A JOY TO WATCH
On the front cover of the November issue of the 1977 McCall's magazine is a photograph of Walter Cronkite, one of the most trusted newsmen in history. Turning to page 218 of that edition is a reflection on Minneota history.
An article titled "Joy on Sunday" is considered a historical fiction piece written by Sharon Locy, former Minneota Yearbook photographer Julius Locy's daughter. The names in the article are loosely changed, but the facts are cemented in place.
When former Minneota resident Margaret Pennings came across the article, she sent it to Judy Hagen to read.
Although the Joy Theatre in Minneota has been closed since 1963, many residents still recall attending movies and other events in the building that currently houses Rehkamp-Horvath Funeral Home.
"I remember when a funeral home first came in, the joke was that people were dying to get into the Joy Theatre," said Tom Nomeland.
It's rare to find a movie theater in small towns anymore as most succumbed to the advancement of the VHS/DVD age and movie-goers taking a seat in bigger and more modern theaters in bigger cities.
"It was best babysitter around," joked Jon Guttormsson. "All the moms sent their kids to the movies to get them out of her hair."
Medard and Erma Debbaut last owned Joy Theatre after purchasing it from W.H. Evans in October of 1946. Evans had owned the establishment for 12 years prior to that.
"I attended movies there from the time I was 13 years old until I was 18," said Jon Guttormsson. "I think I saw every movie two or three times. They would change the movie twice a week."
Guttormsson didn't always have money to attend so many movies.
"I remember it was 25 cents for the movie and popcorn was 10 cents," he noted. "I think I was the only kid in town with a tab. I owed $3.80 one time and I asked my mom for a loan."
Debbaut had given the theater a major renovation in 1961, then tried to sell it a year later. But no one was interested in running the movie theater. So it was purchased and turned into the Nordquist & Bourgeois Funeral Home.
The last movie shown at the Joy Theatre was "Mysterious Island" on Feb. 26, 1962.
The Opera Hall above The Big Store showed the first silent movies in town in 1905. The first theater building, called the Idle Hour Theatre, opened in January of 1912 on the corner of First and Madison Streets. It was then sold and the name changed to Crescent Theatre in 1915.In the summer of 1919, Patrick Langan had a new theater built downtown where the Baldwin and Wimer Drug Store was built in the late 1880s. That theater, which opened on Jan. 20, 1920 was called "The Rex", the namesake of the first theater owner in town, Rex Krohling.
The Joy Theater was housed in a 34 x 100 brick building that seated 350. The first movie shown was "Daddy Long Legs", starring Mary Pickford. There were two showing on opening night with a full house for each one.
Evans eventually purchased the theater in 1934 and named it the Joy Theatre.
The Debbaut's took over 12 years later and besides showing full-length feature films, they would also show cartoons and "shorts" such as Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, the Little Rascals, the Marx Brothers, and the Bowery Boys. They would also occasionally bring in live traveling stage shows such.
"I remember Erma walking up and town the aisle with a flashlight to make sure everyone was being good," recalls Barb Guttormsson, who attended the theater as a teenager. "The fire hall was next door and Santa Claus would come and give out candy there."
Barb Guttormsson still possesses some tickets from the Joy Theatre showing the cost was 30 cents to view a movie, although the tickets don't include a date.
As Locy wrote in the McCall's article, she would go to the movies at the Joy Theatre on Sunday afternoon and had to drag her little brother along.
"And he was mad," she penned in the article 43 years ago. "He threatened to keep all the ice cream money for himself, and he kept whispering that the rats would bite my legs."
Locy recalled Medard's voice over the microphone announcing the name of the movie.
"Today, in addition to our regular feature -- "Ma and Pa Kettle" -- we will have the following cartoons and selected short subjects: Mr. Magoo, Daffy Duck, the Three Stooges, Robert Benchley, and some beautiful film my wife and our son shot on our trip to ...," Locey wrote. "Groans and boos rose up from the audience. The boys stamped their feet and whistled shrilly."
This went on nearly every Sunday, Locy noted in the McCall's article.
The Debbaut's often held special events in which they showed photos and slides of their many vacation trips at the theater.
Many locals have memorable stories of attending Joy Theater.
"I started going to the movies there when my family moved to Minneota in 1944," said Alice Bot. "I was just a freshman in high school then. I would babysit for 10 cents an hour and save my money to go to the movies. Medard went to school with my dad at St. Leo. I know (Medard) liked to show a lot of Westerns."
"I don't remember how many times I went, but it was quite a few," Nomeland said. "I know I saw movies like Tarzan and the Three Stooges. I remember the theater seemed so big."
"My parents were really strict and they forbid us from going to the movie because they considered it taboo," said David Myrvik. "So I would sneak in. They never did find out."
"We went to town on Saturday nights and us kids would watch The Lone Ranger or a comedy The Three Stooges," said Alan Josephson. "A bag of popcorn cost a nickel."
Although Locy's article in the McCall's magazine had the theater closing due to the death of Medard Debbaut, but he actually died in 2002 at age 92 in Tracy. Erma passed away two years prior to that in Tracy, where the couple moved to from Minneota in 1997.
"I remember on Sunday afternoons all the kids in town went to the movies," said Jon Guttormsson. "You wouldn't believe how many bikes were lined up in front of the building."