By STEPHEN COCCA
Special to the OBSERVER
GOWANDA - It started with a promise made to a 4-year-old girl, when a shiny new coin was dropped into a large glass jar. Told that the money would bring something special when the jar was filled up, she and her mother began the exciting journey. Although the little girl is gone, the promise has been kept by her parents through a generous donation to Gowanda's Historic Hollywood Theater.
The late Blythe Nundy’s coin collection was donated to the Historic Hollywood Theater. As a fundraiser for the theater, a contest to guess the number of coins is being held.
Blythe Nundy, the daughter of Lucy Schaack, watched her collection grow every day until her premature death from the ravages of Lou Gehrig's disease over 30 years ago. For nearly 14 years, Lucy and Blythe added every shiny coin that came into their possession.
"She talked about that collection every day," Mrs. Schaack said when arrangements for the transfer of the collection to the Hollywood were made.
"Blythe had some wonderful ideas about the things that the money would buy."
Mrs. Schaack and her husband David, both formerly of Gowanda, donated the coins to the theater with the idea that Blythe's dreams could still come true through the progressing renovation under way at the theater.
"We settled on a donation to the theater and came up with a way that it could grow into something even greater," she added.
"After we rediscovered the jar while downsizing, David and I discussed a few options for the collection because we knew that it had some value. We knew that some of the coins were more than likely over 45 years old."
Today the collection is on display in the Community Bank on West Main Street in Gowanda, piled high in the original jar. A $1 donation to the Hollywood Theater provides a chance to guess the number of coins contained by completing an entry form. The Hollywood Theater board has put up a prize of $100 for the contest winner.
The correct guesser will be announced next year, just before the annual Hollywood Happening and donations will be accepted throughout the winter and spring.
After the contest, the entire collection will be put up for auction.
"We are very grateful and extremely excited about this unbelievable donation," said Mark Burr, president of the Historic Hollywood Theater Board of Directors. "When we were given this collection by Mr. and Mrs. Schaack, we immediately knew that it could grow into something significant because of the potential. It also was a great opportunity for the theater board to reach out to the community and promote our significant progress in the renovation of our community jewel."
The Blythe Nundy donation is one of several activities and fundraising initiatives that the theater board has undertaken in the last few months.
Late in August 2012, Carl and Judy Forbes of Versailles donated $1,000 to the theater in the name of Carl's father, Theron G. Forbes.
"My father was a great organist, pianist, brass player and teacher of children for 35 years," Forbes said at the presentation of the check. "This donation is dedicated to the restoration, rebuilding, and repair of the organ as a way to remember and recognize my father's contribution to the community."
The Forbes family also donated an Amish-made cover for the Wurlitzer organ already in the possession of the theater.
"Hopefully other citizens, organizations and companies will step up to help with this project. It will further enhance our community and ensure a bright future, one that is filled with music," Forbes continued.
"My family from France also toured the theater and fell in love with this wonderful place," Forbes added, "and they generously donated to the restoration project."
Two fall events have successfully opened the doors of the theater to the general public.
In September, four re-enactments were presented in the theater as part of the annual Scarecrow Heritage/Harvest festival. Actors portrayed the late Richard and Alice Wilhelm, the builder of the Hollywood Theater, and Dorothy Thompson and Louise Pliss, two writers with local ties.
Also, in late October, the annual "Haunted Theater" program drew more than 600 patrons to the theater over a four-day run. Volunteers provided the "chills" as patrons made their way through a maze in the theater, never knowing who or what was going to pop out around the next corner.
"With more than 90 percent of our infrastructure work completed," Burr said at the November board meeting, "we can now begin to usher in the very near and very real completion of this long-term project. The late-summer and early fall activities have opened many people's eyes to the vast potential of this multi-use facility. We can accommodate educational programs like Cindy Ripley's musical drama camp; play host to a live theatrical performance like that experienced by over 150 people during the Heritage/Harvest festival and still be a center for wonderful family entertainment like that experienced during Halloween with the Haunted Theater."
The next phase of the $6 million project will include the restoration of the plaster, painting, carpeting, seats and sound, including the rebuilding of the organ that is now in hundreds of parts in storage.
"Later in the new year we will see the start of the plastering, painting and visual eye-candy that our patrons will be pleased to see when they come into the theater," Burr said.
"No doubt that it has taken a very long time," he added, "but we are on track and the end of the long journey is near."
Volunteers may sign-up on the Hollywood Theater website at www.gowandahollywoodtheater.com.
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