“WE’RE DOING IT for the community…it really is important to us to keep this asset in our community.”
Those words scroll across my computer screen like credits on a movie screen.
Credit for the above statement goes to my cousin, Tim Kletscher, who along with his wife, Susie, last week bought the DeMarce Theatre in Benson. With a $50,000 forgivable loan from the Benson Economic Development Authority and the promise of future investments, the couple signed papers that will keep this western Minnesota movie theater going.
Larry DeMarce, 74, who has operated the family movie theater for more than 40 years, will stay on as manager. “He really is the face of the theater and really is a local icon,” Tim says. The theater has been in the DeMarce family since 1925 and is the only movie theater in Swift County.
For Tim, 38, an elementary school teacher, and Susie, 40, a stay-at-home mom, their purchase represents an investment in the future of a town which may have been without this entertainment option. DeMarce planned to retire soon and the time was right for the pair to buy into Benson.
“We bought the theater to keep it going, to help out the community, to provide a ‘part-time’ job for our kids when they are older, and for something for me to have when I retire from teaching,” Tim says. “It (buying the theater) was always something we’ve talked about the past few years, but never said anything to Larry until November.”
For the residents of Benson, population 3,376, keeping the theater open is good news. “Tim and I will be giving people a chance to take a break from reality, get out of their homes and help keep downtown Benson alive,” Susie says.
That’s important in this community, where the nearest theater is in neighboring Morris, in Willmar, 30 miles away, or Alexandria, some 45 miles distant.
Tim says the lower cost of attending a movie in Benson—current ticket prices range from $3.50 for children 12 and under to $5 for adults ($4 for seniors)—is part of the “big draw” locally.
Ticket prices may increase some after the Kletschers upgrade from obsolete 35 mm equipment to a digital projection system this summer. But they still plan to keep prices affordable, honoring the commitment the community has made to them, Tim says. If they go with a 3D projector, 3D movie prices will be a bit higher than a regular movie.
Yet, bottom line, this couple has their community in mind as they invest in its future. And Benson residents are assisting by contributing to the $50,000 Theater Legacy Fund, set up to repay the public investment.
I appreciate that small-town attitude, that depth of community ownership found in residents like Tim and Susie, who have called Benson home since 1994 and 1996 respectively. I’m not saying such strong connections don’t exist in bigger communities. However, in smaller towns, lives are so intertwined that residents comprise the threads woven into the fabric of a community.
While my cousin and his wife are planning electrical and technological updates to the theater building and maybe some new paint inside the lobby, they intend to maintain the architecture and feel of the building and keep the DeMarce Theatre name.
I haven’t seen the old theater, but Tim tells me there’s a stage in front of the screen.
My head is already spinning with possibilities. So is Tim’s apparently. “I’m hoping to get my buddy from Alaska, who’s a poet/storyteller, to come this summer and do a show. He used to teach here with me and he performs at the Fringe Festival in the Cities and in Kansas City. He’s hilarious,” Tim says. In the past, the local Dreamland Theater group and the White Sidewalls performed in the historic theater and the Kid Day Coronation happens here every summer.
Susie has ideas too. “As a parent, I realize there aren’t a lot of places in Benson for kids to hang out,” she says. So she wants to add more games in the lobby or perhaps upstairs. She’s also pondering rentals for Saturday afternoon birthday parties. “I feel I am kind of a kid at heart so that is where most of my thinking goes.”
I like the parental perspective Susie brings to the future of the theater. That can only benefit the families of Benson.
NATURALLY I WONDERED if Tim and Susie are big movie buffs, expecting that, since they have purchased a theater, they would be. I was wrong. With two young children, their movie attendance has been limited to kids’ movies.
Yet, Susie has her favorites, like The Sound of Music and The Ten Commandments, which she watched every year on her family’s black-and-white TV while growing up in Blue Earth.
“My parents didn’t take us to the theater…and we didn’t have a movie theater in Blue Earth (which is part of my motivation in wanting to keep the one in Benson going), but I do remember my cousins taking me to The Empire Strikes Back when I was around eight years old,” Susie says. “I recall them asking me what kind of “soda” I wanted and I responded chocolate…not knowing they meant “pop.” They were from Colorado and I hadn’t heard “pop” called “soda” before.
I loved the movie and I remember seeing Return of the Jedi later on…one of my all-time favorite movies. I loved the humor and the drama.”
Well, Tim and Susie, I expect you’ll see a lot more movies now that you own a movie theater in Benson.
© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling