Let there be light
With a countdown from 10, it was collective jubilation.
Following riverfront festivities that included the annual fireworks display by the Friends of Ironton, hundreds of people gathered in front of the Ro-Na Theater on Third Street to see something the consensus deemed historical.
“We are here celebrating a new beginning for the old Ro-Na Theater,” J.B. Miller, master of ceremonies, said. “We stand here tonight to officially light the new restored marquee and embark on a new era for this facility and the entire City of Ironton.”
Assistant Director of the American Legion Post 433 Riders Jim Knipp spoke to the crowd, as did Lt. Keith McCormack of the United States Air Force, who also led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance.
“It’s an honor tonight to be here for this special event,” McCormack said. “I’ve been in the military for 26 years and it was always special when I got to come home and this is the pinnacle of all the times I’ve been home in those 26 years.”
Ironton Mayor Rich Blankenship invited the Friends of Ironton board, comprised of Rick Jansen, Jane Griffith, Madolin Blackwell, Valerie Freeman, Jeff Mallory and Jessica Williams, on stage.
“In 2009 I walked in this building I could see the sky, that’s how bad the roof was,” Blankenship said. “So the city leaders came together. Several things had to be done — get it cleaned out and put a roof on it. Then we created a steering committee. Friends of Ironton stepped forward once again and have proven to us that with hard work, some amazing things can get done. We certainly have a lot of hard workers here with the Friends of Ironton.”
Blankenship read a proclamation from United States Rep. Bill Johnson recognizing Friends of Ironton and the lighting of the marquee.
Miller recalled the “lady with the flashlight” he remembered walking the aisles of the Ro-Na when he attended the theater as a child.
“I don’t know about you, but as I stood back here during that presentation I kept looking for that woman who used to walk up and down the aisle with that darn flashlight,” he said. “I know we all have memories of this place. This is truly a very historic night. I remember the mayor bringing me over here and letting me take a look at this building in its former state, so you know what kind of work has truly been done.”
Miller recognized Bill Darling, a former ticket-taker at the theater during its heyday.
Ironton-Lawrence County Community Action Organization Assistant Executive Director Ralph Kline said that in 1949 Ironton residents prepared to light the original marquee.
“It’s a great day isn’t it?,” Kline said. “Reminds me of the city’s heyday. The lighting of this marquee is hopefully one of those things everybody out here will remember.”
The Ro-Na’s certificate of occupancy has been obtained, Kline said, and the Ro-Na can now be used for any event.
“This marquee is the third phase to put the Ro-Na back on the map and we now have a usable theater,” Kline said. “The next step is to restore the auditorium to its original state. We have received $100,000 from the state to start renovations of the auditorium. After that will be the restoration to upper stories and then some additions.”
When finished, Kline said the restoration project would cost roughly a million dollars.
“It’s all because of the volunteers, the community, the elected officials and the individuals who give their time and money,” Kline said. “You are why we are able to stand here tonight.”
Bishop Jeffrey Mon Forton led the crowd in prayer and after the lighting of the marquee, people were allowed inside to tour the facility and have refreshments.