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‘It’s the last historic theatre in downtown:’ Lena Meijer remembered for restoring Civic Theatre

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Posted at 7:02 PM, Jan 17, 2022

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — When Lena and Fred Meijer watched a live performance of Ragtime in 2004 at the Grand Rapids Community Theatre, there was a problem with their seats.

“They usually sat on the main floor and they realized that the balcony in those days, I mean there wasn’t an elevator,” recalled Bruce Tinker, executive director of the theatre “You had to go up both flights of stairs and at that point in their lives they thought ‘Boy, this is hard.’”

So, Lena decided to change that and give the theatre an upgrade, donating over $10,000,000 to the overall $13,000,000 project.

At the time, they were fundraising to renovate the lobby and restrooms, he said. So the donation helped them to do that and restore a lot of the interior and exterior luster.

“That project was amazing. It totally revolutionized the theatre, revolutionized our ability to reside on this block,” Tinker said during an interview with FOX 17 on Monday. “There were so many people after that renovation that said ‘I didn’t even know this building was opened.’ But, that renovation re-opened us to the corner of Division and Library [Streets].”

Tinker said originally the entrance at that intersection was private and was for the dance studio. However, once she opened it up to the public it really made an impact.

“It’s the last historic theatre in downtown Grand Rapids,” he said. “So, as the stewards of that theatre it’s really important to us to make sure that we maintain the luster of this gem. Certainly that project did and Lena was an enormous part of that.”

It’s one of her lasting legacies in the city, he said.

Lena passed away over the weekend at 102 years old.

Tinker said he believes her contribution is what revived them and will continue to keep them as a fixture in the downtown area.

“It’s just really an amazing project that did change us for all time,” Tinker said. “The theatre was founded in 1925 and we’re looking at starting our second century here very shortly and that prepared us to do that.”