The Roanoker - November/December 2017 - 112
Above, from left:
John and Gayle Hillert,
John Hillert speaks
to a tour during the
Masonic Theatre's grand
reopening, John Hillert
prior to Masonic Theatre
Any man who would bring those two books as resources
had to be good."
Highlands' attorney Meade Snyder remembers the
day John Hillert caught him on the street early in 2009,
asking for his help in exploring Masonic restoration.
"I passed by that theatre two or three times every
day...I guess I'd gotten used to seeing it sitting empty,"
Snyder says. "But John had a vision. Not all visions are
worth pursuing-this one surely was."
The nonprofit Historic Masonic Theatre Foundation
was formed in June, 2009. Architects drew up plans,
and contractors made bids. The resulting fundraising
picture was daunting: between $5 and $6 million would
be needed to restore the Theatre with historical accuracy
So Hillert and his foundation members hit the streets.
"They basically took money from whoever would give
it," Gayle says.
John was adamant that construction would not begin
until all the money was in place. It took six years to raise
the needed millions. Six years of writing grants, appealing to individuals and businesses, and applying for tax
credits. That's a lot of dragons to slay. That's a long time
to maintain a dream.
With $5 million in hand, the foundation officially
announced the closing of the Masonic Theatre for renovation in March of 2015, the Grand Reopening gala set
for July 1-3, 2016.
Most days, John Hillert was on site as Thor Construction from Roanoke and local sub-contractors went
112 | NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2017
to work restoring the Historic Masonic to its former
glory. During the 15 months of construction, you'd be
more likely to find John pushing a broom or running
errands than supervising from a distance. His famous
smile welcomed curious visitors and defused the inevitable setbacks in what ended up being a $6.7 million
Of course there were disappointments. Delays. Necessary pauses and repositioning. But Hillert never wavered.
That's how it is for someone who dreams big. There's
no going back in the face of difficulties and setbacks.
"You just suck it up, and do it," John said. "I'm getting
it wrong as often as I'm getting it right. But I'm going
to keep trying."
Jason on his quest for the Golden Fleece had nothing
on John Hillert. The Historic Masonic Theatre opened
on schedule, and John was there to see it, standing characteristically to the side as music and movies played late
into the night and the Alleghany Highlands celebrated.
Theatre Executive Director Jeff Stern had his doubts
about taking on the opening of the Masonic in the Alleghany Highlands.
"From a demographic standpoint, this theatre project
wasn't one that seemed particularly optimistic," Stern
said. "Arts managers look at what they need to do to
keep the place alive. To successfully run a theatre in
the black, you need to go far enough to capture seven
to eight times the population of the town or city your
theatre is in. I'd opened another theatre, and my experience was one of going in a twenty-mile radius. Here?