Tecumseh Pops – A Dream Come True
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
How a theater brought us together
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.
Behind the scenes of Tecumseh Center for the Arts.