By JON VANDERFORD
Not every small town has the luxury of having a movie theater. But the one in Stuart is a big draw, and not just locally.
“The entire community is behind it,” Murphy Theatre and Media Center manager Darby Paxton said. “When I say entire community, I’m talking about all of Holt County, not just Stuart. It takes all of us, because we are able to draw in people from outside of our county. We’ve had people come from 100 miles away.”
Volunteers come to the Murphy Theatre and Media Center from O’Neill, Atkinson, Bassett and even Ainsworth, with the core audience from Stuart. In the 1910 era, the building served as a general store. In the 1980’s, it was a livestock supply store and propane business. Tri-County Bank President Jon Schmaderer says the building sat vacant for several years when in the 1990’s, a group of business leaders decided to see what could be done with it.
“The owners, Cle and Mary Murphy, had owned it, and had not run a business in it for quite some time,” Schmaderer said. “We had gone to them to see if there was anything we could do, or they could do, or we could do together.”
The owners decided to donate the building to the community. But, they wanted it to be something everyone could use. “We did not want something that was heavily subsidized, and that wasn’t sustainable,” Schmaderer said. It was finally decided that a movie theater would be the best option. “We are very fortunate that the Murphy family agreed to work with us to benefit the whole community.”
With the donation, the Stuart County Community Foundation Fund was utilized to help get the building renovated.
“The connection with the Nebraska Community Foundation is we opened our fundraising account through the Stuart Community Foundation Fund, which is a fund of the Nebraska Community Foundation,” Schmaderer said. “So, we really worked with NCF to help promote charitable giving for the purpose of renovating this facility.”
The theater now offers the latest movies on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Volunteer Amanda Paxton says the theater would not operate without the help of volunteers.
“We currently have between 75 and 100 of what I would call ‘active’ volunteers that are working 4 to 6 times a year,” Paxton said.
She says there are another 25 to 50 volunteers that offer their services two times a year. “We love all of the volunteers. If you can work two times a year, that’s awesome. If you want to work 10 times a year, we love that.” She adds that more volunteers are always welcome. Even the popcorn is donated. “The popcorn is all donated by Kurt and Wayne Kaup of K&W Farms,” Paxton said. “They have donated all of the popcorn since day one.”
One of the reasons why the theater is so popular is that it’s something the entire community can enjoy. People come here from all walks of life and from every age group.
“One of my favorite parts of the theater is the diversity of the people that you see come in,” Paxton said. “We see young kids come in for the kid movies, and we see a couple that comes in regularly that is in their 90’s.”
Theater manager Darby Paxton says the business is contributing to a great quality of life in Stuart. “A theater is so important for bringing people back to our community. Yes you want a nice park as well, and Stuart does very well at that, and what else? What other services can we have?” Paxton said. “With the Stuart Community Foundation Fund, they are always looking at ways to increase the amenities that we have in our community.”
Tri-County Bank President Jon Schmaderer says the theater really adds to the community. “We have a lot of people that come to just check out the uniqueness of the theater and experience the atmosphere here. It’s a great place to watch and listen. The sound is incredible.”
And, the story of the Murphy Theatre and Media Center is equally incredible. It’s a story of how a giving family and a hard-working, generous community can come together to create something that’s a benefit to everyone.