The following is my article reprinted from today's New Castle Courier-Times. I had the pleasure of seeing Ron Keaton's show and meeting him in Indy. It was well done on every level.
New Castle native and professional actor Ron Keaton is bringing his signature adaptation, “Churchill,” to Richmond for one show at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, June 29. It will benefit two theater groups that remain near and dear to the actor: Richmond Civic Theatre, venue of the performance, and Nettle Creek Players.
Nettle Creek Players Board President Jeff Dickey said proceeds from the $25 tickets will be split between both theater groups. Tickets are available at the RCT box office at 765-962-1816 or the RCT website at gorct.org.
“This production of ‘Churchill’ is Ron’s way of giving something of himself back to our organizations,” Dickey says. “All of us have been involved with the performing arts since those days with Nettle Creek Players.”
Keaton worked with both theaters in his early years, but the Chicago resident says that while he has been fortunate to work in front of many people, he hasn’t “worked back home since the mid ‘70s. Should be a lot of fun.”
Since its debut in August 2014, “Churchill” has been performed an estimated 350 times around the country.
When asked how he feels about bringing the production to his home turf, Keaton says, “Nervous. Excited. And ready as I can be.”
A 1972 New Castle graduate, where he served as class president, Keaton says he has been a full-time actor since performing with Nettle Creek Players in 1971, which amounts to his entire adult life.
Dickey says he is looking forward to having Keaton back in town for what he calls “an amazing production,” and also looks forward to spending time with old friends and reminiscing about the theater’s early days “under the tent” in Hagerstown.
“Plus, Ron will be meeting with our cast and crew for this season and talking with them about what the summer ‘under the tent’ will mean to them and the lessons and skills they will learn and develop during the season,” Dickey said.
In a file Courier-Times article about his career, Keaton says, “I mark my beginnings from the old Nettle Creek Players tent in Hagerstown, an organization that thrived there for 30 years. I was part of the first five years or so; it taught me so much about my own abilities.”
He wrote the solo “Churchill” play based on a teleplay by a Churchill scholar that played on PBS in the 1980s. “I also did endless research on my own of the man and feel like I know him well,” he told The Courier-Times in a file story.
Keaton remarked that Americans loved British Prime Minister Churchill and he returned that love. “He was half-American; his mother was from Brooklyn. His father was a hard man – politician, military man who raised Winston and his brother Jack with an iron hand,” the actor says.
When asked what he has to say to Courier-Times readers about attending the performance, Dickey says “they should come to see ‘Churchill’ to see what their hometown native has done with his art. Then come to see the Nettle Creek Players and enjoy the show. I promise you won’t be disappointed.”
Says Keaton, “And to the hometown folks, I say what any good actor would say – come to the show! – and thank you for everything.”
For more about Nettle Creek Players and the summer schedule, visit nettlecreekplayers.com or call 765-312-2722.
CLIMBING THE STAIRWAY TO ...
Built into our garage ceiling is a set of pull-down attic stairs. When we moved into the house 21 years ago, stashing things up there that we don't routinely use sounded like a great idea.
Into the rafters went the boys' special baby clothes joined by my prom dresses and Brian's childhood accordion. It seemed an ideal spot for our Christmas decorations, not to mention other off-season decor of fall garlands and spring floral wreaths.
Once Brian's folks were no longer with us, his dad's fishing tackle and keepsakes went up the stairs along with old framed photos and painting prints that his mom hung on their walls.
There were my college papers, a set of dishes and related matching pieces that we bought in the 1970s and I added onto throughout the 1980s, but have been out of style since the early 2000s.
Like interest that accumulates on an investment, time compounded what went up, but rarely came down.
When we moved in, I was under 40. Now I'm over 60. I have no interest in hauling Christmas decorations down stairs, nor in hoisting them back up. I've decided that since I haven't used those dishes in 20 years, it's highly unlikely that I will start in the next 20.
Also, I'm re-evaluating some silly assumptions that caused me to keep certain things. I kept the prom dresses thinking future granddaughters might play dress up with them. Well, I've gotten a clue from friends who actually have granddaughters. Today's little girls like Disney princess dresses that fit—not 1970s attire that doesn't.
About those college papers. Surely a kernel of crazy made me keep them, thinking someone somewhere sometime might enjoy my 1981 essay about the national press covered Skylab. No line has formed. No one has asked to review the hard copy of my college degree.
We're making progress. The Christmas decorations have been sorted and relocated to an indoor closet. The empty, sturdy boxes we've saved that would alone qualify us for an episode of Hoarders are gone.
Yet the attic remains full of landmines. When I lift a lid of an unidentified tub, I might get my breath taken away. That happened the other day when I was met by tiny baby outfits and shoes not seen in a quarter century. The item that got me most was not the itty-bitty blue sweater but the preschool T-shirt. How was it that once the boys reached preschool I thought of them as "big boys" when now I look at that T-shirt and realize they were still so little. But wake up, Donna. The actual, real-life boys are men now.
I'm keeping that lid shut.
There's another tub I'm avoiding. It has a label indicating that it's full of correspondence. These date back decades. If I open that can of worms, as one might also call it, I could be there for days, perched at the top of those steps, lost in the pre-email years, rereading letters about a friend's toddler issues, cards wishing me a happy 30th birthday, or weekly letters from my mother about what was new on the farm, back before the Alzheimer's took her away.
I'm not going to deal with the boys' childhood things. What's there, from Batman memorabilia to special school papers and trophies, will keep until they are ready to decide the fate of their artifacts. Why move things Ben doesn't yet want to his apartment when the ones who will move them to his next place will likely be us? It would defeat the purpose of purging if I had to deal with those containers again and maybe again after that. They can stay where they are.
The attic is a work in progress. It's not a stairway to heaven. Yet for a sentimental fool like me, it has its moments.
This column by Donna Cronk appears in the June 15 New Castle Courier-Times. It is reprinted here.
MIRACLE LEAGUE LOOKS TO FUTURE
It's amazing what one mom can accomplish--and then a community comes beside her. An update on the New Castle Miracle League, reprinted from this weekend's Courier-Times, Indiana Weekender.
by Donna Cronk
Eleven years ago, Cindy Brooks hoped to give her daughter, Hannah, a fun experience playing baseball. Hannah, now 26, couldn’t understand why her brothers got to play the game but she didn’t.
So the mom made a way, creating what is now a specialized league for children and adults ages 3 and up with cognitive and/or physical disabilities, where they play by T-ball rules, and have buddies helping them out on the field.
“I thought we’d just play that one year,” recalls Brooks.
But little did she know then that she had founded what is now a New Castle staple that last year served about 130 players, and 11 years later, is going strong. In fact, plans are under way to raise money for their own Miracle League baseball complex.
“It’s a lot of hard work ... but as soon as you see them, that joy and smile and high fives; it’s all worth it,” says Brooks, who is founder and league director.
League opening day is Saturday, July 27 with play on Friday nights and Saturdays for the seven-week season. Those wanting to sign up can do so on the website at miracleleagueofnewcastle.com. Buddies and other volunteers willing to assist a little or a lot can also sign up there. To register other ways or for information, contact Brooks at 765-524-5650 or email her at email@example.com.
It is not a pay-to-play organization, but the league requests a $25 donation per player if possible to help with expenses.
The payoff is this. Says Brooks, “It’s like watching the winners of the World Series every time they play.”
Dreaming of a new field
While the league currently plays on the girls softball field at Baker Park, organizers are hoping for their own field of dreams. Brooks explains that it would have two synthetic turf ballfields, an all-assessable playground and restrooms, concessions and bleachers.
She’s talking to the city to see if there is any ground available. She said of the 300 Miracle League fields throughout the country, none had to pay for their land, but it was provided to the leagues free of charge in the different communities.
The local league pays a membership fee to the Miracle League headquarters, based in Conyers, Georgia. As part of their membership, building plans for a new complex would be provided for no extra charge. Cost of building it and materials, however, would need to be paid by either a corporate donor or the money raised to fund it. Or, it may be a combined effort.
Brooks said it would be possible to host competitive travel games or even host an All-Star game. Such a thing is not do-able now, for one reason – because the current field is not totally wheelchair accessible. “We can use it but there are barriers there that slow things down some,” Brooks says.
Fundraiser has begun
Fundraising for the goal of a new complex is underway now with a bench made by Jaron Baker, who while a junior at New Castle Career Center, built a bench and his family paid for it to be power coated. He is now a senior at Hagerstown High School.
The idea came from Steven Vitatoe, welding instructor at the career center, who found the league’s abandoned cash register last year after it had been stolen in a theft that amounted to a total $700 loss to the league.
He offered to make a bench and chose the word HOPE to place on it. Brooks was taken aback by the word in a positive way because she said the word HOPE is a league theme word.
Vitatoe says of Miracle League, “I really think it is important for everyone to have access to fun activities. After I heard about the break-in I was really upset and wanted to help out.”
He said Mary Logan came up with the idea of a HOPE bench, “and we all got to work.”
The bench was donated to the league and the public is welcome to place bids on it now through July 27. It will go to the to the highest bidder, and be announced at noon, Saturday, Aug. 3 at the ballpark.
Miracle League is a club within a club as part of the Breakfast Optimists. Brooks says that all three local Optimists clubs help sponsor the organization, along with an anonymous sponsor that helps with uniforms and hats.
To place a bid, use the email in this article or go to the Facebook page of Miracle League of New Castle and private message.
Brooks says the cost to create a Miracle League complex – which could be done in phases, and one that would include lighting and bleachers – would come in around $900,000.
She would love to see corporate sponsors help with such a large figure. She says the city is working well with the league. “I would like to partner with Special Olympics to build a complex that would include a track, soccer fields, basketball court ...” says Brooks.
Miracle League Co-Director Tammy Rains thinks getting the complex is do-able. In addition to her player son, Mike Cole, 38, several members of her family are involved in various ways from coaching to offering support as volunteers.
“It’s just a joy to interact with all the players,” says Rains, who has been involved all 11 years. “Just to see the joy on their faces, the fun they are having ...”
While it might take a miracle to get a complex built here – that is, after all, the name of the league.
Says Brooks, “... We are praying that we can find a great place for this park.”
A reprint of my Sunday feature in The Courier-Times.
by Donna Cronk
The public is invited to the first of four annual concerts sponsored by First Presbyterian Church in New Castle. The first one is an hour-long organ concert at 4 p.m. Sunday, June 9 in the sanctuary at 1202 Church St.
Presenting the concert is Mary Ragna Yetter, the church’s new director of music, with a program called Summer Wind Pipes. A fellowship reception will follow.
Selections include such pieces as “The Emperor’s Fanfare,” by Antonio Soler; “Sonata II in C Minor,” by Felix Mendelssohn; “Prelude” by Louis Vierne, “Adagio in G Minor,” by Tomaso Albinoni and an offering written by former local resident Robert A. Hobby, “Glorious Things of You Are Spoken.”
A special treat will feature “Haydn Clockworks,” which are little pieces of music written for high-end 18th-century clocks.
For Yetter, her work is about “making music happen in this building.”
That includes directing the choir, playing the church’s massive pipe organ, and producing various special musical performances throughout the year.
Yetter anticipates that the upcoming organ concert’s musical selections will “show off the sounds of this instrument.” She said this organ has incredibly good sound.
First Presbyterian Pastor Rev. Rod Smith says that Yetter brings “years and years training and experience, both in the USA and internationally, to one of the finest pipe organs in the state. I think of it as a perfect match of refined skills, talent, love of craft, brought to an instrument that knowledgeable musicians crave to play.”
Originally from Oklahoma, Yetter has been interested in the organ since she was a small child. Her mother took lessons but had to give them up. The daughter then started taking them at about age 5 and has been at it ever since. She played throughout high school and assumed she would continue playing and learning about her instrument.
Majoring in organ performance was the natural next step and she earned a bacehlor’s degree from Texas Christian University in Ft. Worth, a certificate of advanced study from the Royal College of Music in London, England, and has a master of music degree from the University of Memphis.
Yetter also plays harpsichord and violin, and has performed with a variety of orchestras, chamber groups, choruses and in solo concerts.
Since moving to Anderson last summer, Yetter has served as Anderson University organist. Throughout her adult years, she has been a professional organist and choir director at various churches in several states and in Ireland. Her husband, Erich, is an assistant professor of dance at Anderson University. They reside in Anderson and are parents to three grown children.
“In the arts, you go to wherever the job is,” says the master organist.
Yetter has taught both organ and piano in the past and is open to continuing that in the future. When she isn’t involved with music, Yetter enjoys reading, cooking and their pet dog, Shiloh.
She’s delighted by the welcome she has received at the New Castle church.
“They really are wonderful people,” says Yetter. “They really want to be singing and they are so appreciative. They really have just welcomed me here.”
Smith says the church historically maintained a strong music program and that the new director has arrived at a crucial and exciting time.
She says, “They needed me at exactly the same time that I needed them.”
Adds Smith, “I can’t wait for Mary Ragna’s first public concert and for her to unveil the musicians who’ll play at the four we are planning for each calendar year.”
She invites everyone to come enjoy the program and fellowship. “I just want it to be joyful,” she says.