For the Next Generation
As a child visiting the Coronado Theatre, Mary Ann Smith fell in love with the magic of the stage. But by the 1990s, Rockford’s movie palace was looking like something “between the opulent Taj Mahal and a white elephant,” she says. Smith and her husband, Gordy, could see the deterioration firsthand while leading the Coronado Concert Association.
“One day we walked in and a pigeon flew by our eyes,” she says. “Gordy went onstage and saw there was water leaking on the old light board. There were young men working to prepare for a show that night. And Gordy and I said, ‘We know something has to be done.’”
As co-chairs of Friends of the Coronado, the pair summoned the community to finance the theater’s $18.5 million restoration, which earned the U.S. Departmet of the Interior’s National Preservation Award in 2002. Tragically, Gordy died three weeks before the January 2001 re-opening.
“I was personally exhausted,” says Smith. “But Gordy always said, ‘It’s for the kids.’ And what we do in this world is almost never about us. It’s always about what follows us and the legacy we leave for our children.”
For the past two decades, Smith, who’s now president emerita of Friends of the Coronado, has worked tirelessly to keep the theater beautiful and accessible so people of all ages and means can experience the magic of live theater in a beautiful space. In particular, she’s proud of Reach for the Stars, a program that brings in every Rockford fourth-grader for a special performance.
“I’ve been privileged to be on the stage and look out on the crowd, knowing that we had the courage and the stamina to do the right thing,” she says. “That gives me goose bumps. That feeling never wears out.”
A lover of history and a defender of Rockford’s rich neighborhoods, Smith is now working with Greenwood Cemetery to preserve and restore its 1894 chapel and the surrounding grounds.
“I think believing in a project, and yourself, and your community, you never know how much you can move,” she says. “That’s why I think the rewards of giving back are so great. Money can’t buy the experience of opening the doors to a wonderful theater that’s now accessible, safe and beautiful. It’s about the kids.”