Marion Ross donates $25,000 to theater

Published 11:30 am Friday, December 4, 2009

In what was a glimmer of hope for the city, “Happy Days” actress and Albert Lea native Marion Ross has donated $25,000 to the operations of the Marion Ross Performing Arts Center.

Albert Lea Mayor Mike Murtaugh said Ross approached the city with the donation because she sensed what was going on in the state with budget concerns.

“I know everybody’s having hard times right now,” Ross said in an interview with the Tribune Friday. “I really felt that I wanted to do this to get them into next year. We’re just in a tough spot right now, even here in Hollywood.”

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She said if she were living in Albert Lea she might have been able to organize a fundraiser, but since she is not this was the next best thing she could do.

Murtaugh said Ross still has family here and “genuinely cares about Albert Lea.”

“In these times where we’re facing significant budget concerns … it’s even more appreciated to have a donation like this,” Murtaugh said.

According to a proposal from Parks and Recreation Director Jay Hutchison in September, the Marion Ross Performing Arts Center is facing an about $42,000 budget cut during the 2010 year. The proposal included eliminating all staffing of the facility and sending over a custodian from City Arena for maintenance work.

Talks have also started on how to make the theater self-sustaining.

Murtaugh said it has not been decided exactly how the donation will be used but he noted that it will go into a separate account solely for the theater.

The Albert Lea City Council will adopt its final budget Dec. 14.

The Marion Ross Performing Arts Center was dedicated in Ross’ name in June of 2008, after a series of listening sessions during which the community indicated it wanted a strong venue for arts, culture and entertainment.

Ross said from her childhood she had dreams of becoming a famous actress.

“This was not even one of the dreams,” she said. “It was way beyond to have a theater named for me.”

Theater Manager Patrick Rasmussen and Ross’s good friend, Jim Pilgrim of Power 96, came up with the idea for the name change. Then, after various groups approved it, the City Council voted for the official change.

Ross, 81, 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.

Ross said she is currently working on the set of the ABC TV series “Brothers and Sisters,” and will be performing in a play at the Globe Theater in San Diego. She said she would be free to come to Albert Lea next fall.

“I’m just very proud to have come from Albert Lea,” she said. “I talk about it all the time. My love to everybody. Merry Christmas.”