Pingel will lend a hand to save the Humota in Humboldt

‘This is an opportunity I’d hate to see them miss’

— Daily Freeman-Journal file photo Jeff Pingel poses with Gina Nilles at the June 2017 opening of “Made in Iowa,” a short film about Webster City’s resilience following the closing of Electrolux and the saving of the Webster Theatre. Pingel was prominently featured in the film as one of the volunteers who worked to save the movie house.

Jeff Pingel, of Webster City, is all too familiar with seeing a local movie theater close.

In March 2013, Webster City’s theater had what many believed would be a final showing.

“I just remember going to the last movie here and I was pretty sad,” Pingel said. “It’s something you can send the kids down to on their bikes. You can’t send them on their bikes to Fort Dodge.”

Pingel and the city’s then-Chamber of Commerce Director Deb Brown decided to start a nonprofit organization in hopes of bringing the theater back.

“What it boiled down to, neither one of us knew what to do, so we went to Jefferson, Hampton, Belmond, Clarion, all these other communities, to see what it would take,” Pingel said.

Pingel would later become president of the HERO board, the group responsible for the theater’s resurrection.

“When we first started, all these theaters we went to said it’s going to take you, like, three years,” he said. “I am thinking, ‘I am not waiting three years, but whatever.’ We got it done in 18 months. That’s from closed with no projector.”

It required time, money and volunteerism.

“We did everything to fundraise,” Pingel said. “We did a dodgeball tournament. We didn’t really make any money doing it, but it was just to get in the paper or on the radio, get that exposure, so people knew. Every week we wanted a reason to be out there. We updated social media every day to be in people’s feeds.”

One particular fundraiser that was beneficial was called Adopt a Seat.

“You could get your plaque on a seat in memory of someone,” Pingel said. “We had 300 and some seats at the time. We thought it would take a couple years to adopt them out and in six to nine months later they were gone.”

He added, “That was our biggest stand-alone fundraiser. That paid for our equipment upgrades.”

Pingel also approached Kay Ross, a local business owner and philanthropist.

“Well, I had never met Kay Ross before,” Pingel recalled. “I marched my butt into the Saloon and I asked for Kay and she was back cleaning the back window on the door and I said we need someone to help fundraise for the movie theater, are you in? That started the conversation. We didn’t talk more than three minutes, and she said, ‘yeah I’ll do it.’ She was a movie lover too.”

As work was being done inside the theater, Pingel said the storefront windows were covered with newspapers from The Daily Freeman Journal.

“That kept some mystery and some buzz going,” he said.

In September 2014, the Webster Theater was able reopen and once again the marquee was lit.

The Webster Theater is open Tuesday through Sunday. A small group of paid employees works there.

The theater shows movies about four weeks old, Pingel said.

Humota

Pingel attended a meeting last night in Humboldt regarding the future of Humota Theatre.

It was recently announced that R.L. Fridley Inc. intends to close Humota by Sept. 1 if a plan is not in place for another group to run the theater.

Humota Theatre, located at 515 Sumner Ave., has been in business since 1928 in downtown Humboldt.

It features a 312-seat, single-screen auditorium.

Pingel believes Humboldt’s theater has a good chance of continuing on.

“I think Humboldt, they are already open, they are already upgraded into digital,” he said. “If you can get a couple people to start it, all we did was ask for help. Who’s good at fundraising around town?”

The nonprofit organization in Webster City had to raise $250,000.

The theater was purchased from the bank for about $22,500.

“We had donations from $5 to $10,000,” Pingel said. “We had little kids bring in their allowance. It took every penny of that to get it done.”

Pingel doesn’t think Humota will need as much.

“We had a little different situation than Humboldt,” he said. “They are still open for business. They are getting the building donated to them, whereas ours closed and was in foreclosure. Wells Fargo Bank held it.”

Fridley has agreed to donate the building if a plan for acquisition is in place, which Pingel said makes a big difference.

“If Humota closes, it’s not a good thing,” Pingel said. “We didn’t have that opportunity. Fridley has owned our place too, but they sold to somebody else and that person basically sucked all the money out of it they could. When it closed, even if you bought it, you couldn’t go in and show a movie because the sound equipment was gone. The sound head of the projector, you couldn’t run film through it.”

He added, “Jefferson got the same deal from Fridley as Humboldt. This is an opportunity I’d hate to see them miss.”

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