In Memory of Dennis Gilmore
A Legacy Lives On
by Marcia Colbert, former Executive Director
Athens has lost one of its finest. Dennis Gilmore, Executive Director Emeritus, of the Henderson County Performing Arts Center passed away recently, leaving a legacy not only of Athens Little Theatre but also the hundreds of people who passed through its doors. The tributes to Dennis have been pouring in from former actors, back stage workers, and patrons, expressing their love and gratitude for his impact on their lives. Because of Dennis Gilmore, HCPAC has been in continuous operation for fifty-seven years. It took a pandemic to make its stage lights go dark but only temporarily.
HCPAC was Dennis’s great joy and the life work he was meant to do. He was constantly “directing”, teasing, counseling, listening, hugging, encouraging, challenging and loving everyone, while, in the background, he was also constantly raising money to keep the heart of the theatre beating. He grew the theater from one corrugated tin building with two dilapidated trailers for props, costumes, dressing rooms and Green Room to the complex it is today. It is hard to imagine the world without him.
The YES! Program (Youth Excellence on Stage), filled with aspiring actors from all over Henderson County, and sometimes beyond, provided an outlet and a safe haven for kids who needed a place to belong and to be guided as they traversed the minefields of school, adolescence and sometimes rocky home lives. Dennis was their rock. He gave them structure, goals, guidance, and tough love. But mostly love. One of the many testaments to Dennis and the YES! Program is the exceptionally large number of his kids who went on to careers in theatre. But whether or not they were trodding the boards, their lives were enriched and they went on to become more confident adults. The mission statement of HCPAC is: We Entertain. We Educate. We Change Lives. Always true to the mission, Dennis did all of that and more. The lives changed would fill the theatre many times over.
And those lives weren’t all children and teens. Adults found their way to the theatre and Dennis, too. Many have remarked they were drawn to the stage, either in front or behind the curtains and once there, they usually stayed, brought their children and, many times, grandkids. They met the same loving but demanding ‘director’ and left rehearsals, costume making, set building or kid corralling with a sense of accomplishment they might never have known before.
Dennis truly saw the theatre as a community and family; a safe place where people could feel at home, make friends with people they would not have met otherwise, explore and develop unknown talents, and be part of an extended network. He felt honored that so many of the theatre community considered him a second Dad, brother, mentor, friend. Of course, there was his fierce expression that made people think he hated them until it became apparent it was a facade to protect a tender, generous heart. And he constantly pushed to make sure everyone performed to a high standard of professionalism, painful though it was, sometimes. But mostly, he wanted everyone associated with community theatre to have a sense of joy, fun, discovery and personal accomplishment that remains the cornerstone of performing arts.
Dennis's favorite musical was A Chorus Line and a song from that show “What I Did for Love” captures his essence. The lyric, "the gift was ours to borrow" sums it up. Dennis was the gift we had the privilege to borrow.
But as much as he did at and for the theatre, Dennis was more to the community than just that. He applied that same passion to the larger community through years of Rotary projects, arts education in schools, and as theatre arts faculty at TVCC.
Dennis LOVED HCPAC and took pride in the fact that the volunteer leadership made some hard choices to assure the organization would continue and thrive beyond him. If you are able now or in the future, please consider a donation in Dennis’s name to HCPAC, nothing would honor him more. Personal tributes and memories may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. For donations, please click here or mail to HCPAC, P O Box 102, Athens, TX 75751.
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