Head usher Don Laux directs patrons of the F.M. Kirby Center to their seats during a recent performance at the Wilkes-Barre venue.PETE G. WILCOX photos/THE TIMES LEADER
Usher Joan Laux checks patrons’ ticket stubs at the F.M. Kirby Center during a recent performance at the Wilkes-Barre venue.
Ushers at the F.M. Kirby Center, from left, Joan Laux, Don Laux and Florence Stella.
If there’s a show scheduled at the F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts, you know where to find Florence Stella. • She will be wearing a white blouse and black trousers, greeting patrons with a smile and extending an open hand to reach for their ticket stubs to see the number. Then, she will direct them to their seats. • There are some perks to being an usher at the Wilkes-Barre City entertainment venue. For starters, you may just catch a glimpse of a celebrity or two, like Bill Cosby or Clay Aiken. You may even get to watch a show, and there’s plenty to choose from, like the Oscar-winning film “Slumdog Millionaire” or a rare performance by famed folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary. • But perhaps the best part of the stint for the Dallas Township woman is getting out and meeting people, from her fellow ushers to the thousands of patrons who visit the Kirby Center each year.
Stella, 77, has been volunteering at the Kirby Center since 1991 and calls it her “second home.” “I’m always looking up to see familiar faces during the shows,” she said. “It’s interesting to see the people who come in. When someone comes down the aisle, I’m always curious to see if it’s someone I know. You can look up and see someone from your neighborhood or someone you haven’t seen in a long time, and it’s fascinating to find out what their interests are and what types of shows they like.”
There are about 50 or 60 active volunteers at the Kirby Center, according to Drew Taylor, director of operations. Volunteers should sign up for two or three shows a month. Their duties include directing patrons to their seat locations, passing out programs, accepting admission tickets and monitoring the theater for inappropriate behavior and photography restrictions when required by the performers, as well as providing any additional customer service to attendees.
The majority of the volunteers at the Kirby are retirees. “Our volunteers are here because they want to be here,” said Taylor. “They either have a fondness of the Kirby Center because they enjoy the arts or they have many memories of the theatre when it was the Comerford or Paramount. Many have been here since the Kirby opened in 1986 and have developed strong friendships, not only with their fellow volunteers but also with many of our patrons.”
Stella was able to get the autographs of Irish singer Daniel O’Donnell and polka great Jimmy Sturr, and met “All My Children” actor David Canary. She also liked being able to listen to some of the country performers who have graced the Kirby stage over the years.
Stella found solace in reaching out to others when her husband died in 1991 and she lost her job in the garment industry. That’s when she turned to volunteerism. She has served meals at the St. Vincent de Paul Kitchen in Wilkes-Barre, answered telephones during fundraising drives at WVIA’s studios and even played bingo with residents at the Meadows Nursing Center in Dallas.
“Volunteering is something that a lot of people don’t do,” said Stella, who participates in the Retired Senior Volunteer Program. “But I find it very rewarding. I really like to help people in need. This is my life now.”
Another thing this retiree enjoys is taking country line dancing lessons. And true to her nature, Stella doesn’t miss a beat. She incorporates her love of dance with her love of volunteerism performing with her dance group for senior residents at Tiffany Court. She also performs at bazaars during the summer.