A Cheerful Good-Bye--Patrons share warm words about Hancher

Hancher Auditorium may sit lifeless along the Iowa River, the victim of hungry floodwaters in 2008, but the University of Iowa performing arts center will always have a vibrant, lively history of hosting and fostering some of the top talent in the country—and those memories will continue to live in the minds of the some 4 million patrons that entered its doors since 1972.

Over the summer—and in advance of the hall’s official farewell event on Sept. 4—the Hancher staff asked people to send in stories, and you answered the call. Those that came in describe Hancher as more than a building with a stage. It educated, entertained, and employed. It kick-started romance, and shaped careers. It inspired. It welcomed.

Read on to enjoy a selection of the submissions, and feel free to share your own memory by e-mailing hancher-social@uiowa.edu.

Jeffrey Heinke (BFA ’80), San Antonio, Texas:

Back in 1980, I took my date to a concert at Hancher to see the jazz trumpet legend Dizzy Gillespie. In an effort to impress her, I sketched a drawing of Dizzy on the Hancher program. After the performance, I ran backstage to get his autograph. Dizzy took a look at the cartoon and stated, “Does that look like me?” Then he blew out his cheeks—his signature trademark while playing his trumpet—and laughed, “I guess it does!”

The result was a hand-signed caricature of Dizzy, which I gave to her as a token of our evening. It must have made an impression. We got married the following year. Here’s to the magic of bebop jazz we enjoyed at Hancher—this July my wife Nancy Thompson Heinke (RPh ’81) and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary.


Jody Regan (BA ’81, MA ’83), San Diego, Calif.:

I was a student in American studies from 1977 to 1981. One of the classes I took was an acting class and part of our experience in that class was to work behind the scenes for an actual production. I was lucky enough to get to work on costumes for Peter Pan. It was very exciting to sit in the audience at Hancher on opening night and see costume pieces I had sewn, including the huge buttons I had sewn onto Captain Hook’s pirate coat.

I’ve gone on to do costuming for fun as an amateur for Renaissance Faires, Dickens Festivals, the San Diego Junior Theater, and have been president and vice president of the San Diego Costume Guild, a group of hobbyists, and committee chair in 2006 for an annual costuming conference north of Los Angeles.

I will never forget Hancher Auditorium as the place where I got my start in costuming.  It’s a hobby that gives me great pleasure.


Caroline Forell, Clayton R. Hess Professor of Law, University of Oregon School of Law:

As a UI undergrad in 1972–73, I was thrilled to attend Hancher’s opening night featuring pianist Van Cliburn. The audience was so excited to hear this legendary musician that when a man in a green suit jacket walked on stage and approached the Steinway we all began clapping and cheering. He looked quite embarrassed as he adjusted the piano bench and scurried off stage. But not as embarrassed as we were when Van Cliburn then strode on stage in his magnificent coat and tails.


Betty (Amos) Malone (MA ’75), West Columbia, SC:
The “larger-than-life,” stately tenor, Luciano Pavarotti, had thrilled the audience in Hancher Auditorium in a solo performance somewhere in the 1973–75 time frame when I attended the School of Music in the graduate program. After waiting in line to meet him afterwards, I approached the Italian star, expressed my appreciation for his concert, and then asked him for the large, white handkerchief that he had used to wipe his brow onstage.

“Oh, no, no,” he responded. “Eet ees bad luck in Italy to give it. I can only sell it for money.” With no funds on me, I turned to a classmate, and said, “Richard, do you have a dollar?” “Oh, no, no,” Pavarotti again exclaimed. “No dollar! A dime, a nickel, a quarter will do.” Richard produced a quarter, I retrieved the handkerchief, and then....Pavarotti reached across the table, grabbed my face, and planted a huge, wet kiss on my lips. 

Sadly, over the years and with many moves, I have lost the handkerchief, but I will never forget the kiss.


Katharine Goeldner (BME), mezzo-soprano, Salzburg, Austria:

I have so many wonderful memories of Hancher and it has played such an important role in my career path. The very first opera I ever saw was Carmen, produced by the University of Iowa School of Music. At the time, Iowa City, and the U of I’s stage, was the only opportunity we had in SE Iowa to be exposed to opera. I was enthralled—the singing, the dancing, the gorgeous music. This show had such a profound effect on me that I later became a music ed major at Iowa, went to Europe after that, and have now wound up as a professional opera singer. In fact, I have myself starred as Carmen at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, New York City Opera, and with the Cedar Rapids Opera Theater. One of the highlights of my career was to be asked to perform Verdi’s Requiem on the Hancher stage with the U of I Symphony and Chorus as part of the School of Music’s centennial celebrations in 2006. It was such an honor and a thrill to come “home” to the stage I musically grew up on as a student at Iowa. 


Kenneth McMartin (PhD), Department of Pharmacology, Toxicology & Neuroscience, LSU Health Sciences Center–Shreveport:

My favorite moment at Hancher has to be the Bonnie Raitt concert on Dec. 7, 1973. I still have a poster hanging in my office here at LSU Health Sciences Center in Shreveport. By the way, cost for students was $2.50 and a whopping $3 for nonstudents!


Dana Engelbert (BA ’92):

The first time I ever visited Hancher was as a newly minted UI freshman. I took advantage of the student discount rates to see Les Miserables in the fall of 1989. As a high school senior, I slogged through the book for my senior English project. Seeing the musical on stage brought it all together for me—suddenly, the massive tome made sense! I was struck by the power of the performers’ voices and how they filled the massive space in “On My Own” and “I Dreamed a Dream.” The acting was magical to me. I was completely mesmerized.


Bonnie McGranahan:

One of the fondest memories I have is one of the first dates I enjoyed with my second husband, Lloyd.  ... Lloyd purchased tickets to a famous dancer’s one-person show, even though it was not his “thing.”  I was thrilled, bought a new outfit, had my hair coifed, and nails manicured! It was just the right romantic atmosphere to convince me that Lloyd was “my cup of tea.” Lloyd was 13 1/2 years older than me, handsome, with all his lovely black hair, and full of fun and life. I will always cherish that memory. He passed away May 13, 2011, at 91 years young!


Sandy Wilmoth Ashley (’75, ’83):

It must have been in 1976 when All the President’s Men film had its opening in Iowa City at Hancher. How I scored nearly front row seats, I do not recall. But we sat near the front. Close enough to get a good look at Robert Redford, who made a personal appearance! Obviously, it was memorable to see this history put to film.


Laura Gehlin Powers (BA ’86):

I had the privilege of ushering at Hancher from 1982 through 1986, and then managing the cafe for the 1989–1990 season. The exposure to such a wide range of the arts was simply incomparable—I got to watch shows that I never would have thought to buy tickets for, even had I been able to afford them back then. The public speaking and confidence-boosting experience of being a Hancher tour guide also got me back stage, seeing fascinating sets and costumes and feeling even more a part of what happened in that amazing place. 


Lois Baker, Graduate Program Secretary, UI College of Pharmacy:

The Joffrey Ballet, Merce Cunningham, Equus, A Midsummer Night’s Dream done in black and white cubes or some such thing—I had no idea what was going on. HA!  I saw all these performances while a student at Jefferson High School! We were bussed in from Cedar Rapids. Now that’s an education. What a wonderful, world-expanding experience. I love Hancher. It’s a piece of Iowa’s heart.


Marlene Garnant, Houston, Texas:

My favorite performance at the Hancher Auditorium was in the early ’70s when Rudolf Nureyev performed there. I was so inspired, as an adult I took classical ballet classes for 12 wonderful years. To this day, those classes were the most challenging but satisfying activities I have ever participated in—not to mention meeting a group of life-long friends.


Bill Bulzoni (BBA ’83):

The fall of my freshman year way back in 1979, Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers came rolling into town in support of their new album Damn the Torpedoes. Who can forget that pink album cover! This was my first concert in Iowa City, and a crazy good show it was. They nailed all the songs that became the soundtrack for freshman year: “Refugee,” “Here Comes My Girl,” “Don’t Do Me Like That.”

I also remember that night as the first time I felt part of the University community, finally more than just a kid from Illinois going to college in Iowa. I shared this concert experience with other Hawkeyes and felt connected that evening and in the days that followed when I heard Petty songs coming from dorm rooms in Burge and beyond. I saw other shows at Hancher (The Tubes, Evita), but nothing compared to Tom Petty.


Jonathan A. Harton (PhD), assistant professor, Center for Immunology and Microbial Disease, Albany Medical College, Albany, NY:

A fond memory from my years as an UI grad student was when Garrison Keillor came in ’93 for A Prairie Home Companion. This was near the peak of the flood and the water was so high that Hancher was nearly cut off from the rest of the world. He commented that Hancher looked a bit like Noah’s Ark sitting on a hill. The audience joined Keillor in a chorus (to the tune of the refrain from the old hymn “Love lifted me”), singing “Why Iowa? Why Iowa? We could have gone anywhere, why Iowa? (Repeat).” My wife and I have laughed many times since, recalling that evening. A good time was definitely had by most. For a couple of hours, Hancher became a sunny place in a year that brought gray skies (almost the whole year), too much rain, water everywhere (inside and out), and much consternation to faculty, staff, and students alike. 


Kevin Boatright (MA ’75), Director of Communications, Office of Research and Graduate Studies, The University of Kansas:

I was a member of the Hancher house staff during 1974–75, when I was a graduate student in journalism…My favorite memory concerns the night the Istomin-Stern-Rose Trio performed. I was the main floor manager, and I went to the green room as the recital was ending to make sure everything was in order. In walked the world’s most famous violinist: Isaac Stern. He was by himself. I gulped, and had the presence of mind to say, “Maestro, would you like a glass of water?” He looked at me, smiled, and said, “Oh, yes, thank you so much!” Others began to enter the room as I poured it for him, but for 15 glorious seconds I was alone in the presence of one of the greatest musicians of the 20th century.


Margaret Ioder Wendle (’75):

My favorite memory of Hancher Auditorium was watching the performance of The Music Man in the early years. It might have been the fall of 1974. The play was performed by University students, and I remember that it was well done. The crowning moment came during the finale when the Hawkeye Marching Band exploded into the auditorium led by none other than Meredith Willson himself. It brought thunderous applause then and can bring tears to my eyes now, remembering it.


Joel T.S. Greer (JD), Cartwright, Druker & Ryden, Marshalltown, Iowa: 

Feb. 19, 1980, was my wife’s first blind date, and we went to see the Joffrey Ballet (II?) at Hancher. My sister Laurie Freeburg of Ames lined up the date, but another sister Margy Winkler of Coralville attended the ballet that night, too. Sharon Soorholtz was a first-year law student. I was practicing in Des Moines. Our second date was when she got tickets to a Hawkeye basketball game. We were married June 19, 1982. 

Alicia Brown, associate professor emerita, Department of Dance, University of Iowa:

There was always a magic to Hancher. As you drove in and saw it lit for the evening, it said, “You are coming to a special place.” When you attended performances, it became magic in those moments when the proscenium arch didn’t divide you from the artist or artists. When you were backstage giving notes to the dancers, you treated it with humble respect. As founder and artistic director of Dance Gala, Hancher was my second “home” once a year for over 19 years. I didn’t tire of it ever. And it always gave back amazing experiences. It was a vibrant space for creative risk taking and achievement.


Stephanie Krob:

As a child, I LOVED Cats. I was obsessed. We found the tour bus for one performance and tried to meet them at their hotel to get autographs. They signed my book and offered to take me backstage. I got to see their costumes and dressing rooms. They took me out on their stage and showed me all the technical equipment. I even ended up meeting one of the “cats” again later in New York City. 

Also, we had our junior prom in the Hancher lobby, which was just gorgeous, and I had my senior pictures taken out front of Hancher in the flowerbeds.


Ozzie F. Díaz-Duque (MA ’76, PhD ’80), lecturer, Department of Spanish and Portuguese, University of Iowa:

I’ve performed (in choruses) even at Carnegie Hall and the Met, but there is something very, very special about Hancher Auditorium. Mostly the enthusiastic audiences, the wonderful musicians, the backstage crew, so many memories...Just for your entertainment, here I am as a young man outside the stage door, before going on stage for Prokofiev’s Love of Three Oranges

compiled by Sara Epstein Moninger

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© The University of Iowa 2009