The Cresco Theatre and Opera House is so much more than a hometown theater.
The historic community landmark has been an anchor for entertainment and gathering – and the heart of memories and laughter – for this Northeast Iowa community since its opening in 1914. Wendy Lickteig fosters those moments and builds community through her role as the Cresco Theatre and Opera House manager.
After growing up in a suburb of Pittsburgh, then living near Chicago, and finally Rockford, Illinois, the move to Cresco in 2001 for a job as Youth Director at Immanuel Lutheran Church was definitely a new experience for Wendy. Adjusting to small-town life took some time, she says, but she quickly discovered the strength that lies in a tight-knit community, and fell in love with Cresco. She also met and fell in love with her husband, Dean, and they got married in 2004. And in 2014, when she began her job as Theatre and Opera House manager, she rediscovered her love of theater.
“Theater is something I have always been passionate about,” Wendy says. “When I was younger, my theater coach got us involved in different aspects, from sets to costumes to acting, and it turned into something I love.”
So, it’s especially fun for Wendy when the Cresco Theatre and Opera House has live theater on stage. But that’s not all they do. The Theatre hosts everything from big-screen movies to live music to fun tours around the building, plus family reunions and community events (and it allegedly hosts a ghost or two as well).
“There is nothing like the magic of watching a person walk through the theater for the first time,” Wendy says.
Over the years, many have walked through the historic building. “The theater holds a lot of memories for a lot of people,” Wendy says. “I hear it from all generations, things like, ‘I remember when we came in when I was a little kid, and we did this and that.’ I have someone coming in whose parents were in plays here.” Wendy even receives old playbills from the 50s and 60s that she’s planning to showcase in the Theatre.
Pulling history and current events together is just one of the many things Wendy does as the Theatre and Opera House manager.
“I had no idea what I was getting myself into,” Wendy says with a laugh. From hiring staff to planning events to writing grants to raise money for the betterment of the Theatre and its building, Wendy makes sure everything runs smoothly.
Of course, she gets help from the community.
“I work hand in hand with the Chamber of Commerce,” Wendy says. “They help with grant writing, connect me with people that want tours and want to come to the theater. We do a lot together with family fun nights. I can’t do what I do without them.”
Together with the Chamber of Commerce and the Cresco Theatre Commission, Wendy was able to secure grants to update the theater’s iconic neon marquee sign and its interior to allow for a more comfortable experience for its guests.
The Theatre also recently received exciting news: They were awarded one of five Community Catalyst Theater Remediation Grants from the State of Iowa for $100,000. They also received a Howard County Community Foundation Grant of $15,000.
With these grant funds, the city council and Theatre Commission are looking into the feasibility of building a new scene shop, with the hope of starting the project soon. The original scene shop was structurally unsound and had to be demolished in 2020.
“You know, as a 109-year-old building, it definitely has its quirks that make it unique,” Wendy says. “It’s quite the undertaking, but there’s no other place I’d rather be.”
Just as the city supports its projects as much as possible, the theater does its best to support other local businesses. When Wendy plans an event, specifically if tourists are coming to the theater, she makes sure to point out local restaurants and shops around Cresco.
“We are only as strong as our neighbors,” says Wendy. “Our theater is so special because it is not just Cresco’s theater, it is everybody’s theater.”
No matter where you are from, the Theatre and the support of the Cresco community can make you feel as though you are home.
“It took me a while to find my place here,” Wendy says. “Because I was born a city girl. But Cresco really wants to be the best it can be. From the people that were born and bred here, to the people that have made it their adopted home, like myself, they want to stand up for themselves, they want to support each other.”