I am sitting in my temporary home in Ursus district of Warsaw Poland, having just spent 2.5 months back home in Warren, Ohio after leaving Bali, Indonesia in mid-November. Why? Simple…my brother, Mark and my sister-in-law, Lori. Did I come home to see them for the holidays? Not really, as I hadn’t spent the holidays in the USA in 7 years. I came because they had turned a dream into a reality. The historic Robins Theatre in our hometown…opened in 1923…..closed in 1974….sat vacant for 45 years….was re-opening January 9, 2020. It was re-opening because Mark, Lori and a crew of dedicated workers spent 2 years restoring it to its original glory. Although he had developed other areas of our downtown, the Robins Theatre was the crown jewel of his vision. Mark and I had always been close growing up. He will always be my best friend. Lori and I worked together for years at the local YMCA and that’s how she met Mark. There was no way I was going to miss sharing this evening with them.
How do you begin to describe the most amazing evening of your life? I keep an album of quotes. One I look at frequently is “What a wonderful thought it is that some of the best days of our lives haven’t happened yet!” I’ve had some pretty amazing moments/days/nights. I have sipped champagne at the top of the Eiffel Tower at midnight with who I thought was the love of my life, my bff and her hubby. I have overnighted on Mount Everest Base Camp where I witnessed the most glorious sunset. I’ve dined at the Captain’s Table on a cruise ship somewhere in the Mediterranean. I’ve walked the same path the Dalai Lama walked in the Potala Palace in Tibet. I’ve climbed the Great Wall of China and visited the DMZ between North and South Korea. I’ve stood at the Gate to Heaven at Pura Lempuyang, Bali and have seen the 2200-year-old Terracotta Army of Emperor Qin in Xi’an, China. In 2002, I watched the funeral procession of the Queen Mum in London. I’ve ridden a camel in the Gobi Desert, had an “elephant massage” in Thailand, visited Angkor Wat and exhumed, cleaned and prepared a body for cremation. The list could go on, but right now nothing can top January 9, 2020.
Mark is a structural engineer by trade. A little over 2 years ago he purchased the Robins Theatre in our hometown, Warren, Ohio. Prior to that, he had developed several other properties in the downtown area, including 10 condos and some restaurants. But the Robins Theatre would be the star, the House That Mark (and Lori) Built. Living in China for those 2 years, I was always excited when he sent me updates, photos and news articles about the Robins. It seemed all of Trumbull County was getting excited. I was too. It was also bittersweet, as the 2 people, our mom and dad, who would be most proud, where no longer with us.
I arrived on November 15, 2019, and my life was a whirlwind of activity. With a 13-hour time difference from Bali to Ohio, I only slept about 2 hours that first night/morning. I know Mark is an early riser and would be at the theatre as time was getting close to the “soft opening”
Sure enough, I found him in coveralls and a bandana at 6:30 am working on last-minute details for the December 7th trial run. I was “blown away” is an understatement. From a paint peeling, broken down, dilapidated building, to the hidden gem it was…..it was breathtaking!. The “soft opening” took place with a few minor glitches, but it had NE Ohio buzzing about January 9, 2020. The theatre also held 2 Christmas Eve Services which were attended by nearly 2000 people. The city couldn’t wait for the Grand Re-Opening.
The big night is getting close, the grand piano has been delivered and is centre stage. Much to everyone’s surprise, Mark sits at the piano and begins to play. A talent no one knew he had. He had studied with a woman who had trained students for the Metropolitan Opera, Audrey Benedict. I wouldn’t write this here except a video of Mark playing got out to the news. He studied under her for 11 years. At the age of 12, she enrolled him in a 4-year course from the Sherwood School of Music in Chicago. Between the ages of 10 and 16, he won four local, three district, three state and 2 national piano titles. He also won a Beethoven, Bach and Sonatina national piano guild title in each category. But the stage January 9th was not about him.
January 9, 2020, finally arrives with headliner Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and 3 local musicians with National Fame, Dana Morgan, Cheryl Warfield and Dennis Drummond. But they would have to wait…wait until the true stars were introduced. First, I need to backtrack. The night was like the Oscars. The marquee was lit and flanked by spotlights seen for miles. The red carpet was laid because all of Warren, Trumbull County and NE Ohio were the stars. Swag bags were passed out by the high school football players. It was a black-tie night and I was in my gown. I live just around the corner from the theatre, a one-minute walk at most. At about 6 pm, a white stretch limo pulls up and Mark, in his tuxedo, gets out of the car and walks to me. He puts his arms around me, and I immediately start to cry. This is the night he has been waiting for. He escorts me to the limo and once inside, pours me a glass of champagne and says, “here’s to mom and dad”. The limo pulls away and drives around the block and Mark, Lori and I, along with our family and friends walk the red carpet to the most amazing night of my life.
The theatre is buzzing, people are oohing and ahhing and I know my brother is behind the curtain. He told me as he stood back there, the pride he felt was unparalleled in his time on this earth. He walked out to a standing ovation.
The theatre was at capacity (1350) and they all stood for him, but as he soon told them, not for him but for every single person who had a hand in the restoration. He then, one by one introduced his tuxedo-clad crew. They walked head held high and proud across the stage as he introduced each one and told what their part in the restoration was. Then, he asked if everyone liked the chandelier and all the bling in the theatre. Hands clapped and patrons yelled yes as he introduced the person responsible, the “person near and dear to his heart”, his wife, Lori. It truly was a night to remember and the best night of my life, so far!