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Ro-Na fundraiser showcases wide range of possible entertainment

IRONTON — It was like closing your eyes and taking a step back in time — at least for three hours.

For the first time since the city of Ironton acquired downtown’s historic Ro-Na Theater in 2008, supporters got to see first hand the types of entertainment acts and variety performances that could fill its seats to capacity when it finally becomes restored and operational.

It was something tangible the city, the community and the theater’s steering committee will be able to rally around after nearly two years of hope, brainstorming and hard work.

And that rally started Friday night.

More than 125 people gave up a weekend evening to donate their time and money in hopes of raising funds to complete payment on the first of three phases to restore the historic Ro-Na Theater into the Ro-Na Arts Center, a cabaret-style theater with banquet rooms for receptions, art shows and business and trade expos.

“You guys look good. You make me proud of being an Irontonian,” Steering Committee Co-Chairperson and event organizer Katrina Keith said when addressing those in attendance at Ohio University Southern’s Riffe Center. “Thank you for catching the vision.”

“This is the very thing that can bring the community together and the very thing that can bring life back to downtown,” Keith said when explaining all the smiles she receives in discussing the Ro-Na with area residents “We need a mindset, we need positive people. We need to refuse to talk negative about our town.”

Keith spoke following a $25 a plate dinner and promotional video that allowed supporters to settle in before a scheduled set of nine performances.

Radio personality J.B. Miller of 97.9 FM was the evening’s master of ceremonies with the Ironton High School Jazz Band providing pre-show and dinner music.

The Ironton High School varsity cheerleaders served as hostesses while the high school’s interactive media club provided photography.

The Italian-themed dinner was sponsored by a who’s who of local area restaurants including Chick-fil-A, Coal Grove Giovanni’s, Melini’s Cucina, Peddler’s Home Cooking, Sabarro, Texas Roadhouse and Wendy’s.

Other dinner sponsors included: Area Advertising, Crabro Printing, Mike McKee, Ohio University Southern, Printing Express, Seven-Up and RC Bottling Co., Studimo, Tipton’s Traditions, Wal-Mart Ashland, Weber’s Florist and Gifts and Williams Floor Covering.

The entertainment line up included performances by a wide-variety of genres including country music solos by Mayor Rich Blankenship, who performed a trio of hits (“Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison, “Please Come to Boston” by Dave Loggins and “The Dance” by Garth Brooks); gospel a capella by the Kentucky-based quartet Just His; classical piano by foreign exchange student Yu Kyee Chan; Argentine tango and swing dancing by the teams of Gayle Riggs, Mike Beck Jeannine Shelton and Jim Schmidt; the sultry jazz of Susan Taylor; barber-shop chorus singing by the Singing Kernels; theater dance by Cecili Weber and Broadway standards by Sharon Whitehead, Betty Cradock and Linda Brammer.

Taylor was especially proud of the restoration when recollecting about the Ro-Na in her youth with her sisters.

In her anecdote, Taylor talked about going to the Ro-Na to see the 1966 film titled “This Property is Condemned” which starred Natalie Wood, Charles Bronson and Robert Redford. After the film while walking home, Taylor recalled a scene with Wood in the film considered risqué at the time and warned her sisters.

“Whatever you do, don’t tell Mom that Natalie Wood took her shirt down over her shoulder,” Taylor said to the laughs of those in attendance.

Keith also took the time to encourage people within the community to become involved with the variety of not-for-profit charities and organizations throughout the city.

Her request came during the same week the civic organization, Friends of Ironton put out a public call recruiting new volunteers and board members.

Currently, reconstruction of the Ro-Na is on the first of three phases: rebuilding the theater’s roof. Phase two is reconstructing the interior and faade of the theater while the third phase is updating and installing furnishings and accessories.

Estimated to come in at $187,000 to replace the decking and roofing materials, the city earmarked $129,000 of its own money to pay for it along with $60,000 in donations and pledges the steering committee received before last night’s fundraiser.

Fundraisers, like the one held Friday night, are conducted to offset and reduce the city’s share of the cost.

Once complete, the city plans on establishing a non-profit organization to operate the Ro-Na.

No timetable has been set on when that could be.