Panida’s Century Fund off to a good start

New board members also elected at annual meeting

By Ben Olson
Reader Staff

It was a productive annual membership meeting Oct. 20 at the Panida Theater.

Vice President and Treasurer Tari Pardini introduced a slate of new applicants to the board, including Michele Burkey, Sara Christenson, Donna Guthrie, Teri Kroll, Gail Mico and Gail Trotta. Those in attendance voted to confirm the six to the board, as well as Katelyn Shook and Zabrielle Dillon, who were both serving as interim board members. 

The additions bring the board to its maximum of 13 people — the largest the Panida board has been in many years.

“We’ve had a small board, smaller than this, and the board members have been stretched very thin,” Pardini said. “As a result the committees have not actually been able to even reach out and bring in members. We’ve been so busy trying to tread water. Now my hope is we’ll … do our work in committees and report back to the board.”

Managing Director Veronica Knowlton gave her annual report, highlighting the theater’s increase in usage numbers.

“Last year, we hosted over 80 events, welcomed over 10,000 people through our doors,” she said. “We brought back the Global Cinema Cafe, we introduced a programming mix of one free event each month, we had a youth talent show, live productions, film screenings. It was a busy year.”

Knowlton said a few facilities improvements were accomplished over the year, including an upgrade to the dressing room, replastering, rewiring and organizing the projection booth, and the makeover to the Panida Little Theater spearheaded by Shook and Dillon.

“Staff volunteers tore into this project with the most stunning results,” Knowlton said.

Knowlton also said to expect an announcement in the coming months to secure a tenant on an extended lease agreement for the front portion of the Little Theater.

Chris Bessler gave a multimedia presentation on the Panida’s Century Fund, which aims to raise $1.9 million over five years, with the completion to coincide with the Panida’s 100th anniversary in 2027.

“I’ve been using the term ‘audacious’ for this effort seeking to raise so much money for these long-deferred renovation needs,” Bessler said, showing the audience a slideshow of photographs. “Our urgent need is to meet our first-year goal of $273,000 to replace the Panida roof, which is leaking.”

Additional photos showed a perilous period in the Panida’s history during the early 1980s, when the fate of the historic theater was uncertain. One photo showing the Panida’s marquee with the words, “Building for sale” elicited a few gasps from the audience.

“Along came Susan Bates-Harbuck, and Laurel Wagers and Jane Evans,” Bessler said. “They decided they were going to save the Panida Theater. In 1985, they kicked off a campaign to raise the money to get a down payment, got a bank that went along with it to carry the mortgage and began the campaign to save the Panida.”

Their efforts were successful and the Panida again experienced a resurgence of support. But, Bessler said, the years of deferred maintenance have caught up. Some needs listed for the main theater include a new roof, sprinkler system, upgrading the electrical service, enlarging the lobby with a pass through to the Little Theater, new concessions facilities and enlarging restrooms, to name a few. 

In just a week since announcing the Century Fund, Bessler said the theater has already raised $7,000, which, thanks to a pledge to match $200,000 worth of donations under $5,000 by Ting, means the effort is already $14,000 closer to the Phase 1 goal to raise $273,000 in the first year.

“Kari Saccomanno, the local Ting manager, put this whole thing together and we’re so thankful for that,” Bessler said. 

Finally, the board outlined the tiers of membership available for the public to help support the Theater. The various levels of donations include free popcorn, free entry to second Wednesday events and 10% off, with rewards increasing with each membership tier. 

The “Friend” level is for donations $25+, “Supporter” is $100+, the “Good Neighbor” is $250+, the “Benefactor” is $500+ and the top tier is the “Karen Bowers’ Standing Ovation,” for donations over $1,000. 

To learn more about how to become a Panida member or to make a tax deductible charitable donation, please visit

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