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Volunteers bring Kimball’s theater back to life

September 8, 2018

KIMBALL, Neb. (AP) — Over the past two years, the Goodhand Theatre has been resuscitated from an empty building to once again being part of life in Kimball.

Friends of the Goodhand President Adrian Fuss said the theater first opened on May 6, 1954, showing the Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis comedy “Money From Home.” It was owned and operated by Marie Goodhand, who had owned the Gem Theatre in Ord and moved to Kimball to purchase the American Theatre, the first theater in Kimball. She later purchased the Lumco Theatre, located across the street from the American.

“She was pretty much a shark when it came to theaters,” Fuss said.

Goodhand was 79 when she built the theater that bore her name, and she kept the place running up to her death at 89.

“She was single, no kids, nothing like that,” Fuss said. “Running the theater was her passion, I guess.”

She willed the theater to her projectionist, Vergil Stahley, who operated the theater from 1965 to 1971.

The next owner, David Cory, opened the theater in the winter and closed it in the summer, when the drive-in he owned west of town would show movies. After Cory lost the Goodhand in 1984, the theater changed hands multiple times until it closed in 2011, under the ownership of the City of Kimball and Forward Kimball Industries. The city held onto the building for five years, until it was ready to sell the Goodhand off.

“The City of Kimball just wiped their hands of it,” Keith Prunty, mayor and Friends of the Goodhand board member, said. “They were ready to auction it and get it off their books and move on.”

Around that time, Fuss served on the board of the Chamber of Commerce when he had heard of a group trying to purchase a movie-in-the-park projection system.

“To rent the system is several thousand dollars, so they just thought, ‘Why not buy the system?’” Fuss said. “And then we thought, we have this theater that’s not being used. Maybe we should think about showing movies in the theater during the winter time.”

The Star-Herald reports that the newly formed nonprofit Friends of the Goodhand were able to convince the city to delay selling the building for six months, during which time the Friends renovated and updated the theater. The awning and lobby were returned to as close to original as possible.

“The whole awning was in disrepair,” Fuss said, “to the point that the city had to go and take the Goodhand sign down because they were worried about it falling.”

The lobby was carpeted, both on the floor and walls, and had to be gutted before it could be restored to the original red and white linoleum floor pattern. The city had saved the Goodhand sign — Prunty said it had been stored in his garage — and volunteers, with the neon lights replaced with flexible LEDS, restored it to its original place on the awning.

In the theater, the Friends had to replace the acoustic carpeting, which had been damaged by a leak in the ceiling while the building was closed, and the air conditioning and heater have been replaced. Before the replacement, Prunty said audiences had been obligated to bring their own blankets to stay warm during the winter.

“Every Christmas, the kids at the school get to pick a movie for us to show them,” he said. “The movie was ‘The Polar Express.’ This was before we had our heating system, so the kids are coming in and we’re telling them, ‘You’re going to feel like you’re on the Polar Express.’”

The theater currently shows movies on the first and third weekends of each month. The movies are usually sponsored by a local group to help cover the cost of licensing films, which can go from $250 to $600 for a weekend. The Goodhand does not charge for entrance, although Fuss said there is typically a free-will donation to help defray costs, in addition to concession sales and advertising. Because the theater is still in the fundraising process to purchase a modern digital projector, it cannot show currently running films. Instead, it relies on the movie-in-the-park system, with all the limitations that come with it.

“The quality is not as good as what a digital projector would be,” Fuss said. “We have to have it out in front in the seating area because it can’t project from as far away, so that causes us to have to block out some seating in the front.”

The Friends’ board decides which movies to show, usually based on what is currently out or a theme based on holidays and recent events.

In the future, Prunty said the Friends hope to build a green room and extended stage to hold live performances at the theater, in addition to movies. In years past, he said, the theater represented a place for communities like Kimball to come together, even for something as simple as entertainment.

“I think people want to bring back a piece of history,” he said. “They need a place for everybody to gather together and reminisce or bring back the good old times.”

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Information from: Star-Herald, http://www.starherald.com

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