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Kathy Coudle-King: Community warms up as weather turns cold

GRAND FORKS -- It began a few weeks ago, when two actors rehearsing Parallel Lives at the Fire Hall Theater sent me an email saying that the theatre was freezing. I joked that, yes, it was November, and they needed to put the temperature up.

GRAND FORKS -- It began a few weeks ago, when two actors rehearsing Parallel Lives at the Fire Hall Theater sent me an email saying that the theatre was freezing. I joked that, yes, it was November, and they needed to put the temperature up.

Two days later, I walked into the theatre to discover it was, indeed, chilly: 47 degrees. It was discovered that a breaker was thrown. A simple fix, right?

Then, the theatre's building manager, Jeff Kinney, suggested we have the furnace tuned up for the winter. A good idea, an expensive discovery. The repairmen found a crack, and the furnace was not repairable. Ticket price for a new furnace? Almost $4,200.

We were running on just one furnace, hoping the mercury wouldn't dip below freezing, and wringing our hands about where we'd get the money for the replacement.

You see, for the past two years, the theatre has been trying to raise funds to get the tuck pointing on the 108-year old building done. (The bricks actually are falling off the crown of the building.) That ticket? $100,000.

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We've jokingly referred to the fundraising campaign as the "Brick by Brick" fund, because we know that raising that kind of money is going to take a long time. Then in October, we discovered that the fire exit door was not repairable but needed to be replaced, so we started asking our patrons to help us take care of that cost.

But when your furnace goes out in November in North Dakota, bricks and doors have to wait. That's when things began to really heat up at the Fire Hall.

I shared our situation on Facebook -- OK, I whined about it. People were prepared to host all sorts of fundraising events, then came longtime Fire Hall supporter Kathy Fick's post. "If everyone sends in $20, we can have the furnace paid off by the end of the week."

Donations to our Paypal account began flowing in, and checks started showing up in the mailbox. We heard from people across the country who have not lived in Grand Forks for 20 years, and people who grew up on the Fire Hall stage and now have children of their own.

Some sent $20, one parent even sent $200, telling me she felt it was an investment in her 6-year-old's future because he loves being on our stage.

I began sleeping through the night again.

It appeared we would be able to raise at least half the cost of the furnace -- and then the temperature got kicked up even higher.

Economy Plumbing and the McGurran family donated a brand-new furnace. Not only would the donations just about cover the installation, but the furnace itself would be taken care of without draining what few extra dollars the Community Theatre has in reserve.

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It was a bitter, cold wind that blew through Grand Forks on the day we learned of the McGurrans' generosity, but it could not have been warmer in the Fire Hall Theatre.

There is much to be thankful for at the Greater Grand Forks Community Theatre as we celebrate our 66th season. Beyond the chance to provide an outlet for local theatre lovers and practitioners, beyond being able to foster a joy for the stage in children and teens, beyond being able to work with veteran's groups and create stage pieces based on the lives of our elderly -- we are grateful for the community's support.

To some, "community" theatre simply means amateur theatre productions. But clearly, supporters of the Greater Grand Forks Community Theatre take the word "community" to mean just that.

The Fire Hall Theatre is a place where everyone who wishes to can come together to create and witness living stories that make us laugh and, yes, sometimes cry. It is a place where one feels a human connection to others.

Everyone who has been to see a show at the Fire Hall Theatre knows it can get a bit hot during a production. All this time, we attributed that heat to the stage lights and poor ventilation. Well, the truth is revealed: It's the warm hearts of our patrons that fill the little theatre that are the true source of the heat.

It's those same warm hearts who have replaced the furnace and will keep your community theatre warm through the long winters to come. Now, that is something I will be expressing thanks for this Thanksgiving.

Coudle-King is executive director of the Greater Grand Forks Community Theatre.

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