Friday, January 23, 2009

In Memory of Stephen Luther III

A little more than a week ago Stephen Luther III passed away. I did not know Stephen, or about his connection to Civic Theatre. Thankfully Jo Gelfand, long time Civic volunteer, contacted me with the information. The following post tells us all a little about Stephen and his all important contribution to Civic Theatre.

A little piece of the mosaic that makes up Civic Theatre has been lost with the recent death of Stephen G. Luther III.

Today's audiences and performers take for granted the marvelous facility that is the Monon Depot Theatre. However, back in 1978, Civic didn't really have a home. We put shows on at West Lafayette High School, Morris Bryant's, Howard Johnson's, Ramada Inn, a tent at Market Square, a West Lafayette City Hall courtroom, Loeb Playhouse, the Lahr House Hotel, Sunnyside Junior High School, and our own cement block Workshop on Cason Street. We "made do" with whatever facilities we could, whenever and wherever we could. Then, Jim Stegenga came up with a revolutionary idea - transform a run-down, leaky-roofed railroad station located in the heart of downtown Lafayette into a working "home" for Civic. That's where Steve Luther came in. Steve was a professional fund-raising consultant who fell in love with the idea of recycling a decaying, historical property into a viable, functional theatre. He came up with the concept of "Culture... Preservation... Downtown" that became the rallying cry that brought private citizens, local businesses and local government together in order to complete a $300,000 fund drive.

This was unheard of back in the late 70s!

I was privileged to be able to work with Steve on the Civic Monon Depot fund drive. He had an uncanny ability to bring together people from all walks of life to support a project. He got letters of support from then-mayor Jim Riehle, the Executive Director of the Convention and Visitors Center, Paul Henck, and the President of the Downtown Business Center, Matthew Neuwelt, among others. He waded through the red tape to get Civic registered officially as a non-profit organization. He could look at a mass mailing and tell you, almost to the penny, how much money it would bring in. We worked many late hours, starting the project in an office in the Long Center (back when it was still the Mars Theatre), then in the Lahr House (where I could watch trains pass by through my office window), and then in the Wells Building (which is now on Civic's Tour of Terror - not my office, specifically, but the building).

Steve and I worked on other projects together over time - the Battle of Tippecanoe Outdoor Drama, Indiana Republican State Committee - but the Civic Monon Depot Theatre project was always close to Steve's heart. It was Civic's first major fund drive, and one of its most successful. I was a member of the cast for the Golden Gala Opening of the Monon Depot Theatre on September 15, 1981. I can remember Steve being there, reveling in an evening of well-deserved celebration. I lost touch with Steve after he moved to Indianapolis, and was saddened when I saw his obituary in the paper. He was a great boss, a wonderful mentor, and an important, if somewhat unrecognized part of Civic's history.

He was more than a piece of the mosaic - he was a cornerstone. Rest in peace, Steve. Job well done!

If you have any memories of Stephen, please leave them in the comments section. I will be sure that his family has access to these posts. I would also encourage you to visit the Flanner and Buchanan site here to leave a personal note for Mr. Luther's family.


Steve Martin said...

I cannot imagine Civic Theatre of Greater Lafayette without the Monon Depot Theatre -- the two are indelibly linked in my mind, probably because the Monon Depot Theatre has always been Civic's home long before I began volunteering.

Although I never met Mr. Luther, Jo Gelfand's memories of him make me wish I had been able to witness his passion for Civic Theatre first-hand.

Rest in Peace, Mr. Luther.

Steven Koehler said...

I did not know Stephen either, although his brother Jim is an old family friend. In fact my sister works for him in Indianapolis.

The work that was done by many hard working unsung heroes has made Civic Theatre what it is today. Luckily, thanks to Jo, we were able to recognize one hard worker that was so key in making the Monon our home.