted both the chorus and the orchestra.
During the early years, Tecumseh Pops also sponsored a Suzuki String Program in the hopes of fulfilling Elizabeth’s quest of having a String Program in Tecumseh Public Schools. Several times, these students also performed at the Tecumseh Pops concert.
For roughly the last 35 years of her life, Elizabeth Ruthruff Wilson was a steady participant, friend, and supporter of the arts in Tecumseh. Elizabeth was instrumental in the founding of the Tecumseh Pops Orchestra and the building of the theater, and she continued to serve on both the Pops and the theater’s board of directors until her death in 2001.
In 1997, at the age of 92, Elizabeth established the Elizabeth Ruthruff Wilson Foundation, which is dedicated to supporting Music and the Performing Arts.
One of Elizabeth’s brightest dreams was to see a string program established in the Tecumseh Public Schools system. After many years of hard work, in 2003, the Foundation and school system started the new program, Tecumseh Schools Orchestra. Through her foresight and her enduring gift to the community, she has helped fulfill the dream of many in Lenawee County.
“Youth involvement has always been an important part of Tecumseh Pops’ history. Today, Helene Bleecker, Martha Melcher, myself, and other educators who are still part of Tecumseh Pops try to include youth as much as we can,” continued Jeanette. “Prior to strings, other selected wind and brass students were asked to be part of the orchestra.” Jeanette and Helen are also been proud to have performed with their own former students throughout the years.
Tecumseh Pops Scholarships have been awarded over the years for students to attend music camps and colleges where they have performed solos and in ensembles.
“I am also really proud of the conductors that we’ve had throughout the years,” stated Meyer. “Many times, Pops has served as a stepping stone for conductors to move on to bigger and greater things.”
Dr. James Ball of Albion College was the conductor for 17 years. During his tenure he often involved his college students with the orchestra. In addition, past conductors have included TPS music instructors Donna Andre, Kristina MacMullan, Mary Hoffmister, Hannah Sparrow and Greg Smith.
“Another favorite was an Adrian High School Band Director, Howard Stucky,” commented Jeanette. “And we were also blessed with Amy Marr who made the string program come true for TPS in 2003.”
Currently, the Tecumseh Pops Conductor and Music Director is another TPS Music Instructor Joe McInchak. The Community Chorus Conductor is led by Tom Hodgman.
Tecumseh Pops Orchestra has welcomed many guest performers to the TCA stage over the past 40 years including JoAnn Cooley’s dance students from Tecumseh Dance Workshop for a Disney themed show, Saline Big Band, Tecumseh United Methodist Bell Choir, Fred Randall playing the typewriter for Leroy Anderson's "Typewriter," and community celebrities like Dr. Carlton Cook, Dr. Alan Snider, Harvey Schmidt, Doug Spade, School Superintendents, THS & Middle School Orchestras, THS Jazz Band, Dance Studios, Vocal, Piano, Instrumental college and professional soloists. Tecumseh Pops Orchestra has welcomed professional musicians like pianist Matt Endall who played Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" at the "Celebrate Spring Concert," Ed and Michelle Stuck elegantly dancing to "The Lover's Waltz " and Atticus Summer tap dancing to "Singing in the Rain." Local Pops soloists have also included Amy Marr, Howard Stucky, Bob Miller, Mandy Kruse and more!
Over the past 40 years as Tecumseh Pops Orchestra and Community Chorus became more established, the organization started to develop specific seasons and themes while holding two annual concerts each year, the first Sunday in May for their annual spring concert and the first Sunday in December for their annual Holiday concert. Prior to coronavirus, Tecumseh Pops has performed at the theater every year since May 1981. The last concert they held was in December 2019, just before the coronavirus outbreak.
“We are definitely missing the opportunity to perform together right now,” stated Jeanette. “I think something that makes us unique in our county is that both the orchestra and the chorus share the stage and usually perform at least once selection together.”
Some of the more memorable collaborations include "The Sounds & Soul of the Civil War," Aaron Copeland's "Lincoln Portrait," "The Good, The Bad, & The Brassy," featuring Copland's "Billy the Kid Suite," & "An Evening of Rodgers & Hammerstein."
Unfortunately, Tecumseh Pops Orchestra and Community Chorus has officially cancelled their May 2021 concert, but they are looking forward to a potential December 2021 concert – as the next opportunity to grace the TCA stage. Until that day comes when we can welcome Tecumseh Pops Orchestra and Community Chorus back to the TCA stage – we hope all of its members stay safe and healthy.
Current Board Members:
Allen Snyder, Chair
Howard Stukey, Vice Chair Members at Large
Sharon Scott, Secretary Heidi Chandler
Jeanette Meyer, Treasurer Robert Miller
Dianne Marsh, Chorus Librarian
Susan Armour, Orchestra Librarian Pianist: Carolyn Dicks
Karen Bunch, Publicity Concert Master: Holly Vetor
Mandy Kruse, Web Master
Helene Bleecker, Emeritus
Next up: The Early Years with Lynne Smith
It’s been 40 years since Tecumseh Center for the Arts (then Tecumseh Civic Auditorium) opened its doors to the Tecumseh community. The Grand Opening Celebration on February 15, 16 and 17, 1981, included opening remarks by the theater’s first director, Kathryn VanSickle, followed by performances from Tecumseh High School Choir and Symphonic Band led by then Music Director Jimmie Rice. Following an intermission, performances continued with Tecumseh High School Stage Band, Tecumseh Players, and Tecumseh Dance Workshop taking the stage before visiting artist Bill Shustik, a Balladeer, presented Songs and Stories of American Heritage.
For those in attendance, it was the start of something exciting in the Tecumseh community. The beginning of never-ending artistic opportunities.
The first playbill included a message from the theater’s Board of Trustee Chairperson June MacBeth that stated, “Tecumseh area residents have every right to be proud of this magnificent, functional, fully-equipped facility. Because of the vision and generosity of a Michigan Foundation, present and future generations will be enriched by the cultural and entertaining events to be presented here.”
Most of us in the Tecumseh community know the mysterious “Michigan Foundation” mentioned and included in every playbill since as “Anonymous Donor” is that of the Herrick Foundation. Out of love and respect to Ken and Shirley Herrick, we have always honored their request to be anonymous. Like so many that reflect on the “life” of the theater, we know that Ken and Shirley Herrick were instrumental in the development, construction, and continuation of the theater over the past 40 years. It was through their love for the arts and their belief in this community that the theater has continued through today. It is said that Ken’s love for Big Bands is why every season includes either a touring or local Big Band show. In fact, his personal paintings depicting images of the Big Band era can be found in the theater’s lobby still today. It has also been said that Shirley Herrick’s passion and belief in the youngest community members and involvement of our youth is how Tecumseh Youth Theatre (it is now a separate organization from the theater) came to be. The commitment and dedication to the Tecumseh community by the Herrick family can be seen throughout many of the City's buildings and institutions, and the theater is no different. Today, the auditorium proudly displays the name “Shirley Todd Herrick Theater” in honor and in memory of her love and dedication to the TCA stage and her passion for the arts in our community.
Of course, the Herricks were just two of many names that come to mind when you think of Tecumseh Center for the Arts. For over 40 years community members, families, local and state foundations, businesses, donors, and arts organizations have supported the theater. It would be incredibly challenging to name them all, but the theater is grateful for the generosity of the Herrick Foundation, Elizabeth Ruthruff Wilson Foundation, Sage Foundation, Stubnitz Foundation, Robideau Foundation, Lenawee Community Foundation, and Michigan Council for the Arts and Cultural Affairs -- to name a few. Of course the most recent foundations can be found on our website https://www.thetca.org/foundationsupport.html along with our most recent business sponsors (https://www.thetca.org/business-sponsors.html). It’s even more difficult to list every single person who has ever donated to the theater throughout its history but we do our best to include them in playbills and on our website at https://www.thetca.org/individual-donors.html.
The truth is, it’s been 40 plus years since conversations about building a new theater in Tecumseh began. Many of those early conversations have been forgotten. Perhaps, one would only need to dig through the archives of the local newspaper or library archives to get a better picture of who, what, when, where and why.
For staff that continue to work at the theater today, we do so with the purest of intentions to meet the goals and visions set out by those who built it. We work daily to embrace the spirit of the theater that brought the Tecumseh community together. For us, it’s personal. It’s about providing opportunities for artists of all skill sets to perform and display their work, to create an inclusive environment that unites instead of divides, and offers programming that improves the quality of life for each resident.
As we continue through the month of February and throughout the rest of 2021, we will continue to publish articles and interviews from those involved in the history of the theater. Currently, TCA staff is working on three different articles focusing on Tecumseh Pops – A Dream Come True, The Early Years and A Technician’s Tale. We also have a goal to start a TCA podcast soon, where we invite individuals involved with the theater over the past four decades and today, to share their memories with all of us. We hope you will follow along as we continue to highlight the TCA stage and the role it plays in the Tecumseh community.
Next up: Tecumseh Pops – A Dream Come True. An interview with Jeanette Meyer.
"Welcome to Tecumseh’s Civic Auditorium! (February 15, 1981)
Tecumseh area residents have every right to be proud of this magnificent, functional, fully-equipped facility. Because of the vision and generosity of a Michigan Foundation, present and future generations will be enriched by the cultural and entertaining events to be presented here.
The enthusiasm and interest thus far exemplified by local organizations and individuals is overwhelming. We thank each and every one of you for your contributions and involvement. May we continue to grow together.
Michigan’s motto: “If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you.” If you seek an outstanding community, come to Tecumseh. If you seek a respite from your toils, we invite you to join us in the exciting events that will be forthcoming, through the efforts of our capable manager, Kathryn VanSickle.
Sit back, relax, and enjoy the program prepared for you. We hope you and your family will join us often as we present diversions for your pleasure and benefit."
June M. Macbeth - Board of Trustees, Chairperson
Artistic rendering of Tecumseh Civic Auditorium by Klaetke & Marino Architects. Groundbreaking Ceremony photos, featuring Ken & Shirley Herrick courtesy of Mary Ann Bone, former Tecumseh Players President.
A local Tecumseh family recently donated money to the City of Tecumseh. Tecumseh’s Fire Department, Parks and Recreation, and Tecumseh Center for the Arts (TCA) were all recipients of donations from Rick and Diana Ruhl, in memory of Rick’s parents Harold and Jean Ruhl.
On November 13, 2020, Tecumseh Fire Department received a generous donation from the Ruhl Family to be used toward the purchase of a Lucas Chest Compression Device. This device is used to perform chest compressions during a cardiac arrest event and delivers consistent compressions, which frees up personnel to perform other functions. This will be the second chest compression device for the department and will provide Tecumseh Fire Department with a Lucas device on both licensed medical units. “The members of the fire department would like to thank the Ruhl Family for their generosity in memory of Harold and Jean Ruhl,” stated Tecumseh Fire Chief Joe Tuckey.
Tecumseh Parks and Recreation also received a considerable donation that will make summer afternoons at Cal Zorn Park much easier for families to enjoy. Ruhl, in honor of his parents, donated toward Splash Pad improvements and a bathroom that will be located at the east end of Cal Zorn Recreation Center. The well-used Splash Pad has been in service for 15 years and is need of upgrades including a new water element, more shade and seating, in addition to a small bathroom building. “A bathroom and Splash Pad improvements have been on the ‘dream big’ list and now that is looking more promising because of the Ruhl’s gift,” says Sarah Gilmore, Parks and Recreation Director. “This gift will make it easier for families to spend more time at the park enjoying the Splash Pad instead of searching for shade or trekking across the soccer fields to get to a bathroom,” adds Gilmore.
Tecumseh Center for the Arts (TCA) was the third department to receive a donation from the Ruhl Family. The funding will be used in several projects at the theater. The first will include upgrades and improvements to the Dressing Rooms complete with art murals, updated furniture and equipment. The second project will go toward the construction of a partially enclosed sound booth at the back of the auditorium, creating a more polished look to the area. “The generosity and support of Tecumseh families like the Ruhl family is truly inspiring,” stated Kelly Jo Gilmore, TCA Director. “The Ruhl Family’s support will make a positive impact on the arts in our entire community for generations to come.”
Tecumseh Center for the Arts has chosen Sous La Ciel to paint the murals inside the TCA Dressing Rooms. Michigan artists Adrienne Pickette and Kellie Bambach will transform the TCA Dressing Rooms into a visual landscape that allows us to peek inside the creative minds of TCA performers.
The City of Tecumseh is excited to move forward with these projects and is grateful for the contributions of citizens like the Ruhl Family who give back to the Tecumseh community.
Happy Holidays from the TCA,
December 2020 has finally arrived and what a year it’s been. The theater’s 40th season looks much differently than we had anticipated. Tecumseh Center for the Arts, like you and many other organizations, have seen its ups and downs this year. It’s been a year of stress and worry as well as love and compassion.
The Arts continue to be an essential component in our community, regardless of the circumstances around us. Many of us find comfort and strength from the Arts whether in the form of music, dance, visual or performing arts. In Tecumseh, we are blessed to be part of a giving and collaborative community.
Even though the theater has remained closed most of 2020, we have celebrated some shining moments. First, we dreamt big this year, creating and installing the new TCA Street Art Trail. The community-inspired art murals continue to lift our spirits as we hope to expand the art trail in 2021. In addition, we announced plans for the new Mary Jo Mensing Sculpture Garden to be unveiled during the summer of 2021. Finally, we received a donation from a local family to update the dressing rooms and sound booth. We are thrilled to see these projects come to life in the coming months. The theater is also busy working on the boiler and air conditioning units. We spent most of 2020 developing a plan with a Mechanical Engineer. Thanks to grant awards by the Elizabeth Ruthruff Wilson Foundation and Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs (MCACA), we hope to begin the project this coming spring.
Despite these positive steps forward, the theater is still unfortunately closed. Though we have eliminated many expenses due to not having events, we still have the cost of utilities and ongoing maintenance at the theater. This season, we are looking for creative ways to replace lost income from canceled shows. Right now, patrons can purchase an engraved nameplate to be installed on an auditorium seat from now through Christmas. The campaign called “40 Seats in 40 Days” runs from November 16 through Christmas. Seats can be purchased for a discounted price of $100. If interested, please contact us and we will help you select your seat.
We are also offering a special, limited-edition 40th anniversary ornament this year! Available to the first 25 individuals to donate $100 or more this season, we hope you will love this handmade anniversary ornament, created by local artists Debi Bailey and Gregorio Perez of Quiet Heron Studio, as much as we do. Donations can be made online through our website at www.thetca.org/donations. We hope to mail out all ornaments before Christmas this year.
The TCA staff hopes to open our doors once again very soon and looks forward to the day we can welcome each of you back to the TCA. Blessings to each of you for a happy and healthy holiday season!
Kelly Jo Gilmore
Director | Tecumseh Center for the Arts | email@example.com
Behind the scenes of Tecumseh Center for the Arts.