*This article appeared in Oct/Nov ’17 issue of Owensboro Living.
Joanne Fore Masters can still remember the RiverPark Center grand opening Gala Celebration in 1992. “It was fabulous! John Denver was there. And Florence Henderson. It was a formal gala opening.” Joanne served as a community volunteer at the gala, then went on to join the board in ’94, on which she served for 18 years, and co-chaired the 15th Anniversary Celebration in 2007.
Carolyn Porter, who has been a season ticket subscriber all 25 years, shared that enthusiasm. “I was so excited about the RiverPark Center because Owensboro could now have live plays like they do in larger cities.” Porter convinced several family members to join her in purchasing season tickets that inaugural season. After that first year, she asked the box office if any better seats were available. H201 and H202 were available, so she quickly traded. “I think we have some of the best seats in the whole theater. I still have them, and I intend to keep them. My family and friends are thrilled to death to use them anytime we can’t go. People have asked to buy them if we ever decide to sell them.”
“It’s rare for a town this size to have a facility like the RiverPark Center,” says Esther Jansing, who along with her husband Bill, moved to Owensboro from New York, where they were accustomed to enjoying the arts. “When we came to Owensboro, we were excited to learn there was an orchestra. Then when the RiverPark Center project came along, we were very excited, because it brought everything together. We love it!”
Bill and Esther both sing, and they enjoy performing with the Owensboro Symphony Orchestra (OSO) chorus. They subscribe to the Broadway Series each year, and enjoy OSO performances and community theatre, as well. Bill says he’s glad to support the RPC because “All of western Kentucky benefits from the RiverPark Center, especially the kids through school trips.” Esther added, “Music enhances math and other skills. When students are exposed to the arts at a young age, it helps them learn, and those experiences lead to other opportunities and interests.”
Dr. Diane Earle, a Professor of Music and artist in residence at Kentucky Wesleyan College, commented about the school trips in her post on RPC25.org. “I have so many happy memories of wonderful programs at RiverPark. Perhaps my favorite joy is seeing the happiness on the faces of schoolchildren as they load and unload buses for Arts in the AM and other educational programs. They are always so happy, and what amazing opportunities they have to experience great music, art, theatre, dance and other varied professional programming!”
Amelia Armstrong recalls being one of those students. “When I was 13, the RiverPark Center was where I was privileged to attend my very first Southern Gospel singin’! It was a memorable and beautiful experience in many ways. Now, as I finish my bachelor’s degree and make plans to begin my master’s, I realize that one night at the RiverPark Center is what led to my love of Southern Gospel music that has kept me going … since that very first concert.”
It could be argued that the RiverPark Center is what spearheaded the recent downtown revitalization, by giving people a reason to come downtown through hosting community events like Friday After 5 and the former Winter Wonderland, in addition to normal programming.
“It’s very important for the public to realize what an opportunity the RiverPark Center offers. There really is something for everybody from all walks of life and all age groups. Numerous events are free to the public and all are welcome,” Joanne Fore Masters says. “The staff and board work with schools, the Convention Center and other performing arts organizations to ensure Owensboro continues to be the cultural center of western Kentucky.”
That being the case, the number of guests the RiverPark center draws to Owensboro from surrounding communities and from across the region create quite an economic impact when you take into consideration those visitors eating in restaurants, shopping and staying in hotels while in town to attend events.
Having a first-class facility as a cultural epicenter also provides a great incentive for companies hiring new employees. “Having these kinds of amenities could be a great recruitment tool for business when hiring people from out of town,” Esther Jansing commented. “We’re very fortunate to have a group of business leaders who could see the potential for the future in creating this.”
Bill Jansing agrees. “The community came together, worked hard and produced a good product that has impacted all of us. It taught us we can do great things like this when we come together as a community.”
In that “something for everyone” spirit, the board planned a diverse lineup of events to commemorate 25 years, including Broadway classics, amazing concerts, entertaining game shows, comedy acts and more.
Looking long-term, Board of Directors Chair Rick Hobgood says utilizing the space currently used by the Bluegrass Museum is a priority, as well as “expanding revenue to meet our continuously growing need.”
Director Roxi Witt’s staff is setting their sights on maintaining a 25-year-old facility and determining how to best fit programming to meet the interests of the audience. But as for enjoying RPC’s silver anniversary season, Witt is very appreciative to all “patrons, donors, volunteers and ticket buyers that have given so generously” while acknowledging “tremendous support from the City of Owensboro, Daviess County Fiscal Court and the Kentucky Arts Council. “Owensboro has had many philanthropic leaders and we’ve benefited from the generosity of the Young Foundation, Hager Foundation, Yeager Trust and the Killian Foundation, as well as thousands of individual and corporate donations,” Witt says. “RiverPark Center is more than a building or concert venue; we believe that we are the place where memories are made and look forward to being an important part of our community’s life for years to come.”