Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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February 22, 2014

Dream come to life

Mathena looks back on creation of performing arts theater

PRINCETON — After years of travel, research and fundraising, Charlie Mathena’s dream of not only a theatre, but also a special event facility in Mercer County continues to blossom.

Mathena, of Princeton, has lived in southern West Virginia his whole life.

“I was born in Princeton, but raised in Welch,” Mathena said.

Mathena graduated from Welch High School and then continued his education, graduating from Bluefield State College and Cincinnati College of Mortuary Science.

Mathena is now the general manager at the Memorial Funeral Directory in Princeton.

“I started at the funeral home in 1966, been here 48 years,” Mathena said.

Mathena says he is married to the love of his life, Marquetta Krupey, and they had one son, Chuck Mathena.

After the death of their son, Mathena and his wife set up a foundation that focused on giving scholarships to Princeton Senior High School students.

“We believe in children and the importance of an education,” Mathena said.

“I don’t know whether you would say I had a dream or vision, but we knew we wanted to do something more for the community,” Mathena said.

While Mathena and his wife continued to raise money for scholarships, they began traveling around the country to look at different kinds of theaters and gather ideas for what would one day become the Chuck Mathena Center.

“Our son was gifted with a beautiful voice and I remember when the school would put on a production of any kind. The kids would have to perform in the gym or cafeteria, which did not allow them to get the opportunity of being in a theatre with a stage and acoustics,” Mathena said.

Mathena began to look at what it would take for a performing arts theatre and a multifunction facility to be built in Mercer County.

“We continued to travel and research and finally began putting the pieces together in 1994 and 1995,” he said.

A theatre on its own would not make it. It was going to have to be a multifunctional facility where other events could be held, Mathena said.

With the help of architects Ted and Todd Boggess, a committee was formed to raise money to help build the facility.

“It wasn’t all easy. It took a long time, sometimes we were on the mountain and sometimes we were in the valley,” Mathena said.

In 2004, with the services of Pat Stinson and Mike Neal who were hired to be the general contractor and project manager, and the help of Ted and Todd Boggess, the project took one giant step, Mathena said.

“We finally started building. It took us two and a half years to build, although we had many setbacks, we were able to prevail because of many wonderful people,” he said. “It was truly the generosity of people in this area and the abilities our team was able to put together.”

The project raised nearly $10 million, but is still accepting donations for the $4 million indebtedness that is still owed on the building, Mathena said.

“This is not just about Princeton,” he said. “Number one, we see it as a tool for the future recruitment of professionals, while offering arts and culture to people in our county. Secondly, and most importantly to me, is it gives the opportunity to young people of all ages and walks of life to be able to stand on the stage and share their talents and hard work at a facility that reflects such great acoustics regardless of skill level. Number three, this building is part of the economic development for our area, generating income for the state and county. Last but not least, it exposes all of us to an opportunity to see, hear and witness shows and concerts that we would otherwise have to drive hundreds of miles to see. Instead of driving to Charlotte to see a show and spending money on food, gas and hotels, people can come to the Chuck Mathena Center, see a wonderful show and be home in 15 minutes.”

“The Chuck Mathena Center will go on long after my wife and I are gone”, Mathena said. “We have laid in bed at night pondering if it was worth it, our biggest worry is the indebtedness. As proud as we are of the facility, we are striving daily to get people from all over to come see the shows and concerts we offer, we just haven’t been able to crack that yet.”

Shows coming up at the Chuck Mathena Center will include Driving Miss Daisy, Rhonda Vincent and the Buddy Holly Story.

— Contact Anne Elgin at aelgin@bdtonline.com

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