SPENCER, Iowa | Erin McGrane, who performed with George Clooney in the Oscar-nominated "Up in the Air," acted here.

So did Josh Odor, who played Texas football coach Darrell Royal in "The Express," a movie detailing the life and times of Ernie Davis, the first African-American Heisman Trophy winner.

Both Odor and McGrane are alums of Spencer High School and the school's revered theater department, a department that since 1937 has enjoyed the old Spencer High School Auditorium as its "home away from home."

That 79-year, 283-production relationship comes to a close this weekend as stage lights in this venerable facility go dark for the last time. Next fall, Spencer High School will utilize a new auditorium, one being built on the high school campus, part of an $11 million facilities upgrade that includes areas for band, choir and offices.

What was the price for the Spencer High School Auditorium in 1937? It came to $132,000, and was broken down this way: $57,000 from Public Works Administration funds; $70,000 from a local bond issue; and $5,000 from the Spencer school district.

The Spencer Herald newspaper described the 1,106-seat, 3-story structure as "not only the finest school auditorium in northern Iowa, but one of the finest in the entire state."

Larry Untiet came to Spencer as a young teacher in 1975. Forty-one years later, he's still leading one of the top drama programs in the state, the only school in Iowa to have had an all-state speech participant in each of the past 41 years.

To celebrate the old theater, he's inviting all Spencer High School theater alums to take a final curtain call at the close of the performances of "Arsenic and Old Lace," at 7:30 p.m. today, Saturday, and at 2 p.m. Sunday.

"Two directors prior to me each had nine years in Spencer," says Untiet, a graduate of Webster City (Iowa) High School and the University of Northern Iowa. "I thought I had to stay at least 10 years to have the most longevity leading this program."

That was 82 Untiet shows ago, as well as 41 one-act plays, all of which have been staged here.

This week, Untiet divided his time between meetings with architects, for all things new, and showing appreciation for all things old.

"For this being built in 1937, they were really ahead of their time," says Untiet, who retired from teaching in 2012. "There's a complete scenery fly system in place. The acoustics are very good."

The only drawback? Wing space on both sides of the stage is limited. And, this structure is seven blocks from the high school, which was built in the 1960s.

Among the famous who graced this stage include Simon Estes, one of the world's leading bass-baritone-voices, a native of Centerville, Iowa. Untiet also knows of several students who went on to teach and direct at the collegiate level. And, there are Odor and McGrane, two former Spencer Tigers who've made a living while acting in movies, television and theater.

"We'll have many alums who come back this weekend, I've seen a lot of them commenting on Facebook," Untiet says. "We'll have them wear name tags and they'll write their favorite theater moments for us. I'll have them all stand up before each show, and then we'll have them come on stage after the curtain call, so they can take one last bow."

At that time, Untiet will cue the music for Bob Hope's "Thanks for the Memories."

How will the director respond?

"Oh, there might not be a dry eye in the place," he says, pausing to glance around this storied structure. "And that certainly includes me."

Subscribe to Daily Headlines

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Load comments