By Dean Lesar
SPENCER — For Deb Janz, word of a stunning bequest to the Spencer School District for a fine arts center came at a 1994 board of education meeting. For Diane Veale, it was a note taped to her music room door, letting her know she would someday soon be teaching Spencer students in a state-of-the-art auditorium.
Since LuCille Tack’s $450,000 gift to the Spencer school district upon her death on May 26, 1994, Janz, Veale, and dozens of other Spencer fine arts supporters have come together to fulfill the benefactor’s vision. They have staged hundreds of performances for adult audiences and student groups and have given the youth of Spencer a venue few others in small communities have, the LuCille Tack Center for the Arts.
Now, Janz and Veale are part of a major transition at the 22-year-old facility built onto the north end of Spencer High School.
At the end of July, Janz retired as executive director of the Tack Center. She has been the only one to hold that job, and she will be replaced by Veale, who has stepped down as the Spencer High School vocal music teacher after 32 years. Veale has been on the Tack Center board of directors since it was first formed and, along with her husband, Randy Veale, has worked countless hours to attend to a myriad of details that make performances run smoothly.
Janz has a vivid recollection of then Board of Education President Allen Jicinsky first announcing Tack’s bequest.
“I remember him saying, ‘Spencer from here on in is going to be different,’” Janz said.
Veale was likewise startled when she first heard of the bequest, even though members of the Tack family, who also gave the school money for a new gymnasium decades before, hinted that something big was coming.
“They just said, ‘Oh, you just wait. Someday you’ll have an auditorium,’” Diane said.
After the bequest was formally made, the school district sought quotes for a fine arts facility. Finding it would cost more than the $450,000 to build a 500-seat venue, the school asked voters in a referendum to fund the remanding $225,000. Voters said yes on Nov. 8, 1994, with more than 72 percent in favor.
Construction started in 1995, and the first formal performance — a concert by the Russian Symphony Orchestra — was staged during a blizzard in January 1996. The first full performance season started in September of that year with a concert by pianist Lorie Line.
In the beginning it was a challenge to work out the necessary details to find performers and attend to other technical needs as no one from Spencer had done this before. The board of directors sought assistance from other arts centers.
“We said, ‘We’re a young group and just getting started, and we don’t know anything,’” Diane said. “People were really helpful.”
In 1999 the Tack Center had progressed to where it needed everyday leadership, and Janz, one of the early volunteers, was chosen to take up that role.
“We thought it was time there be a staff member,” Janz said.
Janz took over the Tack Center’s ticket sales, fundraising, scheduling, and other tasks but still had help from the various board committees.
“Without any theater management background, I sort of jumped in with all four feet,” she said.
The Veales, meanwhile, were part of the Tack Center since its very first days. They were on the steering committee that toured other centers to decide how Spencer’s should be built. They have both been board members since the start. Diane was president for a time, and Randy has been the technical director who gets lights and other equipment set for various performers’ needs.
Diane said she and Randy knew from Day One that the Tack Center would mean more work for them, but the opportunity for the music programs and students was worth it.
“Being music teachers, it was already more than a 40-hour work week,” she said. “We wanted to be a part of it because it was so good for their performances and the cultural experience. There are weeks it seemed like a second full-time job.”
Randy will stay on as the Tack Center technical guru and instrumental music instructor while Diane ends her teaching career and assumes Janz’s executive director position. Diane started the week after school was out to learn a new ticket sale software program that allows patrons to buy specific seats online and print out their tickets from their home computers.
Diane will be succeeded in her teaching role by Saydi Stewart, a 2012 Spencer High School graduate who earned her college degree at Luther College in Iowa. She will not be involved at first in Tack Center operations so she can focus on her teaching tasks.
Stewart is one of at least 27 recent Spencer graduates who have gone on to obtain music degrees, Diane said, a testament to the influence music programs with the Tack Center as a focal point have had on youths.
“It’s been such an enhancement to the students to perform on stage,” Diane said. “They have such a comfort level and poise. They’re head and shoulders above the other schools.”
Though Diane said she will miss the everyday contact with the students, she will still be connected to them through performances.
“I’ll still see them in the hallways. I’ll just be a different part of music here,” Diane said.
As executive director, Diane inherits a program that is about to begin its 23rd full performance season. Already this month she will be traveling to a booking conference to land shows for next year’s schedule while selling tickets for this year’s shows and lining up sponsors.
“I know a lot of things that happen here, but Deb does a lot of things that I haven’t done,” Diane said. “She’s just the glue that holds everything together. They’re big shoes to fill. It wouldn’t be where it is now if it wasn’t for Deb.”
The first event Diane has planned is the Sept. 8 Season Preview Party from 5-7 p.m. at the LuCille Tack Center for the Arts. There will be music and refreshments as the board highlights the upcoming season.
The year’s schedule includes nine performances with a usual mix of audience favorites and artists that bring new cultural experiences to Spencer. Janz said she knows some shows will sell out, but the board is still committed to bringing in acts that may not sell as many tickets but will broaden the audience’s horizons.
Ticket prices for this year’s shows range from $15 to $45. Ticket sales account for approximately 60 percent of the Tack Center’s annual revenue. Sponsorships and grants cover the remainder.
LuCille Tack Center for the Arts performance schedule
- A Sept. 17 performance of “St. Catherine of Siena: Brought to Life by Sister Nancy Murray.” Murray is the sibling of famed actor Bill Murray and a Dominican sister from Michigan who performs a one-person re-enactment of the saint’s life.
- An Oct. 7 show by tribute band Rumors of Fleetwood Mac.
- A Nov. 3 show “Presley, Perkins, Lewis, and Cash,” a look back at four young phenoms signed decades ago by Sun Records.
- A Dec. 10 performance by pianist Teresa Walters called “A Musical Celebration of the Reformation.”
- A Jan. 13 comedy show by the Second City Touring Company of Chicago.
- A Feb. 11 performance by the Massenkoff Russian Folk Festival featuring music and dance.
- A March 17 performance by The Rodney Marsalis Philadelphia Big Brass.
- An April 7 return of the Missoula Children’s Theatre with local youth in “Jack and the Beanstalk.”
- An April 29 show by Chris Perondi’s Stunt Dog Experience, the first ever Tack Center event featuring K-9s.