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A musical addition in Stratford

From dancer on Broadway to small town restauranteur

-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter Gil McNaughton, left, talks with cook Amanda Grisham at his restaurant Patsy's Place. McNaughton comes from a background in theater and dance, performing in numerous shows on Broadwas and Los Angelos, and now runs a bar and grill with a large dance hall for concerts in Stratford.

In 2015, Stratford celebrated a brand-new restaurant opening, run by folks from out of the area who fell in love with the small town.

In 2016, the town was delighted when a second restaurant opened up just across the street, run by a couple from out of the area who fell in love with Stratford.

Patsy’s Place started doing business May 31, 2016, practically next door to the Smoke King Bones Eatery, and it’s more than just a place to grab some good homestyle cooking.

It also boasts a big ballroom where local bands are featured.

LPs and album covers line the walls. A piano sits in the front room, and along the back walls you can see pictures of the owner performing with Ginger Rogers, Gene Kelly and Van Johnson.

Owners Gil and Patsy McNaughten, now living in Roland, have a rich musical background. Gil McNaughten for many years was a dancer in Broadway shows, also performing in Los Angeles and with touring Disney productions before settling down to teach dance in Iowa.

Gil McNaughten said he and his wife bought the place, in essence, because they were tired of looking for places to perform.

“We played a lot of the wineries,” McNaughten said. “I got tired of hustling gigs and hauling equipment and stuff, and I thought, why don’t I just get my own place? So we looked for a place for about two years.”

When he saw the large party room where he could put a stage, McNaughten realized this would be the perfect place.

The store’s location at 824 Shakespeare Ave. piqued his interest, as did other street names in town.

Unlike in some counties, the Hamilton County Freedom Rock in Stratford will sit in a steel cradle. The large bolder was put in place this year, in anticipation of when it will be painted with patriotic scenes.

“I want to delve into the history of it too,” he said. “You just wouldn’t think of a small town with names like Shakespeare and Milton and Burns and all these literary giants.”

McNaughten grew up in a small town in Texas, but close enough to Dallas to also have the big city opportunities.

“When I studied dance or theater or anything else it was in Dallas,” he said.

McNaughten spent two years on a tour called Disney on Parade, which was like Disney on Ice but with dancers.

“But there were huge numbers. Two hundred cast, and it took them 25 big trucks that moved the scenery and costumes,” he said. “We traveled every major city in the U.S. Every week a different city. In New York and LA we were there probably six weeks, because we could afford to do that there. And we went to Canada and Mexico.”

After that McNaughten performed in variety shows in LA.

He came back to Dallas and spent a few years on a dinner circuit there, before moving to New York.

“Later I ended up teaching at several colleges and universities and directing some regional theaters. All the time I had my wife and kids, so we were traveling a lot,” he said.

For a while they specialized in Celtic music.

“When Riverdance came out, people were enthralled with that; well I’d been doing that since I was a kid, and nobody cared,” he said. “So we formed a traveling act, we actually danced with the Chieftains for a little bit.”

McNaughten’s dancing career came to an end while he was at the Robert Thomas school in Ames.

“We were working on Nutcracker, and I was showing off all these lifts that I know,” McNaughten said. “He kept saying ‘You better watch out, you’re going to hurt yourself.’

“I’ve been doing this for — I know how to do this.

“And it wasn’t any one main lift or anything, but gradually through the rehearsals I started getting a lot of pain.”

He was in a wheelchair for a bit, and had to stop dancing. This was when Gil and Patsy McNaughten started doing more music.

“That door closed, so the music door opened,” he said. “I’ve been wanting to do more music, so this was my chance.”

The restaurant serves mostly family style meals, he said.

“My wife — she is an excellent gourmet cook. She’s constantly trying to get me to serve something a little more fancy. Haute cuisine, I think it’s called,” McNaughten said. “There are some people here who like that, but the majority of people just like their meat and potatoes, their fried fish, taco Tuesday.”

Still, the restaurant has been well-received. McNaughten said he had great help from the phone company that helped him obtain the building, from city hall, and from US Bank in town.

“Just great people to work with,” he said. “And I found everybody was very helpful and supportive.”

Community development

The Stratford Community Development Corp. has been busy holding events throughout the year, said board member Monika Arends.

It puts on the citywide garage sale, an annual pet vaccination clinic, a Bluegrass 5K during the Stratford Stride’s Bluegrass Festival, a community appreciation dinner and a tour of empty buildings to encourage more interest in development.

There was a “Hamilton Hometown Hoopla” in September, sponsored by Hamilton County Economic Development.

“The hoopla was a scavenger hunt that went through four towns: Stratford, Jewell, Ellsworth and Stanhope,” Arends said.

The SCDC is also doing a plastic bag recycling campaign, which started in November and runs until the citywide garage sale day in April.

“The goal is to reach 500 pounds, and once we reach 500 pounds we receive a free bench” made from plastic bags, she said.

Backcountry Winery also opened in the past year, and has been putting on events at its large community space, said City Manager Rachel Cahill.

A new monument in town is well on its way to becoming a reality as well.

The Hamilton County Freedom Rock, an 8-ton bolder, is now sitting in a steel cradle at the new park at the corner of Shakespeare and Tennyson avenues.

It will be painted in 2019 by Ray “Bubba” Sorensen II as he travels the state creating Freedom Rocks in every county.

The park will also have a wall of valor showing a timeline of military conflicts and military emblems, and a tribute plaque wall to the east.

The public library has expanded with the purchase of the building next door.

“We’ll actually be putting an access from the current building into the addition,” said Library Director Diana Erickson. “Right now we’re still in the process of taking bids for that access — cutting a hole in the wall.”

Some of the library’s collection will go there — probably adult nonfiction, Erickson said — and there will be a stove and refrigerator, as well as more meeting space.

“Sometimes we are limited in what we can do in the library now,” she said. “Sometimes I have to turn people away because we only have the small room.”

Another new business in town is the Boone Forks Forge, run from the home of Ty Murray and Darcy Runestad, which offers assorted decorations, tools and knicknacks made from metal.

There are knives made from railroad spikes, hearts and “ribbons” made from horseshoes, jewelry and other hand-forged decor.

What is now Murray’s full-time job started out as a hobby. As a kid, his dad used to send him to work on the forge just to have something to do, Murray said.

“He started when he was probably 9,” Runestad said.

Murray set up a coal-fired forge in the yard a few years ago just for fun.

“We make awareness ribbons out of horseshoes. A friend of ours wanted some, and he put them on this website he’s on, and a lot of people wanted them,” Murray said.

From there, business picked up.

“He worked construction on grain bins for about 10 years. He also cooked for four or five years,” Runestad said. “It got to the point he was doing enough custom forge work that it became a business.”

The couple has lived in Stratford for years, in the house that once belonged to Murray’s grandparents.

“It’s a town that really supports itself,” Runestad said.

“You saw that really well after the tornado came through town” in 2005, Murray said.

“About a week after that everybody chipped in and helped clean up the town,” Runestad said. “Besides damage to houses, you could hardly tell it had happened. The debris was all gone. His whole family heats with wood, so they have these big chainsaws. We were going around town, his brother and his wife and Ty and I cutting up debris with chainsaws.

“Everywhere we saw people helping each other clean up.”

That helpful, connected sense of community hasn’t gone unnoticed by McNaughten either.

“One thing I love about this town,” he said, walking over to the piano in the main dining room. “This piano was donated by the Methodist Church, played by the minister from the Lutheran Church for Christmas carols.

“That’s not going to happen in New York City.”

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