Raise a glass to a fabulous 50-year-old — Krannert Center

Raise a glass to a fabulous 50-year-old — Krannert Center

When Ellnora and Herman Krannert donated $21 million to build Krannert Center for the Performing Arts in 1969, a courtyard between the theaters — like the one at Lincoln Center — was discussed.

Ellnora Krannert, as the story goes, wanted no part of that.

So a lobby was built with $1 million teak wood floors, a community center that now hosts multiple events each week.

On Saturday, Krannert director Mike Ross stood on a stage in that lobby and raised a glass to toast the center's 50th anniversary as hundreds of alumni, staff, donors, and visitors joined him.

"It's impossible to put into words the thoughts and the feelings that are coursing through my mind, my heart, and my soul," Ross said from a podium at the front of the room, "as we think about the impact on the lives of countless of thousands of people over the past five decades."

As glasses in the room clinked together, pre-recorded videos of alumni and artists toasting the center played on a jumbotron at the front of the room, including one from alum and actor Nick Offerman regaling his time at Krannert.

Before the toast and before remarks by UI President Tim Killeen and Chancellor Robert Jones, guitarist Steve Dawson played a song he wrote — accompanied by Jupiter String Quartet, a quartet in residence at Krannert — as photos from the 50 years prior played on the big screen.

Tom Korder remembers many of those days. He said he walked the halls of Krannert Center plenty over nearly three decades as technical director and then as director of production. But this weekend, he heard plenty of stories about the days of old from visiting alumni, some of whom worked at the center in its early days.

"We have a mix of the Krannert Center Student Association people who were here in '69 when the center first opened; we have former technology students who were here in the early days, so I've actually learned a lot about that I knew a little bit from," Korder said. "It's so informative for me ... to hear about things like the Vietnam War protests, or they were worried about the streakers that were going to run across the stage, so they were backstage guarding to make sure they didn't run across the stage."

Near one of the entrances to the lobby, renderings of what Krannert Center may someday look like stood next to the model of the center, adorned with glass pavilions outside each theater. But to those in the room and beyond, Krannert Center is already a special place and has been so for five decades.

"It is so remarkable that if people knew how remarkable it was ... they'd be here crying every day and weeping tears of joy," head of theater Kirsten Pullen said. "Nothing like Krannert exists anywhere else. To put Krannert in a town that's kind of in the middle of nowhere and have it be a hub for this kind of culture is truly remarkable, and it's been that way from the beginning."