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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Former Monett resident seeks hometown support for theater

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Supporters of the OK Theatre in the town of Enterprise, Ore., turned out to show their backing for the contest run by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Owners Melisa and Bill Bush, and their son, Gabe, are at right on the front row of people standing. Monett people can help the effort by contacting the Bushes.
Often people who grew up in Monett will talk about favorite places. For memory makers, the Gillioz Theater is often mentioned.

Now a Monett native has her own movie theater in Oregon and is asking for hometown help on the preservation project.

Melisa Thomas Bush and her husband, Bill, moved to Enterprise, Ore., a year ago after they worked at a school in Zimbabwe in Africa. Melisa teaches fourth and fifth graders at the local public school.

Located in the northeast corner of the state, Enterprise has approximately 2,000 residents and is located about 70 miles from the nearest major airport in Lewiston, Idaho. Access to the town through the mountains gets cut off during the winter when snowstorms cover Rattlesnake Road.

The OK Theatre in Enterprise reminded Melisa of the Gillioz. The 300-seat facility, built in 1919, has become a center of activity for all of Wallowa County, which has around 8,000 residents. It serves as a community center, hosts productions brought in by the Portland Repertory Theatre and shows movies on Friday, Saturday and twice on Sunday. Art movies are shown there once a month.

The Bushes purchased the theatre and now find themselves in the center of the community's activities. They have added to the OK Theatre's classic look. A chandelier that once hung in the Oriental Theatre in Portland, a 1920s-era movie palace torn down in 1970, turned up on eBay. The Bushes bought it and hung it in their theatre.

The OK Theatre has the distinction of being the longest operating theatre in the state. The building houses some businesses on corners and provides some apartment space in the rear. Melisa said the building is in sound condition but could always use additional restoration work.

Recently, the National Trust for Historic Preservation announced a contest where $25,000 would be awarded. The Bushes jumped at the opportunity. A total of 475 other eligible theaters, performing arts centers, homes of historic people and even a native American mounds site applied. The OK Theatre is one of only 100 in the final list eligible for the contest.

The contest required a photo showing local support and an essay. The Bushes mobilized the Enterprise residents for the initial requirements and now have to muster the most votes in national balloting that continues through June 30.

The OK Theatre has held second place in the voting through last week, tightening the lead to within 20 votes.

"We'd love to get some votes from Monett," Melisa said.

People can vote directly by going to the contest website at www.preservationnation.org/communitychal.... Votes can also be cast by going to the OK Theatre's website, www.theok.tk. People can give the Bushes permission to cast a vote on their behalf by giving them an e-mail address to use. Addresses and permission for a proxy vote can be sent to the Bushes at okmanager@ymail.com.

Monettans can also leave a message with Melisa's parents, Burl and Jo Ann Thomas, of Monett, at 235-4233. A sign-up sheet for voting is also available at The Monett Times office at 505 E. Broadway.

Winning the contest would enable the Bushes to restore the art deco facade on the building. The contest theme is "This place matters," and Melisa said the motto truly fits their theatre.

"[Actor] Walter Brennan had a ranch in this town," Melisa said. "He used to bring down starlets to open movies. The 2010 movie 'Secretariat' was written by someone from Enterprise. We had multiple showings of it for days."

The Bushes also maintain the kind of hometown atmosphere that endears a movie theatre to the local crowd.

"Kids park their bikes out front or bring their skateboards in and we watch them," Melisa said. "We use local butter on our popcorn and have a lot of local specialties like fudge and cookies. We have two employees who have been here for 30 years or so."

Melisa hoped that Monettans who appreciated their theatre could support her family's effort to continue the tradition in a very similar setting.

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