O.P.E.R.A. Inc.'s latest fund drive to raise money for the restoration of the historic Ellendale Opera House totaled $73,125, surpassing the "Next Step" fundraising goal of $50,000.

The fund drive began in May and concluded Oct. 15 with a public reception and celebration in the Opera House Lobby & Gallery.

O.P.E.R.A., which stands for Organization of People in Ellendale for Restoration of the Arts – is a nonprofit organization formed in 1992 to save the 112-year-old building from the wrecking ball.

"We're very thankful to all those who pitched in to help us reach our ambitious fund drive goal," said Justin Meidinger, executive director. "The response from our donors was very gratifying and an indication of the growing public support for restoration of the Main Street landmark."

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Last year, the group raised nearly $40,000 to help pay for rebuilding part of the building's north wall. The $200,000 wall reconstruction was completed with a combination of O.P.E.R.A. funds and a U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development loan and grant.

Now the organization is turning its focus to upgrades that will help increase the use of the building by business and community groups.

That work would include upgrading electric service for the first floor of the building; adding a fire detection/alarm system; renovating the storefront space next door to the Opera House Lobby & Gallery; upgrading the rear building entrance to meet ADA requirements; and completing interior work on the remaining unimproved street-level storefronts.

To celebrate the fund drive achievement, the "Willow Creek Folk School" performed from the vacant second-floor auditorium of the opera house. Because of safety code regulations, no audience was permitted in the auditorium, and the program was streamed over the internet and shown "live" on a large screen monitor in the first-floor lobby/gallery where the public reception was held.

Tom Isern, a distinguished professor of history at North Dakota State University, and Suzzanne Kelley, NDSU Press publisher/editor-in-chief, have been performing their weekly Willow Creek program each Friday evening since the pandemic began last year.

Each Willow Creek program includes a new, original ballad devoted to events and thoughts of the day.

The ballad composed by Isern for Oct. 15 was called "I Stand for Stories" and involved readings by Dickey County Leader community correspondent Rose Sell, who writes a weekly column about comings and goings in nearby Guelph, N.D.

Copies of Isern's latest book "Pacing Dakota" were available for purchase at the event with proceeds going to the O.P.E.R.A. fund drive.

To contribute to the opera house renovation fund, mail donations to O.P.E.R.A. Inc., P.O. Box 334, Ellendale, ND 58436, ot donate online at www.ellendaleoperahouse.com. All donations are tax deductible to the extent allowed by law.