JACKSON CENTER — The Elder Theater celebrated its 75th anniversary, Wednesday, with an encore showing of the film, “Jackson Center at the Crossroads of Community and Innovation.”
Located at 106 W. Pike St., the Elder Theater first opened its doors in 1942.
According to the current owner, Rodney Miller, the theater was founded by Elder Duff, who was also the founder of Duff Stone Quarry. Miller said Duff owned and operated the theater for about eight years before selling it. The theater was later bought by the Brown family, who owned it for 32 years.
In 1982, Rodney and his then-fiancee, Becky, both worked at the Holland Theater in Bellefontaine when they learned the Elder Theater was up for sale.
“At that time, a friend of mine had actually told me about this, and we came over and looked at it and thought we’d give it a try,” Miller said.
The Millers have strived to keep the history of the theater alive and have many old artifacts on display, including a candy vending machine purchased by Duff in 1943, which is still in operation today. Current guests can purchase a piece of candy for a dime, which is up five cents from the initial price of a nickel.
Other items on display include old ticket stubs, signs from the theater’s early days and black and white photos, which Miller said he was given by Duff’s son.
“When we celebrated the 50th anniversary, Jim Duff gave me these pictures because he thought we should have them,” Miller said.
Jim Duff gave the Millers more than just historical items. He also shared stories and memories about his father. In one story, according to Jim, Elder Duff had seen a television for the first time and said, “Well, there goes the theater business. We’d better sell it.”
“And here we are, 75 years later,” Miller said.
Even with the constant development of new technology, Miller said he is not surprised that the single-screen industry has survived.
“Everybody’s got a kitchen in their house, but they still go out to restaurants,” he said.
Those in attendance for the anniversary celebration reminisced about the oldest memories they have of the Elder Theater.
Dave Ross, of Fort Loramie, remembered a unique feature of the theater, now outdated, called a “cry room.” This was a room above the theater’s seating area typically reserved for mothers and fathers to go with their young children when they cried, so that they could watch the movie without disturbing other viewers.
“My grandfather brought me, and at that time, I liked to talk during the movie … I could sit up there with my grandfather and talk,” Ross said.
Jackson Center Mayor Scott Klopfenstein remembered his first trip to the movies being sometime in the 1960s, and said the Elder Theater was a staple of his childhood.
“My mom and dad would drive to town to visit my aunt and uncle — they lived right down the street — to play cards, like people did back then, and we’d come to the movies,” he said.
Jackson Center High School students Rachel Sailor, 15, and Faith Butler, 16, were also in attendance, symbolizing the cross-generational continuity of the movie theater’s nostalgia.
“I’ve grown up at this theater,” Butler, who also works at the theater part time, said.
“My family knows the owner pretty well,” Sailor said. “Living close to here, we always came as kids to see movies.”
Reach the writer at 937-538-4825.
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