The Finch Theatre: Twenty-five years later, a shining example of volunteerism at its best

The Finch Theatre: 25 years later, a shining example of volunteerism at its bestBy Kris Heinze, Lincoln Sentinel-Republican

Bud Finch would be proud.

Twenty-five years ago, after his passing in 1993, and the closing of the Roach Theatre, the Lincoln area came together and carried on his legacy in doing something good for the youth of the community, even when it was difficult.

The dream for a new theater started with leadership and vision, continued with a strong volunteer spirit, and ultimately transformed the Bud Finch Memorial Theatre into what it is today.

In 2017, the Finch Theatre is a community hub, a center of activity nestled between the Lincoln Art Center and M&J Furniture, showing the latest movies on the big screen every weekend and hosting a children’s theatre production each summer. The adjacent Community Room, with kitchen, is used for everything from dance classes and wedding receptions to community fundraisers and business meetings.

Former newspaper publisher Ray Rasmussen wrote a farewell to Bud Finch, and wife Nadine, in an August 1993 editorial: “Thanks to Bud and Nadine, Lincoln had a movie theater when towns twice our size had lost theirs.”

The Lincoln area went only a few years without a movie theater, as volunteers raised funds and renovated the new Bud Finch Memorial Theatre, which opened in May 2000. Following in Bud’s example of a lifetime of service to area youth and strong community spirit, the leaders and residents of Lincoln County worked together over a sustained six years, fundraising and laboring, to make this dream a reality.

By the end of 1994, the Economic Planning and Development Commission, Lincoln Area Chamber of Commerce, the first Lincoln County Leadership organization, a new Bud Finch Memorial Community Theatre Foundation and many more individuals, organizations, and businesses, collaborated to set plans in motion for a new 200 seat theater with a meeting room, restrooms and a concession stand.

Timeline of this success story
1993: The Lincoln County Planning and Economic Development Commission sent Charlene Jones to a conference in Jackson Hole, Wyo., focused on the “Survival of Small Towns.” When Jones returned, she, with the Planning and Economic Development Commission, encouraged the Lincoln County commissioners to apply for a Kansas State Summer Team to research the feasibility of a theater.

1994: The Kansas State Student Summer Team arrived to research, analyze cost, and survey the population regarding interest and input concerning a theater. A local advisory board was formed to work closely with the Kansas State Student Summer Team, including Terri Wagoner, Jeanne Crangle, Terry Finch, Gillian Gabelmann, Jerry Jensen, Charlene Jones, Douglas Kahn, Steve McReynolds, Tami Splitter and Dean Thompson.

A first county-wide Leadership Conference was held in August, with 55 in attendance. Jeanne Ange, from Omaha, Neb., served as facilitator. A second Leadership Conference was held in October, where the group voted to endorse the Bud Finch Memorial Community Theatre project.

In October, the Bud Finch Memorial Community Theatre Foundation was formed as a nonprofit corporation, and fundraising began with the sale of charter memberships. A telethon, utilizing 10 phone lines at the Century Manufacturing offices and a team of radio-equipped volunteers picking up donations, kicked off the project with $3,200 in memberships or donations, and an additional $1,000 each from the Lincoln Lions Club and the City of Lincoln Center, and $2,500 from the Saline Valley Bank the following morning, for a grand total of $7,700.

In November, the Lincoln Area Chamber of Commerce voted to donate $4,000 from the Ethel Knoch-Merle Rankin Memorial Fund towards the theater project, and the building adjacent to the Lincoln Art Center was purchased to house the Bud Finch Memorial Community Theatre. The roof of the new building was removed by a team of hard-working volunteers, and Pennypacker Construction put a new roof on too, all in one weekend.

By December, the organization had received over $14,000 and 80 charter memberships. The Barnard City Council voted to donate $500 to the project, covering the final roofing expense. With the roof project complete, additional fundraising would be needed to repair the building floor.

1995: Volunteer workers gutted the building, hauled all the debris away, and exposed the limestone wall in the community room.

Fundraising continued with raffles, mailings for donation challenges and membership renewals, a Sadie Hawkins Benefit Dance, calls to corporations, applications for grants from the Kansas Arts Commission and KDOCH. More funds were secured with proceeds from concessions stands, the Knights of Columbus Shrimp Boil, a Theater Fun Day event, an Alumni Weekend benefit dance, and Soup and Dessert Supper in Barnard.

Charlene Jones was chosen for the American Hometown Leader Award by Wal-mart Corporation and received $5,000 for the Economic Planning and Development Commission, and this award was donated to the Bud Finch Memorial Community Theatre project.

The Educational Artists Series began as a cooperative effort between the schools, the Theatre Foundation and a programming grant from the Kansas Arts Commission.

1996: Fundraising continued with a check for $10,000 from the Lincoln Area Chamber of Commerce and an offer for a second $10,000 if the Theatre Foundation could match, which they did. Sylvan Grove held a soup supper in conjunction with the Wichita Children’s Theatre clinics and performances. The Lincoln Home Center donated $1,000 credit toward the purchase of materials. Benefit volleyball tournaments, part of the proceeds from the Shrimp Boil, a Dean Porter St. Patrick’s Day Benefit Concert and Christmas Concert, a Big Band Benefit Dance, and concessions provided additional funding. Several more grant applications were submitted on the theater’s behalf.

Volunteer workers continued laboring, digging holes, hauling debris, and pouring footings, welding the support structure for the new floor, pouring a stem wall in the stage area, and preparing to pour concrete for the sloped floor of the theater. Meetings were held with architects to discuss plans.

In this photo from October of 1996 Tom Watson, Arturo Campas, Jerry Kruse, Terry Finch and Chris Meyer work on the renovation of the Finch Theatre fl oor. (Photo courtesy Charlene Jones)

In this photo from October of 1996 Tom Watson, Arturo Campas, Jerry Kruse, Terry Finch and Chris Meyer work on the renovation of the Finch Theatre fl oor. (Photo courtesy Charlene Jones)

1997-2000: Volunteers continued working, and the large projects started coming together with the pouring of the sloped flooring for the theater and the sandblasting, tuck-pointing, power-washing and sealing of the limestone wall in the community room. Ceiling repair and finishing, and flooring installation in the community room were also completed.

Theater seats and equipment were purchased, stage lighting, wiring plans and sound recommendations were made. A better sound system was made possible by a grant from Wichita Greyhound Charity. A $7,500 donation from the Hardy Foundation helped close the funding gap. KDOC was able to award the project a $75,000 grant after local match monies were secured. North Central Kansas Regional Planning Commission helped with grant writing.

The dream becomes reality
In May of 2000, the Finch Theatre’s Grand Opening packed more than 300 people into the new facility and the long list of contributors was listed on the wall. A painting of Bud Finch, by Pat Rasmussen, was hung in the foyer.

Generous donations of both cash and volunteer labor helped turn the theater into reality. Along the way, new leadership opportunities were forged, and collaboration between the schools and the community showed a new generation of youth how positive change can happen when people come together for a common cause.

In 2010, the success story continued, when the Bud Finch Memorial Theatre Foundation launched a new fundraising campaign, and the generosity of the loyal Finch Theatre supporters helped secure modern digital equipment to allow the theatre to continue to show the latest movies when technology changed.

The Bud Finch Memorial Theatre is a proud accomplishment for the entire community, especially those that gave their time, blood, sweat and tears laboring on the renovation of the building 25 years ago.

The Bud Finch Memorial Theatre Foundation still operates as a nonprofit organization that relies on memberships, donations and community support to keep movie ticket and concessions prices affordable, current movies showing, and the Community Room open for reasonable rental fees.

It’s clear, even to those that never knew Bud Finch, that his spirit lives on in the Bud Finch Memorial Theatre. It remains one of the beating hearts of the greater community, a place for area youth and families to enjoy safe entertainment, and a place for gathering, brainstorming, learning, partnership and collaboration.

Visit finchtheatre.com to discover what’s showing at the Finch, find contact info or donate to the theatre foundation.