by Eric Stearley
Exactly 20 years ago to the day, the Honeywell Center opened the doors to its new expansion. Known as “The Miracle on Market Street,” the 75,000-square-foot addition included the area’s premier performance hall, the Ford Theater. The 1,500-seat theatre has serves as a cultural center for the community, bringing hundreds of musical and theatrical performances to Wabash over the past two decades.
“When Mark Honeywell established the Honeywell Foundation in 1941, he did so because of his love of Wabash and his vision of a single place where the community could come together to enjoy cultural events, as well as enjoying one another’s company,” said Tod Minnich, executive director of The Honeywell Foundation. “The construction of the Ford Theatre, Eugenia’s Restaurant, and the Clark Gallery, which opened 20 years ago, increased opportunities for cultural enrichment and exposure as evidenced by the high caliber of entertainers who have made their way to the Ford Theater stage over the past two decades. As we celebrate the 20th anniversary of these integral spaces, I am confident that we are continuing to further Mr. Honeywell’s original vision.”
When the expansion opened in 1994, several musical and theatrical acts took the stage, including Wabash native Crystal Gayle. Reading the performance’s program gives the past two decades some perspective; it asked patrons to silence their pagers.
Minnich was named executive director just before the theater’s 10th anniversary.
“We chose to celebrate the 10th anniversary with 10 shows in 2 weeks, and I think people thought that was a pretty unrealistic feat, and we were able to pull it off at a them when, some years, we’d barely been doing 10 shows all year,” said Minnich. “Now we do over 40 shows every year, so it’s been exciting to see the growth in the number of programs we provide.”
April’s celebration is a fitting display of the diversity in the venue’s programming. The festivities commenced on April 2 with a performance by Grammy Award-winning country musician Trisha Yearwood. Local talent brought classical music to the stage with a performance by the Manchester Symphony Orchestra. Retired NCAA basketball coach Bob Knight proved that shows don’t need music or high-tech lights to be well attended as he answered questions from former sports editor of Bloomington’s Herald Times Bob Hammel. Knight was followed by Grammy winner Ronnie Milsap. Pop music star Gavin DeGraw drew the youngest crowd of the month, and audience members spent much of the concert on their feet for the high-energy show. It’s safe to say that a good portion of those attending that show were too young to remember the Honeywell Center without the Ford Theatre.
Still to come are performances by Blue Man Group on Thursday (a sold-out show), The Osmonds on Friday, and Mark Lowry on Saturday.
“Live entertainment continues to grow. There are more people listening to music now than ever before, and it’s been good for the live entertainment business,” Minnich said of the venue’s packed schedule. “We couldn’t book the acts that we’re able to book here if people didn’t buy tickets and come out and see the shows. It’s really all driven by the guests that come through the doors that are willing to put their hard-earned money down to buy a ticket. That’s the only reason we’re able to do this.”
The 20th anniversary celebration was supported by INGUARD, formerly known as Beauchamp McSpadden. Attendees of every show in April receive a special gift from the company in the form of an evergreen seedling ready to be planted.
“It’s been incredibly well received. We couldn’t have done it without INGUARD, and the “grow with us” philosophy is something that we really believe in,” said Minnich. “Hopefully when we celebrate the 40th anniversary another 20 years from now, there’ll be close to 10,000 trees that will be 20, 30, 40 feet tall.”
With three shows still to come in April, there is plenty of time to be a part of the anniversary celebration of one of the most iconic landmarks in Wabash County. Those interested in the physical structure can take advantage of free tours of the 75,000-square-foot addition. The first chance for a tour is Monday, April 28 from 5-7 p.m. Tours will also be offered on Wednesday, May 7 at the same time. In addition, the Clark Gallery is featuring local student artists in its current exhibit, which is on display until April 30. Finally, the Plaza Music Series kicks off May 1 with a performance by the John Kirkwood Band in the Carpenter Plaza, the outdoor portion of the 1994 expansion.
“For those who remember it growing up here or saw it being built as an adult, the response has overwhelmingly been, ‘Wow! Has it really been 20 years already?’” said Minnich. “It has been 20 years and we just want to continue to grow and serve people as opportunities present themselves.”
For more information on the Honeywell Center and upcoming shows at the Ford Theater, go to www.honeywellcenter.org.