Visitors to the 7th St. Theatre are often enamored by the building — the tiny stars shining through the cloud-painted ceiling, the illusion of a sunset when the lights dim, the false buildings and evergreen trees lining the walls and the neon sign hanging outside the doors.
Harborites attend choir concerts, dance recitals and movies in the antique theater, happily munching popcorn as they watch Macaulay Culkin battle burglars in “Home Alone.”
But about a decade ago, the theater’s seats weren’t nearly as plush and the leaky roof was patched with plywood. Over the past 10 years, the 7th St. Theatre Board of Directors has been hard at work restoring the theater with Hoquiamite Mickey Thurman as their driving force.
Between her “day job” at Levee Lumber in Hoquiam, where she’s worked for more than 20 years, and several hours a week working on theater projects, Thurman still has time for other local causes. She’s actively involved in both the Hoquiam Business Association and the city’s Historic Preservation Commission, and is always dreaming up new projects. For her years of hard work and dedication on Grays Harbor, Mickey Thurman is The Daily World’s Citizen of the Year for 2013.
“My thoughts on Mickey are that she is part of the heart and soul of Hoquiam,” said Hoquiam Mayor Jack Durney. “She is active in everything, particularly the 7th St. Theatre.”
Thurman has lived her entire life on the Harbor, growing up in Aberdeen, graduating from Aberdeen High School and moving to Hoquiam as an adult to raise her daughter, Alissa Shay. Her parents, Barb and Jim Cowan, had always been active in the community, and Thurman has long known the local movers and shakers.
But Thurman didn’t get her start in community service until Shay joined the Hoquiam High School band.
“When I was in high school, I was in band. And she got involved with helping out,” Shay said. “She volunteered to sell things at the concessions stand and put together fundraisers for going on trips. And I think that was her first experience with volunteering. And I could tell she really liked it, she made a lot of friends through that.”
Volunteering with the band whetted Thurman’s appetite for service. And when Shay moved to Bellingham to attend college, Thurman decided to spend her extra free time helping her community.
“And then when I went off to college she didn’t have as much to do,” Shay said. “So then one of my former teachers, Paul McMillan, he’s also on the city council, approached her and told her about the 7th St. Theatre Board. And that was a time when the theater was nowhere near where it is today.”
Saving the 7th St.
Ray Kahler, president of the 7th St. Theater Board, first met Thurman in 2003 when the board was in the early stages of formation. The duo recognized that the then run-down theater had the potential to be a great resource for the community, and have since embarked on countless projects.
“She’s been involved in every major project since we started,” Kahler said. “The roof replacement, the rigging replacement, everything. She’s just 100 percent reliable. She always follows through. At times I’ve felt overwhelmed, but she’s always positive. She knows we’ll get it done.”
Thurman, Kahler and their colleagues are currently working on a project to replace the theater’s ailing heating system.
The 7th St. Theatre restoration has been an expensive project. The rigging project alone cost about $625,000, Kahler said.
State Sen. Jim Hargrove, a Hoquiam Democrat, said the state has kicked in about $1.4 million in funding over the years. But the rest has come from local fundraising and grant writing — one of Thurman’s self-taught skills.
“When we do appropriations (for the state), we see a lot of projects where someone has a good idea, but it doesn’t always get off the ground,” Hargrove said. “So it’s always nice to see someone in the community who takes charge and makes sure it gets done. When the state gives money for these projects, the community has to provide additional money through fundraising and grants. And this board has consistently done that.”
Together, Kahler and Thurman have written about a dozen grants for the theater.
“Ray and my mom are a really good team,” Shay said. “My mom is the enthusiastic one, and Ray’s very cautious and practical. So they balance each other out a lot. He has really strong attention to detail, so as a team they’ve done some good projects together.”
But not all of Thurman’s theater renovations have been cosmetic or structural. She’s also revamped the theater’s perception in the community by spearheading a project to show movies once a month. Kahler said the movie series, which has been around for 10 years, is by far the theater’s most successful program.
Initially, the movies were played through a vintage 35 millimeter projector, Kahler said. Thurman would track down film copies of the movies and fill out the licensing contracts. But now Thurman simplifies the process by using a Blu-ray player and digital projector.
The theater plays a wide variety of movies — family favorites, classics and thrillers. The 7th St. Theatre Board recently released a preliminary list of the 2014 movies, which include “The Princess Bride,” “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” “Jaws” and “White Christmas.”
“Some of the first movies that were shown were ‘The Goonies’ and ‘The Sandlot,’ movies that she thought would be successful,” Shay said. “And when that started being more popular, they started doing the Christmas movies, and that’s been a huge success.”
Does she have time to sleep?
Through her work with the 7th St. Theatre, Thurman has become involved with several local projects. She serves on the Hoquiam Historic Preservation Commission and recently worked on a project to restore and create access to newsreels created by C. D. Anderson in the 1920s.
The newsreels were discovered in a Seattle storage locker, and later donated to the University of Washington Libraries. Library researchers contacted local community members, and Mickey Thurman quickly became one of the Harbor’s organizing forces for the project.
“She really was one of the first points of contact with the UW people on the Harbor,” said Polson Museum Director John Larson. “Her enthusiasm and connections with people in the community really allowed it to flourish. She kept things going and the project never died.”
The university later wove the news reels into a documentary, “Grays Harbor Happenings: The Newsreels of C.D. Anderson.”Thurman appears in the film, explaining the importance of saving Anderson’s reels for future generations. The documentary has been shown at the 7th St. Theatre twice and is available for purchase at the Polson Museum.
And while much of her work is centered around history, Thurman also promotes modern-day success through her work with the Hoquiam Business Association. Both she and her daughter serve on the promotions committee, which is responsible for Ho Ho Hoquiam, First Thursdays and Haunted Hoquiam.
She’s also an active Facebook user, managing the 7th St. Theatre page and facilitating discussions about local history through the Historic Hoquiam page.
Larson, like many in the community, are amazed at the tireless Thurman.
“Sometimes I don’t understand when she has time to sleep.”
Amelia Dickson: 360-537-3936, email@example.com. Twitter: @DW_Amelia