Maintaining Mabel

beloved Menomonie arts center starts season, raises funds for roof

Marie Anthony, photos by Leah Dunbar |

THAT STAGE WAS MADE FOR STRUMMING. Author and musician Michael Perry and his Long Beds return to the Mabel Tainter on September 14 for an evening of “roughneck folk.”
THAT STAGE WAS MADE FOR STRUMMING. Author and musician Michael Perry and his Long Beds return to the Mabel Tainter on September 14 for an evening of “roughneck folk.”

It was the kind of week that left me feeling like I was 6 years old watching my lost snow cone melt into the crevices of a steamy sidewalk. I so longed for any glimmer of reprieve. It came to me at 4:54 on Thursday afternoon: “Don’t you just love The Mabel Tainter?” my friend asked excitedly. “I used to love going there to visit the library as a young girl!” As Deb and I stole a few moments from our workday to chatter about the Mabel Tainter, I so wished I was nestled away amid its hand-stenciled walls and stained glass windows. No doubt Deb did too. “It was and is such a magical place,” she reminisced.

It was the magic – I think – that left me wide awake at 4am. I couldn’t contain my excitement. I decided to email Steve Renfree, executive director of the Mabel Tainter Center for the Arts, right then about the upcoming 2017-18 season.

Renfree responded just few hours later. He was understandably unable to pinpoint one show about which he was most excited, but he did give me some highlights including a Sept. 13 visit from Holocaust survivor Eva Schloss, Anne Frank’s stepsister. Jamie Farr of M*A*S*H will be performing at the Mabel Tainter on Sept. 25 as he brings Mitch Albom’s story to life in the stage adaptation of Tuesdays with Morrie. And of course, Clara’s Dream – the St. Paul Ballet’s version of The Nutcracker – will be performed Dec. 15.

In addition to these and other performances, Renfree and the arts center will focus on fundraising efforts to support needed roof repairs. “Whether one owns a modest bungalow or oversees a historic theatrical mansion, roof repairs are costly,” Steve explains. “It is imperative that we take action to support our beautiful historic facility.” Preserving the Mabel Tainter’s grandeur is of utmost importance to the organization, but it does bring added challenges. The special equipment and materials needed to make repairs comes at an increased cost. Grants and donations will help minimize the impact. Over the next four years flashing replacement and gutter repairs will be made, totaling at least $69,000.

Despite challenges in maintaining such a magical place, Steve shares that the Mabel Tainter is dedicated to upholding and expanding its role to become the “center” for the arts in Menomonie and surrounding communities. It is why he and the center’s board of directors will do everything they can to keep the Mabel Tainter up and running. “We feel it is vital that we provide vibrant and educational opportunities for our extended communities,” Renfree says. “Our responsibilities are unique and challenging, but we are determined to stand as a leader in arts programming for western Wisconsin.”

Before I ended communication with Steve, I had to know what some of his favorite moments with the theater were. He replied: “I have treasured the impact our programming and partnerships have made on families and children. We have expanded our educational outreach ... and have added a variety of family shows. For our children, an hour of live entertainment beats an hour spent with technology any day!”

See the full calendar of events for the Mabel Tainter Center for the Arts’ 2017-18 season at