Miller Performing Arts Center
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
When the Jefferson City High School alma mater refers to “... The Red and Black will always wave over JC, JC ...,” it may not be repetition for musical affect.
Many say the song refers to its place of origin, the Jefferson City Junior College, now the Joseph and Etta Miller Performing Arts Center.
Completed in 1926 the also was the site of Jasper Jay’s selection as the high school mascot, remembered former teacher Helen Laux.
The college classes on the top floor offered an advanced education to people in the region who might not have otherwise pursued it, said former student Dick Caplinger. Many veterans, including Caplinger, also benefited from the local college incentive, especially after World War II.
In particular, several veterans were offered room in exchange for chores by economics teacher Chester Forney.
“He enabled a lot of young men to go through college with his generosity,” Caplinger said. “He’s an unsung hero.”
Although the college and high school classes shared the building, their academics, athletics and student councils were separate, said Caplinger, who served as president of both student councils.
In 1954, Lincoln University opened to white students. And the high school numbers were pushing the limits of the building’s capacity.
“I had 32, long-legged juniors in that classroom,” Laux remembered. “I had to make double tests because they couldn’t help but see the paper next to them; it was very frustrating.”
Both issues contributed to the close of the junior college in 1959.
Five years later, the building’s name changed again, from Jefferson City Senior High School to the Freshmen High School, when the current high school building was completed.
From 1976 to 1993, when Thomas Jefferson and Lewis and Clark middle schools opened, it housed seventh-grade students.
And its last use in its original form was as the Instructional Resource Center, including the following programs: Explore, Enrich and Research (gifted program), Adult Basic Learning Education (ABLE), English as a Second Language (ESL), adult education, Parents As Teachers, pre-school and technology support.
The historic building received a new charge when it opened in 2005 as the Joseph and Etta Miller Performing Arts Center. The following year, the Jefferson City Academic Center opened on the third floor.
The modern renovations were the result of private donations and community advocates.
Etta Miller, upon her death in 1992, donated $1.9 million to the Jefferson City Public Schools, specifically for the construction of a performing arts center for youths.
A public bond issue for a performing arts center failed in 1995. But community members organized to research options and gather private gifts to total $4.65 million toward the project.
“Many of the donations made carry with them a special story: the wish to remember a family member, a fond memory of days performing in schools plays, or perhaps gifts made in gratitude or special teachers from the past,” said David Luther, director of school-community relations.
Kay Taylor, a 1962 graduate, purchased the center’s coatroom in honor of her parents, Dr. Leon and Marian Taylor. Not only was her mother an advocate for youths and the arts in the community, but her grandparents’ home stood on the same spot at Miller and Madison streets.
“I was excited about the Miller Center going in where it did,” Taylor said. “I have great memories of musicals at Jefferson City High School — here in Mid-Missouri, we were watching wonderful Broadway shows with our own classmates.”
From her school days in those halls, Taylor remembered a strong sense of community. Arts, academics and athletics each had talented students and community support, she said.
“I enjoyed going to the games and music programs,” said Taylor, who served on student council and was voted homecoming queen her senior year.
Several legendary educators, like Joe Nichols and Marvin Fleming, spent part of their careers in that building. And countless community members today walked those hallways as young learners.
“It doesn’t sit on Hobo Hill, but it’s incredibly significant,” Luther said. “So many people have passed through there at different grade levels. It’s vitally important.”
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