HICKSVILLE — It’s been 20 years in the making.
The Huber Opera House and Civic Center in Hicksville is celebrating its 20th anniversary.
On Dec. 7, 1999, at 10:30 a.m., paperwork was signed transferring the High Street building to the Huber Opera House and Civic Center Inc. While the building had been run as the nightclub Tremors for several years, its origins included being a hotel in 1883 and then an opera house in 1894. By noon Dec. 7, 1999, the Tremors sign was down and a new era was ushered in for the building.
Hicksville Mayor Diane Collins said prior to the Huber’s steering committee coming together to purchase the building, the village had considered tearing it down to make a parking lot.
“We’re grateful someone stepped forward and purchased the building,” she said. “It (the Huber) really benefits our community.”
The renewal of the opera house building started with clean up, which saw the removal of several tons of garbage from the site. Renovation also needed to be done to the facility.
The Hicksville Historical Society members wrote grants, did fundraisers, publicity and planning. Shows were conducted by the Village Players and other groups in between construction projects to show off the building to the public. A dedicated group of volunteers came together to help with various renovations. (Several years later, it was estimated that the volunteers did more than $1 million worth of work to the building, helping keep renovation costs down.)
More members and former members of the community stepped forward to donate to projects, helped with the mortgage, heating/cooling expenses, wall repairs and more. The Ridenour Family Fund, named for former residents Nan and Layel Ridenour, even donated funds to restore the more than 100-year-old theater drop curtain.
“About two-thirds of the community have been involved with the Huber at some point,” said Corinne Hurni of the Huber, prior to the dedication, which occurred on Oct. 23, 2011. Hurni passed away in 2016.
While renovations still are underway to bring the opera house back to its former glory, it has hosted many plays, performances and shows. Several big names have come to the Huber over the years to perform including Mickey and Jan Chamberlin Rooney in 2003, Mike Smith of the Dave Clark 5 in 2002 and others.
There also have been many community theater performances, dance recitals and high school productions.
“The Huber provides a place in the community for all ages to come together and do things,” said Collins. “The Huber has a good diversity of programming.”
Several events are planned to celebrate the Huber’s 20th anniversary. The first is a performance by the rejuvenated Huber Chorus on Saturday at 7 p.m. Admission is a freewill offering.
The chorus originally was formed to help raise funds to restore the historic Huber building. It is fitting that it is returning for the 20th anniversary celebration.
In addition, a “new” production called “Then … and Again” is scheduled for May that also will pay tribute to the history of theater in Hicksville.
“It’s a tip of the hat to those who formed and laid the path (in Hicksville theater) for the rest of us to follow,” said Hal Osmun, who is on the “Then … And Again” committee.
“Hal Osmun and I were talking about the old productions and somehow we had a brainstorm that we could do a variety show using original performers, which we are,” said Pam Diehl, who also is on the committee. “This is celebrating the arts in Hicksville going back to the ‘60s.”
Other “Then … and Again!” committee members include Marilyn Guilford, Mary Smith, Andrew Gross and Dave Snyder.
Osmun said the committee has searched for many former performers. While age, health issues and other snags were hit, some performers “were absolutely thrilled to be part of it.”
“We are so amazed and thankful at the great response,” said Diehl. “Even some who were children at the time they were on stage here in Hicksville are hoping to come back and perform if their schedules allow. The cool thing is that these are all great performers the audience will enjoy seeing again, doing a scene from productions they enjoyed.”
Osmun said while he misses the more “intimate setting” of the Front Row Theater, where former productions were held in Hicksville, “the Huber is, without a doubt, a venue worth fighting for and it is the pride of Defiance County and beyond.”
“I’ve been involved with Hicksville’s public theater scene since 1978,” Osmun said. “Back then, and up through the mid-’90s, the majority of theater personnel were exclusively from Hicksville. Since the closing of the Front Row Theater, and then the opening of the Huber, a major evolution has taken place in every aspect of Hicksville’s theater. Many more out-of-towners are now involved, bringing even a wider array of new programs and talent to our little (village). It just keeps getting better and better, but for those of us who are on the backside of performing, we felt that our history has a place and a value. We’ve decided to highlight it. We don’t have a clue of what kind of draw ‘Then … And Again” will have, or who’ll show an interest in this format, but we always anticipate a fabulous following and that’s what we’ll prepare for.”
Osmun said he’s told Diehl about “Then …. And Again” that “if the audience doesn’t get a knot in their throats somewhere throughout this production, they never will.”