Spotlight: Ron McCollum
Interviewed by Christine M. Kendall
Methow resident Ron McCollum, a former Merc Playhouse Board member, was born and raised in Struthers, Ohio. A child of the 1950s his upbringing might easily have been featured in a Norman Rockwell painting in his early days as a paperboy or Boy Scout. He was a young man with goals, one of which was purchasing his first Ham radio set with money earned from his paper route and getting his operator’s license, an interest he continues to enjoy today. (An interest that proved highly useful during the 2014 fires when communication was limited for valley residents due to less than optimum phone service and being without electricity.)
As a teenager Ron loved the bebop days of rock ‘n' roll, sported traditional tan buck shoes and as a high school graduate had his first tailor made suit. He was recruited by the Air Force Academy to play football as a lineman, but in rigorous boot camp training he shed so much weight he was too light for the team. Ron was in the Academy’s fifth graduating class and following graduation went to Chandler A.F.B. in Arizona for pilots training learning to fly a KC 135 or the Boeing 707. He did three tours of duty in Southeast Asia. After leaving the military in 1969, despite a degree in engineering and science, Ron was intrigued by the world of finance and began job hunting in Seattle when he and his first wife Mary decided to settle where she had family (Mary passed in 1986.) Ron was offered a position with Paine Webber Jackson & Curtis where he was a financial advisor for 41 years even following the company’s acquisition in 2000 by UBS Switzerland AG.
Ron and Mary Lou bought a vacation home in Edelweiss in 1989 and were frequent visitors to the Methow Valley making many friends in this area.
Ron’s interest in theatre was sparked by clients in Seattle at PW & J who encouraged him to become a member of the Intiman Theater’s board. The thought of doing so intrigued Ron as an opportunity to mix with a community far different from people he associated with at work or at his church, and he discovered it was fascinating to learn the inner workings of theater. He moved from the theater board to the Foundation Board during a capital campaign at Intiman and was also involved at that time in the search for a new artistic director. He enjoyed working with Intiman’s Managing Director Laura Penn, and they were able to bring Bartlett Sher, considered a wunderkind in theater, to Seattle. As luck would have it, Mary Lou and Ron saw a show Sher directed in New York that was only in preview and were very impressed with it.
Ron said being associated with Intiman and people like Penn and Sher was exciting and a great experience. The Intiman also was winning Tony awards for a regional theatre and it was rewarding to be a part of such highly recognized work.
Mary Lou and Ron moved to the Methow permanently in 2011 remodeling a home on Wolf Creek, and in that year Ron met Julie Wenzel, then Artistic Director of the Merc Playhouse, and she asked Ron to join the Merc Playhouse Board. Given his experience with Intiman Ron was more than happy to do so. As part of the board he met a wide array of people in the Methow Valley involved in theater either on stage or doing the additional technical or stagecraft work necessary in putting on productions. Ron served as the board treasurer and helped guide the budgetary process working with Missi Smith when she became Executive Director. Missi and Ron attended educational seminars on non-profit stewardship and worked on streamlining its financial procedures.
One of the things Ron emphasized was the quality of productions the Merc Playhouse does, and how our community has so many opportunities to be a part of them. There is volunteering to work concessions, serving on the board (which is in need of more board members) or getting involved in shows at the Merc as an actor, stagehand, stage manager, costuming, set design or in the Tech booth handling sound or lighting. He encourages people to consider doing so because it’s a fantastic way to meet people of all ages in our community.
Ron spoke of his enjoyment of the Merc Playhouse Reader's Theatre productions and pointed out they can be less intimidating for those new to theater to be involved in, or those with limited time to be part of a show. Reader's Theater productions don’t require people to memorize lines and they have short rehearsal schedules usually taking place for limited hours in the week prior to opening.
Going forward it’s an exciting time to be involved with the Merc as the board and community members consider strategic plans for the Merc Playhouse’s almost 100 year old structure and the property they own beside it.
Since Ron no longer serves on the Board he has time for many other pursuits: traveling, bicycling, golfing, but the Merc Playhouse and its future is still important to him. He and Mary Lou support the Merc as donors and by attending productions. One show that Ron hasn’t forgotten was Venus in Fur. He fully expects to see more unforgettable live theater on the Merc’s stage.