GOODFIELD — The 76-year-old walls finally came tumbling down this week at Conklin's Barn II Dinner Theater near Goodfield.
"It was akin to a private family burial service. And, honestly, it was incredibly moving and emotional for the few of us who were present. We wouldn't have wanted it any other way," said Abby Reel, the theater angel who has partnered with longtime Barn II owner Mary Simon to bring the shows back to where it all began.
The demolition of the former Angus cattle barn, disabled beyond repair by an August tornado two years ago, was purposely undertaken away from public and media scrutiny.
"This has been an emotional month with us salvaging and sorting through 40 years of memories," said Simon. "But I feel blessed and extremely lucky to have had that time with our dear patrons."
Spared from the demo team's heavy equipment was the adjoining brick box office building and kitchen. "They will be renovated and joined up with the new Barn III," Reel said.
"It was a happy/sad moment ... a lot of history, a lot of memories, but joy that it doesn't have to be the end. The Barn II legacy will continue," added Reel, a former Conklin employee who came forward two months ago with a plan to partner with Simon to build a new barn.
Reel, assistant director of career development at Illinois Wesleyan University, is financing the majority of the project out of her own pocket until the bank's request for a $100,000 down payment to secure a construction loan is met.
"I've cashed out my entire retirement package to buy the barn from Mary and my family has invested over $400,000 to reunite the 5-acre brick house property back with the original barn parcel."
In the two months since the announcement, a flock of fellow theater angels has come forward with around half that amount ($50,000) via the ongoing "Barn Raising Campaign" at www.thebarnIII.com.
"Mary and I are humbled with gratitude," she said of the private patron donations. The hope, she added, is for a handful of corporate sponsors to come forward and complete the goal.
"At this point, they would change the game for us entirely. It would takes us from a place of cautious optimism to full confidence that the Barn III will raise by this time next year.
"Although we have not met our fundraising goal, if we did not demo the barn and pour the new concrete foundation before Thanksgiving, we would not be able to make our goal of being in the new venue by December 2018," said Reel.
For the past two years, the Conklin Players have been staging short-run productions at Five Points Washington in Washington, with the final show there, "A Gift of Christmas," set for Nov. 30 through Dec. 3.
"I took a step of faith in moving forward," said Reel. "Faith that the money will come and faith that the project will be funded through our banking partner. I have enough money of my own to pay for the work that's been done so far."
She added that actual construction will begin "the minute the bank says 'yes.' We are awaiting Small Business Administration approval on new construction appraisal to come back. We hope to know something by the beginning of December."