Theaters fill closets with Lon Morris' cast-offs

JACKSONVILLE (TYLER MORNING TELEGRAPH) - Jacksonville students will carry on the theater heritage left by Lon Morris College.

The 168-year-old junior college, which filed bankruptcy in July, has gifted theater items to Jacksonville High School and Jacksonville College.

Shirley Grote, theater arts teacher at the high school, said people in town held out hope that the school would make it, but once it closed, she asked whether anything would be done to the contents of the theater building.

Items, such as costumes, props, shoes and hats, were later offered to the high school and Mary Lewis, chairwoman of the Fine Arts Department at Jacksonville College, Mrs. Grote said.

Mrs. Grote walked away with racks of costumes, wigs, more than 100 hats and more than 100 shoes.

"It's really been a wonderfully generous offer. I'm a Lon Morris graduate, so many costumes were special to me," she said.

That's partly because she remembers Jewel Earle, who served as a costumer at Lon Morris for decades.

Mrs. Grote said Mrs. Earle made everything and taught others how to sew.

"She dedicated her adult life to teaching costuming at Lon Morris," she said. "All of her costumes are just beautiful and one-of-a-kind."

Now, she said her theater students will have an opportunity they never would have had because the high school wouldn't have been able to purchase these costumes.

"Really it's a wonderful opportunity because these costumes will go on stage again. They'll live in other shows," she said.

Additionally, Mrs. Grote said it's a way to honor Mrs. Earle, and her students spent a lot of time sorting through the items, which gave them a chance to identify costumes and what era they're from. Jacksonville High School plans to use the costumes within the next season.

"I did meet my husband in the theater building, so I'm incredibly sentimental about the building. I'm thrilled to have these costumes here," Mrs. Grote said.
Jacksonville College theater director Mary Lewis said she too was pleased that her school received a gift. Jacksonville College received period costumes, hats and hand props from Lon Morris.

"We were just really excited and thrilled to get them. They're going to make a wonderful addition," Ms. Lewis said. In fact, some of the items were used earlier this month in the college's production of "Gaslight."

Ms. Lewis said Jacksonville College also loaned some of the period costumes to the Lake Country Playhouse in Mineola, and some costumes will be used during Jacksonville's Tour of Homes next month.

"My students were just ecstatic. I took six students with me (to get the Lon Morris items). They were just so thrilled the doors were opened to us to be able to get these things," she said.

These gifts come as Lon Morris prepares to auction off its core facilities.

The auction is scheduled for 11 a.m. Dec. 13 in Dallas, according to a news release sent Tuesday.

The auction will be conducted using two categories — one for core assets such as dorms, classroom facilities, fields, a chapel, the administration building and a library, and another for noncore assets, primarily single-family residential properties around the college.

As far as the rodeo arena, which the city of Jacksonville deeded to Lon Morris in 2009, the school has agreed it will not sell the property without the city's consent.

"We're delighted to have the auction plans finalized. (The auctioneer) AmeriBid will be providing prospective bidders with detailed information about the school and its extensive campus," Lon Morris Chief Restructuring Officer Dawn Ragan said in a statement.

AmeriBid spokesman Carl Carter has said the campus would be attractive to various entities and "anybody with a need for a campus or those specific kinds of facilities."

"Now it's a matter of accurately explaining the property and showing it and giving prospective buyers every chance they can to see what the different facilities have to offer them and how they fit into the needs they may have ..." he said Tuesday. "One thing that's going to be interesting is what it will mean for the future of the community as far as an economic asset."

The auction is among the latest issues for Lon Morris.

The financially strapped institution filed a voluntary chapter 11 bankruptcy petition in July after bleeding millions of dollars since at least the 2007-08 school year, when college representatives say the school embarked on a costly plan to grow enrollment.

In August, the college learned it would lose federal student aid and subsequently decided to suspend the fall semester. Lon Morris Attorney Hugh Ray III has said that changed the nature of the case, which went from selling an operating facility to instead auctioning its assets as real estate.

About 100 students were expected to attend Lon Morris this fall, and now other East Texas community colleges have stepped in to help accommodate them.

Individuals seeking additional information about the auction may visit or call 877-895-7077.


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