After 100 years, Presser Hall got a facelift.

After 100 years, Presser Hall got a facelift.

The plan to refinish the historic auditorium’s stage floor has been over 24 years in the making, said Mark Lucas, co-chair of the Bethany College music department and associate professor of music. It all started when alumni Lucas, Phil Merz and Messiah trumpet soloist Andrew Bishop refinished floors while attending Bethany College.

“We all worked for Vern Merz at Great Lanes Resurfacing to help pay for our college, so we’d resurface bowling allies, stages, private homes,” Lucas explained. “So 24 years ago when we worked for him, we thought we should do the Presser Hall stage. We always said we would come back and do it some time. When I started working at Bethany three years ago, I called them up and asked about it.”

Now 24 years after its conception, the plan has come to fruition. The refinishing project, as well as painting risers and deep cleaning the hall’s Reuter pipe organ, was completed Friday.

“The stage needed work a long time ago,” Lucas said. “We can’t say for sure, but we’re pretty sure it’s never been fully resurfaced since it opened in 1929. I think maybe some people put some finish on it, but no one has sanded it down, so you can imagine the wear and tear after that long.”

This project is one of many renovations in Presser Hall in recent years, as it’s the oldest occupied building on campus. A new sound system was installed last March, which allows for more infrastructure improvements to the performing space, like updated lighting and video projection.

Over a dozen volunteers donated time and energy in completing the work this past week.

“We had to replace a lot of boards that had too much wear. It had gotten dark and yellowish. It may even change the sound in the hall a bit,” Lucas explained. “With acoustics, the stage is a harder surface now and the sound will bounce more readily, so it’s possible that it will affect the sound in a positive way.”

The hall’s balcony was renovated in 2008, along with the first floor lobby that leads to administrative offices. The lower and two upper-most floors house the DeWitt Music Center, a piano lab, practice rooms and faculty offices for music, communications, English, theater, philosophy and religion.

To fund the refinishing work, the alumni trio worked alongside a funding campaign started last year at the college to name the stage after long-time director Dr. Elmer Copley.

Copley directed the Bethany Oratorio Society from 1960 to 1988. He conducted the Bethany Choir and founded the music department’s annual holiday concert, “An Hour of Christmas,” known today at “Juletide.” Copley also started periodic European tours and the choir’s debut at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall in 1973.

The campaign surpassed its goal of $100,000 to dedicate the stage, refinish the floor and even start a few scholarships.

“We have plans to dedicate it this fall. We’re not certain when yet, but we have a performance on Sept. 11 and his daughter Rebecca Copley will be singing. We might do it then or at homecoming,” Lucas said. “It’s a great way to kick off the new school year. It’s very heartening to see all the support and help from the community.”