Jeff Jardine

Emotions run deep on center's special night

You couldn't have blamed Marie Gallo and Fred Silva if they had stayed on stage and soaked up a few more minutes of bliss. Or maybe an hour of it.

After all, they'd toiled, unabashedly promoted and basically willed the Gallo Center for the Arts to fruition. For more than a decade, they fended off doubts, doubters, detractors and setbacks. They forged ahead raising money, enlisting Stanislaus County as a partner, and refused to fold when the city of Modesto refused to match the county's $15 million contribution.

So when their moment in the spotlight arrived Thursday night, they walked to the middle of the brand-new Mary Stuart Rogers Theater stage and gave the credit to others with a few quick thank-yous.

"Tonight, we're living the dream and celebrating it," Gallo told the audience.

Then they went their seats, joined their respective spouses and settled in to enjoy the night they'd planned for years.

"We just wanted it to start," said Silva, chairman of the Gallo Center board of directors, during the intermission.

And start it did. From the very first drumbeat of the Modesto Symphony Orchestra's first selection -- a powerful sound that resonated throughout the theater -- the Gallo Center became part of Modesto's fabric and future. Clearly, this is someplace special, and it produced a very special night.

"Modesto grew up tonight," said Carol Whiteside, a former mayor and retiring executive director of the Great Valley Center.

Throughout the evening, from the parade of men in tuxedoes and women in gowns to the sheer newness of the place to the performances on stage, it was difficult to forget how long this was in the making and easy to marvel at how beautifully it turned out.

"I'm trying not to cry," said Patty Hill Thomas, the county's chief operations officer, who has overseen virtually every facet of the construction.

It went beyond the symphony and headliner Patti LuPone. It went beyond the grandeur of the party outside -- the dinner, the big band and the dancing. It went beyond the spotlights and the Jumbotron a few blocks away.

It represented a vision, Silva said.

"I'd been to a number of other (show) places, so I had a pretty good idea of what it was going to be like," he said. "But this is even better that I thought."

The reality, though, is that opening nights are like weddings. They're a great party with lots of feel-good joy and love. Then the wedding's over and the marriage begins in earnest.

Marie Gallo, Silva and everyone else involved in its creation knows the success of the Gallo Center won't ride on opening night, but on the long-term impact it has on the community.

It will be a success if people -- particularly children -- who have never been to a play or a show are exposed to the arts. It will be success if valley residents can enjoy performances here that they'd otherwise would have to go to San Francisco or a larger city to see.

No single night will gauge the Gallo Center's importance or role in the city's future. It will be tested by time.

But on this night, when everything finally was in place and the moment had arrived, emotions ran deep. As they stood before the audience in the house they helped build, Marie Gallo and Fred Silva seemed a bit overcome at times. So they kept it short. They simply wanted the same thing as the rest of us:

The show to go on.

That its two primary movers and shakers from the private sector were moved and perhaps a bit shaken by the moment goes to the magnitude of the dream itself.

Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at jjardine@modbee.com or 578-2383.

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