by Mari Winn Taylor
For what could have been a nasty heated event turned out to be a civil exchange. Two members of the Friends of Joplin Little Theatre /Park Playhouse accompanied by 14 sympathetic supporters assembled at the theatre to lay out their concerns during a meeting of the JLT Board of Directors last night. They were allotted 20 minutes by Board president Tony Flint to express their discontent over the replacement and destruction of the memorial tiles that served as flooring for the lobby.
Flint began by reading the revised minutes from the last board meeting before asking for an approval vote. It became clear that the board was offering no alternatives for their actions. Flint spent several minutes reiterating the need for the new floor that already had been laid, claiming that 100 old tiles had been affected because of small gaps between them that either caused them to become loose or to curl up, and that the same problems would crop up again if the same floor were laid anew. (It is unclear when the discovery was made that the removal of tiles for embossing was detrimental to those surrounding them. Apparently, no consideration at that time was given to stopping the practice, preserving the floor, and, perhaps, considering a wall mural memorial in the floor's place.)
Flint had prefaced his remarks by taking full responsibility for the breakdown in or lack of communication with the donors whose memorials were abruptly removed in preparing the floor for the new surface, a ceramic-based tile floor that looks like old wood. "I know you are upset," he told the angry group seated before him. (His apology brought to mind that of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who assumed full responsibility for the actions of her staff in dealing with the Benghazi terror attack. She was saying, "Let's move on." Flint was essentially saying the same thing as he reiterated that the decision to replace the tiles was for the best interests of the theatre.)
When Flint announced that the lobby would be dedicated to Bill Perry's parents, I for one was taken aback. I was almost as flummoxed after hearing that the board actually had considered using endowment funds to finance the new flooring. That was changed, however, to using $5201 from the operating fund and accepting a $10,000 shift from Angel Guild funds.
Bill's sister Rebecca Perry clarified that the family's donations (the William & Marion Perry Foundation that they administer) included money earmarked specifically to replace the outside marquee and to purchase a new state of the art light board (something sorely needed). In calling her parents "great historians and preservationists," she said that they would not have approved of the destruction of the donor floor and consequently she and Bill have requested that no dedication be made to their parents for the lobby.
Speaking first for the visitors and more as an introduction to Cleo Copeland was Jon Lowe, both who have had close ties with the theatre through the years. While Lowe voiced his "deep displeasure," "regret for the damage" and how the action had been "poorly handled," Copeland still "shocked" over it questioned the integrity of the board in showing little or no remorse in having an "out with the old, in with the new mentality" and showing no concern for the supporters who had donated $100,000 for memorial tiles that they thought would be displayed for generations to come.
Angela Lowe handed out a packet to members of the board mostly containing letters written by interested parties who could not attend. The responses showed the frustration donors felt toward the board.
Floyd Shirk, a life-time member, wrote: "I thought my tile would outlast me and it certainly could not have been too badly worn since it has been in place less than two years." Since he was "led to believe that the tiles would stay in place for many years," in lieu of replacing his tile, he asks for the return of his $1,000 donation. And he's not the only one who made a recent contribution or believing that the money was accepted fraudulently.
Speaking also on behalf of her husband Anthony, Maridan Kassab recounted how the floor inscriptions had brought back memories.
"When Anthony and I would go to JLT it was part of the joy to look at the floor to remember, and visualize, the wonderful people who were always a part of JLT," Maridan Kassab wrote. In saying how difficult it was to understand the reasoning behind removal of the memorials, she asks, "Is there no respect for the history of the first Little Theatre west of the Mississippi?
Wrote Jesse DeGonia:
"I remember the first time I saw the floor in the lobby. I was coming to watch a show with friends and I was so impressed by the floor. I looked around at all the names. then I came with some friends and they took me to see the tile of their now deceased father. They were so proud to know that he had supported the theater and even though he was gone, a piece of him was still there....."
Other written comments that chastised the board and Angel Guild included those of Aston Stovern (nee Perry), Alice and Pedro Pantoja, Lee Anne Howsmon, Heather Haar Briley, Barbara Garrett, Kathy Allen, Dee Timi, Meg Berrian and Matt Myers. Many questioned whether in the future donors will be as free with their money. Whether they will go along with the board's proposal to create a memorial wall mural out of tile remains a question as well. Certainly, they would want input in its creation, not just to be told to look at a facsimile banner, as Flint suggested.
For a prior article go here.