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.
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Behind the scenes of Tecumseh Center for the Arts.