EPAC donation is fitting memorial

By on March 18, 2011

Ephrata Performing Arts Center Managing Director Stephanie Harley (far left) and Pennsylvania College of Art and Design students (on stairs, left to right) Sarah Solak, Tom Dombrosky and Adam Schweitzer unveiled the theater s new name to its generous donor, Terry Bigler (far right). (Photo by Preston Whitcraft)

Nothing captivated Michael Sharadin quite like theater. As a child, Sharadin was enthralled with plays at the Ephrata Performing Arts Center that often brought big name acts from Broadway in New York City. Throughout his life. Sharadin never missed a local play and had seen nearly 1,100 shows up and down the East Coast before his death in 2006. Sharadin and his partner Terry Bigler of 27 years had donated more than $1 million since 1996 and has been referred to by theater company officials as guardian angels.

And the money was needed. After the theater was rebuilt in 2003, paying off the mortgage and construction debt has been rough since the economy took a downturn over the last couple of years. Now Sharadin’s memory will live on thanks to Bigler, who has donated $400,000 to EPAC through the Michael Sharadin-Terry Bigler Fund to help pay off the debt over the next 10 years. This will help satisfy the balance of the $2.2 million mortgage incurred by the renovation and expansion of the former summer stock pavilion into a year-round, non-profit community theater. This charitable gesture is being honored by changing the name of the theater building, long referred to as the Playhouse in the Park, to the Sharadin Bigler Theatre. The building is leased from Ephrata Borough. Theater meant a lot to both of us, Bigler said. Michael truly liked to feel the different emotions the shows would bring on to us.

Bigler, owner of Zeller Travel, is the current president of EPAC s board and Sharadin, who ran his family business Mi-Jan Fabrics, had also served on the board. They were the first to contribute to the capital campaign and have been the season sponsors since 2000. Michael and Terry have been pretty much our largest supporters for several years and without them as our guardian angels we would not still be in existence, said Stephanie Harley, EPAC s business manager. When we have great need, we know we can always count of them to help us through the difficult times.

Harley said officials are currently working on a new sign and logo for the theater with an emphasis on the new venue name. The goal is to have the signage and official change by start of 2012, she said. While the venue name is changing, the corporate name is not. The corporation is and will remain the Ephrata Performing Arts Center, she said. EPAC officials decided on the name of the venue. After all the years of service, it s time to do this, said Ed Fernandez, EPAC s artistic director. This is something for years talking about doing it. Finally, it was decided because he decided to grant a sizable amount on top of everything of what donating over the years.

"I was a little surprised by it. We didn’t do this for that purpose. We wanted to make sure theater would survive, Bigler added. Bigler has provided funds for a Community Challenge Grant in April of 2008 of $25,000 per year for five years for a total of $125,000, said Sean Young, who is in charge of the theater s capital campaign. The commitment was to match every pledge dollar-for-dollar up to $25,000 per year. EPAC secured matching donors for the full amounts in 2008-10. We have about $14,000 of capacity left in the 2011 matching commitment and about $22,000 in the 2012 commitment, Young said. We feel confident that will meet those targets.

When the commitment ends in 2012, the new donation will begin. Bigler said he and his new partner plan to stay a part of the theater for as long as they can and will continue to be season sponsors. The donation is administered through the Lancaster County Community Foundation and will solely be used for the mortgage and construction loan, said Harley. The money will be restricted funds and only used to make the principal payment on the renovation loan, Harley said. It will not be used to pay any monthly interest or contribute to the operating expenses of the theater.

About $100,000 will still have to be raised to guarantee full payment of that mortgage by 2021. A renewed capital campaign is now under way to achieve that. Among the new donors are a handful of individuals who have each committed multi-year gifts ranging from $1,000 to $4,000 and two local businesses that have contributed another $4,000 total, said Young, adding that they ve also received money from an estate gift, a portion of which was allocated to the campaign. Donors are sought at the $1,000, $2,500, $5,000 and $10,000 level. If we can secure a few gifts at each of these levels, we may be able to close our campaign by year s end, he said. Terry has been a generous champion of the theater. He has quietly led by example and by allowing EPAC to recognize his gifts publicly we have been able to increase awareness among other potential donors and create more opportunities for giving. It s safe to say that without his support, our campaign would not be successful. More EPAC, page A6

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