Opera House Honors Boltzes, Gilmans

FREDONIA – The 1891 Fredonia Opera House recently hosted a special reception during which it honored and announced a lasting tribute to two longtime supporters.

Rick Davis, opera house executive director, outlined a long list of ways in which Jim and Carol Boltz and Dick and Carmen Gilman have contributed to the opera house over the 20 years since its restoration. He also announced that in tribute to the two couples, the opera house board of directors has named the theatre’s artist dressing rooms the Jim & Carol Boltz East Dressing Room and the Dick & Carmen Gilman West Dressing Room.

“This way, all the future artists who perform at the opera house and all those patrons who tour the theatre will know the names of these four individuals whose unwavering commitment and dedication have made the opera house what it is today,” Davis said.

Amid a small gathering of 50 close friends and family, Davis enumerated the contributions of each couple.

Jim and Carol Boltz are founding members of the opera house, meaning they have contributed annual membership revenue to the theatre’s operation since it reopened in 1994. Their annual membership donation has been at or has exceeded the organization’s highest donor level since the very first year.

Jim served as a member of the opera house board of directors for two complete six-year terms and for all of those 12 years as an officer of the board. It was a role he was familiar with after having served as the very first chair of the Theatre Management Committee, which was the governing group that preceded the official formation of the opera house board of directors.

Jim also twice served as interim executive director for the opera house, once in 2000 following the departure of David Munnell and again in late 2001 following the short tenure of Barbara Aldrich.

Indulging their passion for classical music, Jim and Carol worked closely with Grant Cooper and opera house staff to create the Bach & Beyond Baroque Music Festival in 1995. They continue to support the annual festival, having served as festival sponsors for all of its 19 years. In Bach & Beyond’s earliest days, Carol even served as one of the performing musicians in concerts that were held at the First United Methodist Church just so she could play the marvelous organ there. Jim and Carol not only have maintained their financial support of the festival but also have housed musicians and served as dinner hosts for all 19 festivals. They also have enlisted the financial support of numerous other individuals for the Bach Festival, including concert sponsors that now come from Buffalo and Pittsburgh.

Their time and energy is not limited to supporting just classical music, though. Jim and Carol have served as members of the opera house usher corps since its formation, working as house manager and usher for events of all types and for all genres of music. While their work in this capacity has tapered off in the past year or so, Carol can boast having ushered at 496 events and Jim an astounding 675.

An admitted history enthusiast, Jim is forever on the lookout for artifacts and memorabilia pertaining to Fredonia and the opera house. His online auction purchases not only have helped grow the collection at Fredonia’s Barker Museum, but also have contributed several historical artifacts to the opera house archives. It’s also worth noting that Jim is a favorite opera house tour guide among bus groups and visitors. His penchant for puns keeps the crowd on their toes, lest they miss out on a comic gem.

The opera house currently is in the midst of only the second capital campaign in its 20 years of operation. Jim not only serves on the advisory committee for this campaign, but he and Carol also currently are among the campaign’s largest contributors.

Dick and Carmen Gilman also are founding members of the opera house and also have consistently contributed at or exceeding its highest donor level.

Like the Boltzes, the Gilmans have indulged their artistic passions much to the enjoyment of others, by creating and serving as sponsors of the Folk in Fredonia Music Series for the past 19 years. Their annual sponsorship gift helps underwrite the presentation of three to four concerts each season by rising and renowned folk artists.

Accomplished musicians themselves, Dick and Carmen plan, coordinate and host the theatre’s annual Folk in Fredonia Free-For-All, which serves as the official kickoff to the Folk in Fredonia Music Series. The event features talented local and regional musicians who gather to provide a two-hour, free-admission concert, complete with door prizes and drawings. Dick and Carmen not only plan, coordinate and host this event, they also perform in it, and they provide a catered dinner for all the musicians and performers following the concert.

Recently, in an effort to enlist others in supporting the Folk in Fredonia Series, the Gilmans produced a number of traditional-style rocking horses made of pine, using a pattern that they happened upon nearly 50 years ago when purchasing a horse for their daughter, Janet. Using Dick’s woodworking skills and Carmen’s artist hands, they crafted 10 horses; and in an effort called “The Opera House Rocks,” these horses were offered as incentive gifts to help secure donations to the Folk Series. Dick and Carmen neither charged anything for their time in creating the horses, nor asked for funding for the materials. All 10 horses found homes with donors and a new “herd” is currently being constructed.

Like Jim, Dick also serves as a member of the advisory committee for the opera house’s current capital campaign. He and Carmen are, to date, the campaign’s single largest contributors.

Both Gilmans volunteer as usher and house manager for opera house events. Dick has volunteered his time at 404 events, Carmen at 393. Dick also has taken personal ownership of the theatre’s brass railings and sees to it that they are polished before nearly every live performance event.

Dick has served as a member of the opera house board of directors twice, each time serving complete six-year tenures. In fact, Dick followed Jim Boltz as chair of the Theatre Management Committee and then was elected as the first president of the opera house board of directors.

This year, the opera house’s annual fundraising gala, held in late April, included the auction of 14 artist-designed fan-shaped corner tables. The Gilmans, through their network of friends, secured the services of a furniture engineer who not only helped design and fabricate the tables, he also acquired all the wood and hardware as an in-kind donation from his employer, Fancher Chair Co. Dick helped fabricate all 14 of the tables. And if that were not enough, Carmen served as the artist designing and embellishing two of the tables, while Dick designed and embellished a table of his own. At the auction event a bidding war broke out for one of Carmen’s tables; and it ended up selling for more than $1,000.

“If it wasn’t clear before, it should be now,” Davis said, “the debt of gratitude this theatre and its patrons owe the Boltzes and the Gilmans. Someone told me once that these two couples were the best ambassadors the opera house could ever employ … and they weren’t exaggerating. They talk about the opera house wherever they go and encourage people to visit it. They proudly brag about the theatre as if they themselves had created it … and perhaps rightly so. For more than anyone else, the Boltzes and the Gilmans are responsible for the opera house being what it is today.”