Features, Print October 2, 2019

First Class: Greeley Arts Legacy’s Hall Of Fame

by Dan England

There are no controversial names in the Greeley Arts Legacy’s inaugural Hall Of Fame class, but you might have a hard time finding people on the street who would know why Helen Langworthy was inducted.

They would probably have heard her name, given that the University of Northern Colorado named its main theater performance venue after her. But there aren’t many, if any, left alive who knew her, said Noel Johnston, an Arts Legacy Board member. 

Langworthy has been dead for more than 30 years and had no children or spouse. Board members can’t find any living relatives. Langworthy may even be embarrassed at the honor: She allegedly didn’t want a memorial service of any kind at her death.

Dr. Helen Langworthy (and the UNC Theater which bears her name) is among the first class inducted in the Greeley Arts Legacy.

But she, like the rest of the six who make up the inaugural class, was a stalwart of Greeley’s arts community. She started the Little Theater of the Rockies, now in its 80th year, and helped make UNC’s theater program one of the most well-regarded in the country. She was brought in as a one-year replacement by President George Frasier and stayed more than 30 years, retiring in 1965. 

But Langworthy is not the oldest in the inaugural class. That distinction belongs to the Greeley Philharmonic Orchestra (the oldest continuously operating orchestra west of the Mississippi) but Langworthy was perhaps the one in the most danger of being left behind. 

The over 100-year-old Greeley Philharmonic Orchestra (seen here in 1915) is the sole institution to be inducted into the Arts Legacy’s first Hall Of Fame this year.

“We do not want to forget what happened,” said Ed Rogers, chairman of the Arts Legacy board as well as the Greeley Arts Commission. “It’s easy to select what we know, but we also want to go back and make sure our past is remembered.”

The Arts Legacy board did just that, honoring Ruth Savig, a visual artist, teacher, actor and musician for decades in Greeley who passed away last year, as well as Langworthy and the Philharmonic. But it also honored more modern shoo-ins such as Howard Skinner, who also has a building named after him at UNC for his work there, who founded the Greeley Chorale and directed the Philharmonic for decades. Skinner also fulfilled another of the board’s requirements, though this one was less official. “We did want a couple people who were still alive, to be honest,” Johnston said and laughed. 

A rare portrait of Arts Legacy inductee Ruth Savig, a prolific scenic artist, mixed-media guru, photographer, and more for decades in Greeley, by a former apprentice Danny Griego

The Arts Legacy board formed in 2017 to honor those who made significant and lasting contributions to the arts in Greeley. The 10-person board chose the first class after a selection committee narrowed down the 32 nominations from the public to 12 names. 

The board also chose two who weren’t artists themselves but contributed greatly to the scene: longtime philanthropist Bob Tointon and Jil Rosentrater. Rosentrater started such events as the Greeley Arts Picnic and the Cinco de Mayo Festival as director of cultural affairs, as well as having pushed for the construction of the Union Colony Civic Center in the 1980’s.

Jil Rosentrater was one of the primary driving forces behind the creation of the Union Colony Civic Center and many more of Greeley’s Arts fixtures and institutions.

The UCCC, in fact, will host the the induction ceremony on Friday, October 4in an event that’s free and open to the public. The UCCC will also eventually have an outdoor walkway honoring the class as part of some planned renovations of the building.

The board hopes the ceremony draws some attention and attracts even more ideas for who to honor next year, nominations for the 2020 class opening in later this month.

Rogers said he was pleased with the number of nominations this year, as they produced an excellent inaugural class. But he wants more names from the public next year, including those who may not be as well-remembered as time passes. 

“We do not want this to be an elitist type of thing. We will throw biases out the window, Rogers said. “We will look at anything,” he continued, supporting the ideal that famous or humble, today’s Greeley deserves to know the individuals responsible for the breadth of arts history in its legacy.

The Inaugural Greeley Arts Legacy Hall Of Fame induction ceremony is Friday, October 4, in Downtown Greeley. Starting at 6:30pm in the Two Rivers Lounge of the Union Colony Civic Center, it continues at 7pm in the Hensel-Phelps theater. Tickets are free but must be obtained from the UCCC box office at (970) 356-5000, by clicking this link or heading to greeleyartslegacy.org