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Community celebrates 100 years of Palace Theatre

Silent movie, 'The General,' to be shown Sept. 20 along with live music, birthday treats
Lead Summary
Lori Sorenson

The historic Palace Theatre, one of Luverne’s iconic symbols, is celebrating a milestone birthday this week.
Built in 1915, the Palace was heralded as one of the most splendid opera houses in the state.
“In the matter of the size and equipment of the stage, as well as in arrangement size and equipment of the opera house proper, nothing is left to be desired,” wrote the Rock County Herald in its Oct. 1 story about the Palace grand opening.
“In the style of architecture, decorating, finishing, the New Palace is not surpassed by any opera house in the state outside of the three big cities, and the people of Luverne, as well as the New Palace owner, who spent $50,000 in its construction, have every reason to be proud of it.”
Palace 100-year celebration includes silent film, live music, birthday treats
To celebrate the Palace’s 100th birthday, the Blue Mound Area Theatre Board will present a silent movie, “The General,” at 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 20.
“The event will be presented at no charge to the public in hopes that many will come and celebrate with us,” said Heidi Sehr, BMAT member. “We’re looking forward to celebrating this milestone!”
Leona Hoek will accompany the silent film on the Palace’s 1926 Smith-Geneva organ. 
Prior to the movie, local resonate guitarist Bill Keitel will provide music.
Keitel, as seen nationally on TV and Pioneer Public TV, will perform a short musical history of the Palace Theatre, playing Fats Waller, Booker White, Cab Calloway and Wilmuth Houdini, a New York City guitarist of the 1940s and 50s.
Historian Betty Mann will share historical highlights about the Palace through the decades.
The museum will be open for tours, and the afternoon will conclude with birthday treats, Sehr said.
“We hope a lot of people come out and celebrate with us. It’s not every day you get to see a silent movie. That’s pretty unique,” she said.
Sehr said it’s been a daunting task for the board to appropriately observe the Palace’s century mark, but she said one thing for sure is worth celebrating.
“We’ve managed to keep it going as a community jewel,” Sehr said. “The fact that there’s always something going on there is a testament to the Palace and the community that supports it.”
Passion for the Palace
This community support comes by way of audience members who attend and buy tickets for Palace events.
But the work behind the scenes to keep the doors open is done primarily by BMAT volunteers, and Sehr is a third-generation Palace supporter on that board.
As a child, she grew familiar with the Palace stage through her violin performances with the “Grace Notes” accompanied by her mother, Janine (Jordahl) Papik, a musical leader in the community.
Sehr’s grandmother, Bonnie Jordahl, (Janine’s mother),  made it her life’s mission to refurbish the local theatre in the 1980s, and in 1995 published a book about the Palace called “Herman’s Palace.”
“She was passionate about the Palace,” Sehr said about her grandmother, who died in 2004.
The book was dedicated to the Palace builders and also Jordahl’s parents, Olaf and Bessie Holmied, “whose close acquaintance with the owners gave me a special love of the Palace.”
Sehr said it’s hard to replicate her grandmother’s passion, but she said the Palace’s success through the years is directly attributable to all the volunteers who worked so tirelessly to preserve it.
“It takes a lot of effort and a lot of money to keep a place like this going,” Sehr said. “And it’s because of people who care that the Palace is still around.”
BMAT took ownership of the Palace in 1980, and in 2002 the city of Luverne took ownership of the Palace with BMAT managing operations.
In addition to Sehr, current board members are Kevin Aaker, Deb Aanenson, Marc Boelman, Shirley Connor, Mike Elbers, Jim Juhl, Eugene Marshall, Colleen Nath, Dianne Ossenfort, Deb Schandelmeier, LaDonna VanAartsen, Verlyn VanBatavia, and Louella Voigt.
LHS alumni share memories
The Alumni News, a publication for Luverne High School graduates, asked LHS grads to share their memories of the Palace.
George Godfrey, Class of 1961, wrote, “Oh, the memories of the Palace Theatre take me back to the 1940s long before concessions of any kind were sold in the theatre.  The first movie I have a vague recollection of seeing was ‘So Dear to My Heart.’ While that one was a sweet story the next one I remember was one about Jesse James.  My dad, Otis Godfrey, took me to see the movies on a school night, heaven forbid. 
“… My mother, Lois (Schlicht) Godfrey told about ushering at the Palace before she was married, and my aunt, Frieda Schlicht, sold tickets in the booth in the front even when I was a youngster.
“… The most unforgettable character though was Mark ‘Doc’ Beaubien. He was manager, usher, ticket taker and ‘enforcer.’ He was not a happy camper when Herman decided to sell concessions. He said the place would go downhill when that happened. He patrolled the aisles and ‘shhhhhed’ us kids if we made too much noise or put our feet on the seats. The first four rows were the only places us young ones could sit unless accompanied by an adult.”
Godfrey recalled movies cost 12 cents when he was 9 years old.
Betty Swenson Ellais-Airgood from the class of 1951 remembers 13-cent tickets and big crowds on Bank Nite.
“I would bring Maude Jochims corn from our garden and Maude would give me a free ticket for the show,” she wrote.
“My first date and first kiss happened at the Palace Theatre. My best treat was to play the beautiful organ at the Palace. The organ provided a full band sound in one instrument. You name it and you could create the sound.”
Stories like these filled pages of the Alumni News for several editions of the quarterly newsletter.
Sehr said a modern-day challenge for Palace operators is to reach young audiences at the same time as keeping mature entertainment seekers.
“With so much access to technology, we have to keep putting the information out there and stay relevant for all ages,” Sehr said.
“We do see kids coming to the movies and we hope they’re making memories there like we did.”
Maintaining excellence
For its part, the Palace set a standard of excellence in a community that, over time, protected the old theater and preserved its pride and glory.
In the early 1900s, the show biz industry was becoming a new sensation.
Herman Jochims and his wife, Maude, were pioneers in the Midwest, opening one of the first major theaters in the area. They spent $50,000 to open the Palace Theatre on Sept. 29, 1915.
Jordahl writes in her book forward, “Movies had just arrived as the new entertainment element, but vaudeville and touring repertoire companies were still important.”
She said Herman built the Palace for both.
“The dressing rooms were ample, the light board was new, and all the 550 seats had good visibility for the stage and movie screen,” she wrote. “The town, as well as Herman, was proud of the new Palace Theatre.”

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