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The Journal Gazette

  • Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Foellinger Theatre volunteer Liz Merkler helps Tim Griffin prior to a concert this month. Merkler volunteers because she likes giving back and enjoys people.

  • Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette Brittany Walsh helps paint sets for Civic Theatre’s production of “Jekyll & Hyde.”

  • Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette JoAnn Abramow’s love of meeting people propelled her to volunteer at Foellinger Theatre.

  • Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette After her days of baby-sitting her grandchildren were over, Carol Nussbaum decided to volunteer at Civic Theatre.

  • Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette Costume designer and shop manager for the Civic Theater Angela Sahli, left, shows volunteer Marilyn Petersen what needs to be done on a costume.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017 1:00 am

Donating their time

Venue volunteers have passion for what they're doing

Kathi Weiss | For The Journal Gazette

To volunteer

Civic Theatre: Positions include build crew, painting crew and costume crew. For information, email Victoria Gardner at

Embassy Theatre: Positions include captains, ushers, ticket-takers, door and aisle monitors and concessions workers. Apply in person or email Kelly Maahs at

Foellinger Theatre: Positions include greeters, ushers, counters and ticket takers. Call 427-6018 to volunteer for the 2018 season.

For people who love the arts and entertainment, there are many opportunities to volunteer at local venues. Some earn free admission, but that isn't the reason many help out.

When Liz Merkler retired as assistant registrar at IPFW, she did what many retirees do.

“I volunteered everywhere,” says Merkler, who is in her third year of volunteering at Foellinger Theatre.

She then began to look at her interests to find opportunities that she especially enjoyed. She began at the Volunteer Center, formerly known as RSVP: Retired Seniors Volunteer Program, doing data entry and ended up getting a part-time job there. She works there eight hours a week. In addition, she volunteers at Foellinger about 30 hours a month.

“I do it because I want to give back to the community, and I like being around people,” Merkler says, adding that “being able to see the shows is good, too.”

She says volunteers can do as little or as much as they want. Sometimes people may have limited income and can't donate money, but they can volunteer their time.

Dan Metzger is in his fourth year at Foellinger Theatre. He works full time as a design engineer but volunteers for fun as the usher captain and floater, which means that when someone needs a break he relieves them.

He met his wife for their first date at a Foellinger concert. She was a volunteer and he decided to also become one. He says he volunteers three to four times a month.

Metzger says it's fun to people-watch and he would volunteer even if he didn't get to hear the shows. Without naming the performers, he says, “I have heard bad performances, so I have to be doing it for the love of it!”

When JoAnn Abramow retired from General Motors, she became involved with RSVP. Although she had lived in Fort Wayne 21 years, she had never been to Foellinger Theatre. Now she has been a volunteer there for five years.

“I love it. I absolutely love it,” she says of volunteering. “I love meeting people.”

In addition to Foellinger, she also volunteers at the gift shop at a senior living community and did some work at a clothing bank until it closed. She recommends volunteering for people who don't mind standing for long periods of time.

Joann Nixon has volunteered so much during her 12 years with Embassy Theatre that she has often accumulated the most number of hours in a year. In 2015, she was honored with the volunteer of the year award, an accomplishment she is proud of because it is a recognition of her commitment by her peers.

Nixon, who retired three years ago, began her Embassy position to spend time with her husband who was also a volunteer and she continued after his death.

In the summer, she volunteers two to three hours a week, but in busier months, she might be found at the Embassy 20 to 25 hours a week working as an usher.

“I go for the socializing and have made great friends,” she says.

Nixon has noticed a shift in the motivation of volunteers. The original volunteers who were involved with the Save the Embassy Foundation had altruistic motives and wanted to see the theater saved from demolition. In the past five to 10 years, she has seen volunteers more often motivated by the possibility of seeing a show for free, but that perk often doesn't happen because of responsibilities involved.

“We don't just stand around,” she says. If she is interested in watching a particular show, Nixon buys a ticket.

At the Arts United Center, home of the Civic Theatre, there are many volunteer opportunities such as set construction, painting and costume work. A production of “Jekyll & Hyde” this month had volunteers working from early August to get the musical ready.

People who volunteer six hours with prep work for a Civic show get two free ticket vouchers. Brittany Walsh didn't even know about that perk when she volunteered to help paint for “Jekyll & Hyde.”

“You don't even have to know how to paint,” she says. “They show you how ... and also to build sets. You learn practical things. The people are lovely to work with.”

Carol Nussbaum was looking for something to spend her time on now that her grandchildren are grown and didn't need babysitting. She was volunteering at a senior center when a friend mentioned Civic Theatre.

Helping prepare for “Jekyll & Hyde” by sewing costumes, painting sets and doing laundry was her first experience volunteering for Civic Theatre.

Nussbaum says volunteering has given her something to do besides just sit at home.

“It's fun to meet people,” she says. “I need to get out and socialize. I get to know people and help out.”

The opportunity to work with new materials is what drew Marilyn Petersen to sewing costumes for Civic Theatre.

“You get to sew with sequins and gauze ... things you might not get to work with at home,” she says.

Like Walsh, Petersen didn't know about earning free tickets when she first started volunteering at the theater.

“That is obviously a perk but that is not the reason I do it,” she says. “I would do it probably without that. “

Petersen has volunteered at Civic for a year. She also volunteers at Fort Wayne Children's Zoo and an elementary school. She sees it as an opportunity to give back to the community, stay vital and meet other people with similar interests.

“There are so many opportunities in Fort Wayne to volunteer,” she says. Anywhere you are passionate is where you should look.”