Some of the Historic Effingham Society’s current members were around when the Mars Theatre closed its doors in 1957.
At its annual banquet Saturday night, the HES showed its appreciation for those doors being back open.
Springfield cultural affairs director Tommy Deadwyler accepted the Historic Effingham Society’s Preservation Award on behalf of all the work many people put into restoring the downtown landmark. The renovated theater re-opened in April of last year.
“This has been a community project,” Deadwyler said, “from a group of concerned citizens who saw something that was very special to them and their community and they wanted to make sure that it was there for generations to come. They came together and they worked hard.”
Deadwyler thanked the city of Springfield, which invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in the project. People in the community also donated money and supported the effort, he said.
The restoration preserved the art deco look of the Mars while making it a modern facility. The renovated theater includes state-of-the-art lighting, sound and video systems.
“It really is a great testament as to what we can do as a community,” Deadwyler said. “Not only did we restore the appearance of the building and the historical structure of what you look at, but we’ve also saved and revitalized a cultural and a social landmark in our community.”
Interest in the Mars’ programs continues to increase, Deadwyler said. The Mars had its first sold-out live show two weekends ago with a concert by a quartet of Nashville songwriters, including Effingham’s own Hannah Dasher, and two showings of “The SpongeBob Movie” sold out last weekend.
“You see the benefit of preserving and protecting the history of Springfield and of Effingham County,” said HES president Norma Jean Morgan.
Someone who knows that well is Richard Loper, who was honored as Historic Effingham Society’s Member of the Year. He was nearly speechless as he accepted the award.
“I’m never without words,” Loper said. “This is really a surprise. I had already picked out the person that I really thought was going to get this.”
A longtime HES member, Loper was instrumental in establishing the Effingham Museum in the county’s old jail building. Loper collects historical memorabilia and donated some of his items to start the museum.
The award recognized Loper for his “outstanding participation above and beyond the call of duty.” He has served two different terms as HES president.
“When we asked him the second time, we really needed him because we needed to raise some money and we needed to elevate our place in the county,” said HES member Betty Renfro. “And he did it again.”
Morgan also presented President’s Awards to David Harris and Francis Hutto in appreciation for their contributions to HES.
Harris, the owner of US eBusiness Solutions, coordinates Historic Effingham Society’s public relations by maintaining its Web site and social media, writing news articles and photographing HES events.
“I think this county is too important and too valuable and too nice of a place not to be shared with the world,” Harris said. “And the best way to do that is through the Internet.”
Hutto has been a financial supporter of HES, including a donation that made possible the restoration of the Blandford railroad depot at the Living History Site. Morgan called Hutto “a gem,” saying he has “given so much of himself to us and Effingham County, to his faith and to his family.”
Hutto lives in Charleston, S.C., but his ancestry is in Effingham County.
“My grandmother was a Rahn, which makes me probably kin to everybody in here,” Hutto said, evoking laughter from the audience.
The evening’s guest speaker was Lonzado Langley, the chief of the Savannah River Band of Euchee Indians. He shared the history of the Euchees, who occupied land upriver from the Salzburger settlement at Ebenezer.
HES concluded the program by installing four new board members — Ralph Gnann, Tom Hodgson, Joey Smith and Betty Lee Waller — to two-year terms.
Also, April 11 was announced as the date for this year’s Effingham Festival at the Living History Site. The HES put out a call for festival volunteers and items for its fund-raising bake sale.