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The name change is official

Drawing on fun-filled memories of her childhood in Albert Lea, actress Marion Ross gratefully accepted the dedication and official name change Saturday of the Albert Lea Civic Theatre into what will now be called the Marion Ross Performing Arts Center.

She said when she thinks about who she is now and where she came from, it is the people of Albert Lea and the experiences she had here that have helped to lead her to her successes.

“This is thrilling, beyond words for me,” Ross said of the dedication. “It means so much for me to come here.”

Ross, 79, who is most known for her 11-year portrayal of “Mrs. C” on Happy Days, has also received much recognition for her Broadway and national tour of “Arsenic and Old Lace” and national tour of “Steel Magnolias.”

She has acted on the television series “Brooklyn Bridge,” “Touched by an Angel,” “The Drew Carey Show” and “The Gilmore Girls,” to name a few, and has been nominated time and time again for Emmy and Golden Globe awards.

In a tribute to Ross at the start of the dedication ceremony, her life-partner, Paul Michael, sang “The Impossible Dream.”

He talked of how Ross once was a 13-year-old girl from Albert Lea who had dreams of becoming a famous star. She got signed on to Paramount at the age of 21 and has blossomed ever since.

“I don’t think her dream included having a theater named after her,” he joked.

Albert Lea Mayor Randy Erdman said the name change of the building came about after a series of listening sessions during which the community indicated it wanted a strong venue for arts, culture and entertainment.

Hand-in-hand with one of the community’s guiding principles to “restore and use its treasures,” last October Theater Manager Patrick Rasmussen and Ross’s good friend, Jim Pilgrim of Power 96, came up with the idea for the name change.

After various groups approved it, the Albert Lea City Council voted on March 10 for the official change.

Erdman said Ross wrote that she was “touched and flattered” at the idea.

Now, three months since the council approved the change, the dedication made it official.

Erdman said he called Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s personal cell phone and asked him to come to the event, but he was unable to attend.

In lieu of his visit, however, Pawlenty signed a proclamation that proclaimed Saturday as Marion Ross Day.

He presented Ross with a commemorative statue, which had inscribed on it that it was presented to “our star” in honor of the dedication. A framed, smaller version of the new sign on the north end of the building was also presented to Ross.

At the end of the dedication, the Albert Lea-Freeborn County Chamber of Commerce assisted the actress with a ribbon cutting for the building.

Though it was an event set up just for Ross, it was the audience members who walked away with smiles on their faces.

“Marion Ross is a remarkable, humble, wonderful person,” said Albert Lea Convention and Visitor’s Bureau Executive Director Susie Petersen. “This is going to be a wonderful draw to our community.”

Already since word of the theater’s name change has spread, she has received numerous inquiries from people who have shown interest in the dedication and in the use of the performing arts center.

“She has given so much to our community,” Petersen said of Ross.

Ross and life-partner Paul Michael were set to present A.R. Gurney’s “Love Letters” Saturday evening to a sold-out crowd at the performing arts center.

“Love Letters” was initially presented by the Long Wharf Theater in New Haven, Conn., on Nov. 3, 1988, under the direction of John Tillinger.

Several area residents were also set up to visit Ross at Crescendo’s Fine Dining Saturday evening.

Visit the theater’s Web site.