Miracle on John Wayne Drive: Happy Holidays to The Iowa Theater!

Viva la Iowa! (None of my pictures from last night are quite right, so I am gratefully using this one taken by the talented Todd Scott, when the Iowa’s marquee neon was first turned on.) Image courtesy the Iowa Theater website.


When my mom and my sister Rebecca Fons embarked on the project of the movie theater renovation in our hometown, I knew a few things for sure.

I knew they would do it “right,” aesthetically-speaking. I knew they would deal fairly in all business matters. I knew they would work hard. And I knew they would complete the project. None of this was ever in question.

And though I anticipated that, due to their approach, this non-profit movie theater/performance space would be financially viable, and though I hoped the whole project would be a success, I couldn’t know for sure if those things would come to pass. Well, the theater has only been open since late May and it’ll take at least a calendar year or two to understand how all this is rolling along, but so far, The Iowa Theater appears to have wind in its sails. The reason for this brings me to the third thing I didn’t anticipate:

The power of a well-run movie house in a small town.

To drive this point home, I need to tell you about Winterset’s annual “Festival of Lights” up on the town square.

The Festival of Lights is a kind of pop-up holiday fest that takes place the day after Thanksgiving around 7 p.m. A few shops stay open for business; vendors sell kettle corn and cider on the courthouse lawn (though you can be sure some grownups have something stronger in their cups); Christmas music is piped through the speakers; a horse-drawn trailer takes kids around the square; and various businesses, veterans groups, school groups, and cityfolk participate in a parade where candy is tossed to the crowd. The parade culminates in the appearance of … Santa, of course! And then Santa lights the Christmas lights on the square. It’s wonderful.

I was present at last year’s Festival of Lights when my sister and mother were neck-deep in theater renovations and plans, driving hundreds of miles back and forth from Chicago to Winterset and beyond, sourcing popcorn oil and dealing with studio screening contracts. The monetary and time investment was big. The work was intense. It was all happening.

My two sisters and I stood up on the square during the 2016 Festival of Lights last year, cheering for the parade floats as they went by, huddled together in the cold. Last year, The Iowa, which is smack on the square, was dark.

“This time next year,” my sister Rebecca said, shaking her head. “This time next year, we’ll be open. It’s gonna be awesome.” Then, in typical Rebecca fashion, she added, “I really hope there’s not some alien invasion before then or a global flood or something.”

No aliens, sis.

Last night, at the 2017 Festival of Lights, the cider was there, the kettle corn was there. Santa was there. And now, at the party, the Iowa Theater’s marquee blinkled and twinkled* and that beaut’ was there, too, open for business. Well, open for charity: If you brought a canned good or personal item, you got to see the 8 p.m. movie for free. Once Santa lit the lights, the theater was flooded, so many people on the square pouring into the Iowa with their food drive items and holiday spirits high. (I was working the door: I saw it, myself.) We ran out of seats way before we ran out of merry townspeople.

“We’ll do it again next year,” I said to the folks who got there too late. “Promise.”

So yeah, the Iowa is real. The community is responding to what they helped build. The theater couldn’t exist — nor can it continue to thrive — without all the support the community has given and continues to give, whether that’s approving grant proposals, buying pre-show ads, or simply showing up to watch the live performances or the movies.

“Wayback Wednesdays” are super popular; I went to see “Grease” the last time I was home and the place was packed, many attendees dressed up in Pink Ladies jackets and poodle skirts. At the screening of “Gone With the Wind,” a lady in her nineties stood up and said that she used to work at the Iowa as a teenager and when “Gone With the Wind” came out, she’d sneak in and watch it night after night, then go home and sob with love for Rhett Butler.

The “regular” movie nights are popular too, though some movies play better than others. Whatever the movie, with the Iowa Theater open again, Date Night is back in Winterset. Girls Night Out is back, too. Families come out together. Folks who need to get out of the house can get out of the house and come see a movie instead of … whatever else they had to do when the Iowa was dark.

This holiday season, there are a lot of good reasons to visit the Iowa; last night was just the beginning. The ballet group is doing “The Nutcracker.” The community players will present “The Gift of the Magi” later this month. You can see “Miracle on 34th Street” and “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.” And since the theater will be on this year’s Winterset Tour of Homes, Rebecca’s planned to have”A Christmas Story” playing on a continual loop from 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. — just drop in and out at your leisure, Ralphie.

Seeing my mom and Rebecca — and Steve and Marla and all the board members and the Chamber folks and everyone who has purchased a ticket or will in the years to come — seeing these people build this thing has taught me a lot. Namely, that it really is what you do locally that makes a difference in the world. It really is about our neighbors, about our backyards, about our communities.

Well, all that and lots of butter.



*blinkled and twinkled = a term I have just coined

Exclusive Interview: The Iowa Theater Three

L-R: Rebecca, Mark, Marianne. No longer on the couch but at Mi Pueblito, the local Mexican restaurant. Photo: Meee.
L-R: Rebecca, Mark, Marianne. We moved from the porch mentioned below to Mi Pueblito, the local Mexican restaurant. Photo courtesy PaperGirl Photo Editor. (That’s me!)


It’s Iowa in May. It’s 7:30 in the evening and it is gorgeous. I’m sitting out on the back deck of the house in Winterset. We moved here when I was in fourth grade and I left this home when I headed to college at seventeen. It’s a good house. 

My mother, my stepfather Mark, and my younger sister Rebecca and I have decided to have a glass of wine out here. I have decided that I ought to interview the people I have just dubbed The Iowa Theater Three. What follows is the conversation, edited for length because we had to leave to get some food for heaven’s sake. We got Mexican food at Mi Pueblito. (See above photo.) 

PAPERGIRL: Mark. The theater is officially open. How does this change your life?

MARK: Having the theater open will allow me — and everyone else in town, as far as I can figure — to stop having to go into Des Moines anytime we want to see a movie. I like the big screen. I like the movie experience. Having the theater back in town saves us an enormous amount of money and time and grief because we don’t have to drive into Des Moines to see one.

PG: And how about, like, domestically?

MARK: My home is a storage warehouse! I’m hoping we can get some of this stuff out of here, now! (Laughter.) You can’t imagine. Everything you can think of that you need for a movie theater, it’s all in the house: candy, cleaning supplies, cups, straws, napkins, office supplies. And it’s in the garage, too! An old rewinding machine, an new desk, still in the crate.

PG: You’re a good man, Mark. Mom, how has Mark been helpful in this process?

MARIANNE: There’s no better cheerleader than Mark Davis. He just rolls with it. And I have to say this: As a man who loves order, he has been very understanding of the — well, it’s not chaos. We’ve been doing all this in a very orderly way. But he’s been so good about the usurping of his space. Mark has been as supportive as a person can be. You know he sold his boat and donated all the money to the theater.

PG: Incredible. Mark, how much did you sell the boat for?

MARK: $3400.

MARIANNE: His name’s on the donor wall, now. And he drove two-and-a-half hours to Breda, Iowa —

REBECCA: To Snappy Popcorn —

MARIANNE: — to Snappy Popcorn to pick up five boxes of coconut oil for the popcorn machine. That trip saved us over $200 in shipping.

PG: Mark, you’re a good man. Now, the donor wall is something I wanted to ask about. It’s looking great. But I have a concern that now that the theater is open, people will stop donating. There’s still so much to do, but now that it’s an operating theater, I just wonder if people will understand that fundraising hasn’t ended — and people may not even understand that the Iowa is a non-profit. So Rebecca, can you just tell me a little more about where you guys are with donations and more about the choice to build the theater as a non-profit in the first place?

R: Sure. So, when Mom and I were first approaching all this, of course we had long conversations and did a lot of investigating into for-profit vs. nonprofit business plans. Mom’s background is in for-profit businesses; mine is in non-profits. When we did the pie-chart for a for-profit, it was basically ticket sales and popcorn. Which is risky, for one thing. But it wasn’t just that: It was that with the non-profit model, you get so much more involvement with the community. In applying for grants, sponsorships, and donations, or launching things like membership groups, the foundation of the organization becomes way more interesting.

PG: Right. Like, the grants you apply for become part of the story.

R: Yeah, like… Like we could apply for a grant from the state to preserve a piece of Iowa history with a renovation project. That kind of thing.

PG: So you’re always going to be grant writing and fundraising. It’s a living, breathing thing.

R: Fundraising is ongoing and always will be. Of the million dollars it has taken to do all this, we’ve got $200k in debt to pay off. There’s a lot to do — and we still have construction to finish.

PG: The office and the green room, right?

R: Right. And as you said, now that we’re open, some people will say, “Oh, well, they’re open, why should I give money?” And some people won’t give. Other people will give with their patronage, which is obviously important and valued! But some people may have been waiting to give until they saw the finished product.

PG: Ah. I didn’t even think of that.

R: Yeah, I mean, everyone who gave before the theater was open gave out of faith. Some people have been waiting to see if we could pull it off. For some, seeing is believing.

PG: Rebecca, that should be your new fundraising slogan: “The Iowa Theater: Seeing is believing.”

MARIANNE: I love that! By the way, Mary, in the two years we’ve been working on this, Rebecca and I made a number of field trips to other small, independently-owned theaters in Iowa. All these single-screen theaters are non-profits. We’re part of a trend. At the end of this fiscal year, and every fiscal year, the idea is to be in the black and the profit for the theater equals $0.

PG: And then you might even be able to invest in other non-profits.

R: Exactly. And one last thing from me on this: With non-profit status, we can do great fundraisers and offer tax deductions. Rather than this theater just stopping with the Fons family, it’s something bigger. The income goes to the space and the staff.* We have grants we have our eyes on for programming and historic improvements like a permanent display of the evolution of the building from the 1800s to now; a film club for the high school. Soon we want to offer pre-movie ads for local businesses and we want to get ready to rent the space for weddings and parties. And we want to do a yearly fundraising party! A special screening of Gone With the Wind, maybe. Oh, and we could live-stream the Superbowl.

PG: That’s amazing. I don’t even care about the Superbowl at all and I’m coming to that. I mean… The Superbowl in a movie theater?? Can I throw stuff?? Not at the screen. I just want to throw stuff. Like in the air. Not a football. Just things. And I want to shout.

MARIANNE: We’ll save you a seat. Look, by being a non-profit, our cultural mandate is clear: We want to provide a multi-use cinema and performance space for the community of Madison County and beyond.

PG: Mark, should we go get something to eat? Are you ready to head out?

MARK: Honeybun, I’ve been ready. Let’s get a move on.

PG: Okay, last question for Mom and Rebecca. I said the other night that the party was a smash. Truly a night to remember. Mom, what was your favorite moment of the evening?

MARIANNE: Standing at the mic with Rebecca.

R: I was going to say the same thing.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: They’re both tearing up.]

PAPERGIRL: Thanks, you guys. I think we can end there for now. Mark, let me just get my jacket and we can go. Are we gonna get the con queso?

MARK: You bet.

[end of interview]

*The Iowa Theater created eight new part-time jobs in Winterset: two managers and six staffers.

The Iowa Theater Is OPEN!

Ta-da! Photo: Rebecca Fons.
Ta-da! Photo: Rebecca Fons.


I’ve been pourin’ wine and stackin’ chairs. I’m wiped. I’m also happier than anyone in Madison County tonight. Well, except for countless people in my hometown and environs who are thrilled have a movie theater in their hometown again.

To those people: Thank you. Thank you for buying a ticket for the screenings/gala tonight. Thank you for giving to the Kickstarter campaign, Thank you to the businesses, the clubs, the associations. Thank you to the crew. The staff. The cheerleaders. Thank you Mark, my stepdad; to Jack, my brother-in-law. You all/we all, have a part of this thing. How I feel, the fullness of tonight, it isn’t my joy. The reopening of The Iowa and the excitement and glitz of tonight, it’s our thing. It’s our Winterset thing. Doesn’t it feel good to do something together?

My eyes are closing because it was a busy day full of tasks, and I did 50% of what Mom and Rebecca did, believe me. This is partly because they had more to do. It’s also because part of my day was taken up with eating a good deal of the local, organic, fully-buttered, Iowa Theater-popped popcorn we serve at The Iowa. Let me tell you something: There’s nothing quite like watching a batch of fresh, Iowa-sourced popcorn burst out of the movie theater popcorn maker in your family’s own movie theater. It doesn’t get much better than that — until, of course, you butter that popcorn yourself, using the popcorn butter thing, which runs on a sensor, and that is rad.

But it gets really good when you get to cram your paw down into a paper bucket (filled by your other sister) and then you get to cram that mitt full of popcorn into your mouth while your sisters make you laugh and your Mom takes your picture. Did I mention there were Junior Mints in the bucket? There are Junior Mints in the bucket and they are melty in the popcorn and you have your mouth full and the whole theater smells so good because everyone in your family smells amazing. It’s perfume and deodorant and shampoo. Who knows what it is. You smell good. It’s something you can count on, weirdly.

What I’m trying to say is that everything is perfect. Life is full of terrifying things. But sometimes, you get to stick a mitt into a bucket of popcorn and it’s really, really special popcorn.

Life isn’t always so terrifying.

I Want YOU To Help Open The Iowa Theater! (Yes!)

Friends! Readers! Countrywomen and several countrymen! I blow a great trumpet! My call to thee riseth upon the winds that sweep across the fruited plain and swoopeth down to alight on thine ears! Hear ye, hear ye: The Iowa Theater is going to open at the end of this month!


If you didn’t know, my sister Rebecca and my mother Marianne — with the help of the community of Winterset and so many people in Iowa, e.g., business leaders, generally great Midwesterners — are renovating, rehabbing, and restoring The Iowa, the wonderful little theater-on-the-square in the town where I grew up. (Aye, as a wee bairn, how I loved to see the grrrreat films of yesteryear and — sorry. I’ll stop.)

The renovation project/non-profit startup has been a massive undertaking. It has taken much, much money so far and great quantities of elbow grease. In fact, as I gear up to ask something of you, I would like you to picture my poor, poor little sister and my poor, poor mother, both of them working so hard for the past year that they may have no elbow grease left! Oh, the humanity! Dry, dry elbows, all for the good of their community and movie-theater popcorn and the love of small town U.S.A.!

Will you donate a little bit of money? Just a little. Or, hey, a lot! I would not presume to tell you how much money to donate to such a wildly wonderful project. I mean, I don’t have to tell you. You’ll see when you watch the video that The Iowa project is really special. The Kickstarter campaign my sister speaks about is specifically to help restore the marquee, but believe me: There’s a lot more left to do and you shouldn’t hesitate to donate, even if the goal is reached for that portion of this thing.

Here’s who should donate:

people who put Junior Mints (or M&M’s, Raisinets, or Reese’s Pieces) directly into their popcorn when they go to the movies
people who love John Wayne
people who love an American town square
people who smile at babies
babies who smile at people
people who were thinking about buying something online within the past hour that they did not need (*do this instead!)
people who scream when the movie is scary
people who cry when the movie is sad
people who cry when the movie is beautiful
people with kids (*hello, date nite!)
people without kids (*hello, just go see a movie!)
people who like it when something good happens in the world (*because there’s so much other stuff that does not feel like this)


high school kids (*because the balcony has been restored, you guys, and that means you just got a prime freakin’ make out spot, okay, so you’d better fork over whatever cash you made delivering pizzas last week because you’re welcome.)

Here’s the link to the campaign. If the goal is reached by the time you get there, please donate! That’s not the end of the fundraising, trust me. The money is needed and will be used to make The Iowa great. You’ll have a hand in it, you really will.

Thank you.

The Iowa Theater Renovation: Interview With The Fons Girls, Part II

That's a good-lookin' cup (atop Mom's kitchen sink in Iowa.) Photo: Me.
That’s a good-lookin’ cup (atop Mom’s kitchen sink in Iowa.) Photo: Me.


Today, the second half of the interview — and it gets extra good today. Catch up right here if you missed yesterday’s post. See ya at the theater!

PG: Tell me about these mugs. 

R: We knew a long time ago that we wanted to have a booth at Covered Bridge Festival this year.

PG: I love Covered Bridge Festival so much. It’s like, pure childhood magic.

R: Totally. Second weekend in October, every year. Well, we planned to do tours of the theater under construction and we’d sell said merch. We sold almost all of the t-shirts and all 70 mugs! They are really good mugs; like from an old-fashioned diner! You feel like that cup of coffee will be the best cup of coffee you’ll ever have when you drink it out of these mugs.

PG: The logo on it looks so good!

R: My lovely friend and graphic artist Mary Eileen Hayes worked with us on it. We just got a new shipment, too! The mugs and t-shirts — my husband looks very handsome in his, by the way — are available right here and you can also get mugs at the Madison County Chamber of Commerce.

PG: I love everything. Okay, talk big ideas. Mission. Passion. Mom, what’s your vision for the Iowa?

M: I see The Iowa becoming once again be the heartbeat of Winterset’s downtown area. A movie theater most of the time, the theater will also offer live performances of all varieties. We will be the official home of The Winterset Stage, our community’s live theater group. Music programs, magic shows, dance recitals, open mic nights, educational programs, and more will take place on the theater’s once-Vaudeville hardwood stage. The Iowa will be a “second run” theater, which means we’ll show movies 4-6 weeks after they’ve hit theaters in bigger cities. We hope people will love their theater so much they won’t mind waiting.

PG: I never did.

M: But we’ll have other, special movies, too: We plan to screen John Wayne classics and other old movie favorites, and movies for families and kids.

R: It’s going to be a multi-purpose art space for the community. I have these little daydreams all the time — ideas about what we can do, because the sky is kind of the limit.

PG: Like what?

R: Like, what if we did a “poster contest” with the elementary schools, and kids could draw their favorite scenes from their favorite movies, and then we framed and hung those posters all around the lobby of the theater?! I’m currently in love with that idea—can you imagine little crayon drawings of Frozen and Finding Nemo, nicely framed and on display for everyone to see?! And one of the artists coming to see a movie with their whole family and being able to point to their work and feel that ownership and excitement?!


R: I know, right?? I also want to work with the high school to form a film club. I was a real nerd in high school, but I found my tribe of people and together we made high school pretty fun for ourselves. I’d love to have a teen film club, 10-12 students who love film and who could meet to watch films together and then program a film presentation every month at The Iowa where they introduce the film and then present some sort of talk-back after.

PG: Teens love to talk back. Ha! Seriously, though, I love that. You’re so good at this.
R: Well, I was the Education Director at the Chicago International Film Festival, so a lot of my programming ideas filter through the lens of “Can this be for young people, and can we find federal, state or private funding for it?” Now, every trip I take and every conversation I have, I find my vision expands from there.

PG: Like…

R: We’ll talk to a bank about their programs for seniors and it’s like, “Hey, we could have a program that transports senior citizens to The Iowa door to door.” And we could do sing-a-longs to The Sound of Music, or Frozen.

M: I’ve never seen Frozen.

PG: I actually haven’t seen it, either, all the way through. We probably shouldn’t admit that, Mom.

R: Definitely not. Oh, one more idea! We are going to sell beer and wine, but when we do special John Wayne movie screenings, I want to offer Wild Turkey, neat — because that was supposedly The Duke’s favorite drink!

PG: How fun to play with these ideas.

R: There’s a lot to do. But to have a canvas as lovely as The Iowa — and how lucky to have 140 seats to fill, not 500! — and to be able to explore the intersection where these ideas and the needs of our community meet is a true creative and managerial joy.

PG: Is the equipment gonna be real fancy and stuff? And what about the popcorn?

M: We will deliver movies using brand new, state-of-the-art digital equipment with surround sound. We will serve popcorn with real butter, classic theater candy, locally produced wine and beer, and Coke products.

R: They used to serve Pepsi products but… Ew!

PG: This is the one problem I have with this project. I’m a Pepsi girl. Little-known fact. Okay, you two. Let’s wrap this up: What’s something you want everyone to know about the theater?

M: A theater is a place for shared experience, whether it’s a movie or a live performance. It’s a place to dream and learn, a place to fall in love. We are so lucky our town’s theater is a beautiful gem that was just waiting over the decades to be polished and reset. We are working daily to make The Iowa everything it can be — for the enjoyment of everyone in our community as well as visitors to our town and county.

PG: Woah, you’re good. That was beautiful. Rebecca?

R: I grew up watching movies, I went to film school, I worked at a film festival. Film is my magic, my escape. Think of a memory you have with a movie: Did your grandma take you to see Little Mermaid and hold your hand in that scary underwater storm scene? Did you have your first big make out sesh at a movie theater? Did your family rewatch a movie every Christmas or every Halloween? We want to give you new memories like that. Bring your honey or friend, your kid or a co-worker. Settle in and let a film be magic for you and create new memories. And that’s just the movies part of the theater! You might watch your child perform on our stage — or perform on our stage yourself someday! The Iowa is YOURS to enjoy. We can’t wait to see you there.

PG: Aaaand I’m crying. Thanks. I love you both so much. Good luck. Please don’t hurt yourselves doing things with…boards.

The Iowa Theater Renovation: Interview With The Fons Girls, Part I

The Iowa Theater, Winterset, IA town square, 1951. Photo: [Checking on it!]
The Iowa Theater, Winterset, IA town square, 1951. Photo: [TBD]

For those with a need for the backstory, it’s right here. For those who know my family is rebuilding the old movie house in my hometown, here’s the first of a two-part interview with the two Fons women in charge. Boy, are they great. There’s Marianne Fons, a.k.a., “Mom,” and my younger and far more talented sister, Rebecca. Enjoy!

PAPERGIRL: So, Mom and Rebecca. How’s the theater buildout going? What’s happening with construction?

REBECCA: It’s kinda like, what isn’t happening? I used to look at this project as a single, long road: Do this, then do this. A to B to C. But now I realize it’s more like a bunch of roads parallel to each other. The foyer is being worked on while the wiring is being figured out. The fundraising is happening while the money is being spent. It’s a huge, living project.

MOM: Contractor Steve Reed and his workers are currently focused on the renovation of the marquee and the adorable ticket foyer. Last week I personally unscrewed hundreds of brass screws to release the old wiring and light bulb sockets from the marquee panels. By the way, “marquee” is my new favorite word.

PG: It’s a good word — and that’s a lot of screws.

M: Despite having been in place out in the weather since 1928, each screw came out with just a few twists of the screwdriver. I listened to that band Alabama Shakes while doing this work. Our electrician will rewire the marquee with 100s of beautiful LED lights.

PG: I love it that you’re getting your hands dirty.

R: When we were doing the clean out early on, Mom and I did a lot of the labor because we wanted just that — and it was work that made sense. If we could lift it and take it to the dump, we did.

PG: This is what I’ve marveled about all along: How are you two even doing this?! You both have a zillion skills and experience in big projects, but neither of you has ever built a movie theater.

R: So much has been a lot of guess, test, and revise — but we really, really know how to throw out trash and clean, so we started there.

PG: When I was in Iowa, we talked over the paint colors of the lobby/vestibule.

M: The foyer ceiling will be a metallic antique gold — very Hollywood — with crimson walls to match the vintage Art Deco one-person ticket booth and coordinate with the terrazzo floor.

PG: Fancy.

M: Rebecca has selected the two small chandeliers that will illuminate the spaces to the right and left of the ticket booth.

R: I never thought I’d be able to pick out chandeliers. It was very fun, and we landed on the right one pretty quickly. I think Mom and I both have a similar aesthetic.

PG: You dress in the same colors!

R: She gives me stuff she doesn’t want anymore and vice versa. It’s been great that we haven’t struggled to land on paint, carpet, etc. We are also both very aware we are just two people, so we’ve tried to get outside opinions from friends, other family, and other theater friends we have made on everything from what kind of candy we should sell — Raisinets for sure! — to what color the ceiling should be in the ticket lobby: gold.

PG: How about all the beautiful wood? What’s going on there?

M: All the original oak trim and the oak doors will be refurbished.

R: It is going to be cozy, elegant, and sturdy.

PG: I cannot wait to go into that place and see a movie.

M: “Refurbished” is one of our favorite words, too.

PG: Rebecca, you amaze me with your talent for managing this huge project.

R: Thank you, sis; that means a lot to me. I have extensive event planning and management experience, but I still feel like I’m about 16 years old most of the time, so the faith the family has had in me and Ma to do this — the support and the faith — has been invaluable.

PG:What has been the most fun for you so far in the process?

R: The most fun thing, honestly, is working with Mom. And coming home to Iowa. When I was a teenager I just wanted to get out of Iowa. I was very self-conscious, I guess, and I feel bad about it because now I look forward to coming home. I love having long talks with Mom about the future, brainstorming about exciting programming ideas, and eating tacos with Mom and Mark.

PG: I totally get it. I loved coming home for TV.

R: I worked at the Chicago International Film Festival for almost ten years, and though that job was often very exciting, it was ultimately a desk job. Being able to be on my feet, interact with new people, and collaborate with Mom, who is truly one of my business/career idols, has been really, really fun.

PG: What’s the hardest part?

R: The most challenging thing is when I’m not there — when I’m back in Chicago. I’m a little OCD and I like to be super involved, so it has been hard being away. I’m essentially a third in Iowa and two-thirds in Chicago, but that will flip starting in 2017.

PG: How has the community of Winterset and beyond responded to The Iowa Theater renovation and renaissance?

M: Winterset and Madison County citizens couldn’t be more excited or supportive. Soon, they will have the opportunity to show their support in a very tangible way. We have applied for 501(c)3 nonprofit status and expect our designation any day. Once that day comes, we can begin accepting donations. The project has so far cost over $350,000. We’re hoping the community will step up and match this amount and there’s no contribution too small or too large! We really, really want to finish the job and open as planned this spring.

R: People. Are. So. Psyched. And it is SO great because, of course people would be happy that any awesome new “thing” is coming to town because it would provide jobs and business, but this is a MOVIE THEATER. Our movie theater! And everyone loves movies! Date night, family night, getting out of the house, warm buttery popcorn, cold soda. It’s America and it’s our childhoods. I loved that movie theater when I was a kid, so when I put myself in the place of myself back then and imagine it being closed and then reopening… I would be counting down the days.

M: Rebecca, what a great idea! When we get closer to opening we should figure out some kind of visual way we actually CAN count down the days to opening!

PG: I love how many ALL CAPS are happening right now.

R: YES! Truly, the support of the community — both in thumbs ups and high fives and Facebook likes keep us going. The thing is, we have something special with The Iowa. The town of Winterset is lovely; there are beautiful hanging baskets of petunias hung all around the square in the spring and summer that the MAYOR and his wife water every night from the back of a truck; there are quality, well-managed, new businesses like the Covered Bridge Winery and longtimers like the Ben Franklin store; there is the incredibly curated John Wayne Birthplace Museum, which expanded in 2015; and there are things like The Iowa Quilt Museum — nice work, Mom! — that have been shaping Winterset into, or back into, a gem.

PG: Set to open in May, right? The Iowa?

M: Yes, May.

R: Gaaaah! Yes. MAAAAAAY. So much to do.

[Second half tomorrow!]