April 07, 2020

The Grand to name hall after early benefactor

ELLSWORTH – The name of Harris Strong will remain forever linked with the Main Street theater he loved so much.

The board of The Grand Auditorium will dedicate the performance hall in his memory during a ceremony later this year. They made the decision earlier this month just a few days before Strong died at his home in Trenton at age 86. He was the driving force behind the effort in 1971 that saved the theater from the wrecking ball.

The board’s decision was unanimous, according to Lee McWilliams, The Grand’s executive director. McWilliams, longtime Grand director Ken Stack, and Grand supporter Jim Pendergist were able to convey that decision to Strong shortly before he died.

“We told him that we would like to do it and asked him if he would accept,” McWilliams said. “It was a pretty emotional moment. He sort of stopped for a minute. It was a long minute. And then he said he would be honored.”

A well-known artist in his own right, Strong moved his studio to Maine from New York in 1970, and almost immediately became involved in the local theater scene performing with the Ellsworth Players. When the owner of The Grand planned to demolish the building, Strong organized a group of local residents, including friends from the theater group, and convinced him to sell them the building.

Strong served as president of the first board of directors for the theater, which they refurbished and opened again for films and live performances. Although in recent years Strong was unable to remain as active in the life of The Grand as he once had been, McWilliams said he was always involved.

“I was very lucky to have him here; he was the first director,” McWilliams said. “He would always check in – to see how things were going, to offer advice, to tell me a story about someone who had been involved and might want to be again. How often do you have the opportunity to go back to a wise man when you’re sitting in his seat?”

Strong, she said, was very pleased with the renovations that had been completed at The Grand earlier this spring.

“He said he couldn’t help but think about what it had been like in the old days, how different it had been and how hard it had been to generate community interest then. The downtown wasn’t really thriving then,” she said. “He was thrilled to see [the renovations] happen with so much volunteer help and contributions. That’s what his dream had been.”

In addition to dedicating the Harris G. Strong Performance Hall at The Grand, the theater’s directors have dedicated this month’s production of “The Full Monty” to Strong’s memory. The show opens this weekend.

“We think he would have appreciated that,” McWilliams said. “He really did live ‘The Full Monty.’ He was always living to the fullest extent he could.”

The Grand is having two plaques designed that will hang at the two doors from the lobby into the auditorium, designating it as the Harris G. Strong hall, and also will display a bust that was made of Strong in the 1960s. The directors plan a formal dedication later this fall.

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