November 14, 2012 • 03:06:47 p.m.

Kurtis narrates documentary on Woodstock Opera House


Bill Kurtis (Photo provided)

Bill Kurtis would lend his voice in support of Woodstock any time.

The legendary television journalist and news anchor, known most recently as host of A&E crime and news documentary shows, narrates a new documentary that tells the story of the town, the Woodstock Opera House and a group of women committed to keeping the historic landmark alive.

A free event, the premiere of "The First Fifty Years" takes place at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 15, at the Opera House, 121 Van Buren St. Lisa DiChiera, director of advocacy for Landmarks Illinois (, also will give a presenation on the importance of saving National Historic Landmarks.

The Woodstock Fine Arts Association created the film to celebrate the association's 50th anniversary, the Opera House and the City of Woodstock.

A two-time speaker as part of the association's longtime "Creative Living" lecture series, Kurtis wholeheartedly agreed to be a part of the documentary. Though he stresses all he did was narrate, while Dean Rowe of Front Row Productions directed and was the creative force behind it.

"Woodstock happens to be my favorite little town in Illinois," said Kurtis, who grew up in the small town of Sedan, Kan., and now lives in the Chicago area.

"Anything I could do for the town I wanted to do. I love the Square. I love Groundhog Day. But more than that I love the renovated Opera House."

Kurtis narrated the documentary while standing in the Square at the same time as a speaking engagement. As he worked on the project, people stopped by to visit.

"It was one long conversation," he said. "It was so warm and friendly that I wanted to go down there every day if I lived there."

He said he's also a supporter of the work done by the Fine Arts Association, a group of volunteer women who began the lecture series in the 1960s to draw people to the Opera House, which needed restoration back then.

Now 26 members, the group through the years has convinced speakers such as Martha Stewart, Maya Angelou and Shelly Berman to take part. They sought and earned a grant from the McHenry County Community Foundation to fund the documentary in part.

Kurtis said he has tried to do a similar speaking series in his Kansas hometown, but has found it difficult because of location and lack of facilities.

The Woodstock association has done an admirable job reaching out and attracting people, he said.

"Somebody's got to do that and they are well suited for it," he said.

"These women just poour their passion into it."

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