Provided by Jackie Mollet,
Sr. Director/Theater, Exhibitions and Visitor Services
Saint Louis Science Center
The OMNIMAX® Theater—why do we need one?
Cultural institutions with large format theaters across the country struggle with this question. It is an expensive and risky operation. Many wonder if we should focus our attention elsewhere or get rid of the theater entirely.
On Friday, June 6, 2014, an event took place that completely answered this question for me. The Saint Louis Science Center’s OMNIMAX Theater organized a Remembrance Day in honor of the 70th Anniversary of D-Day.
We started with a small plan to honor WWII veterans (any we could hope to find) with a “thank you” before the D-Day: Normandy 1944 film screenings that day. With the help of several organizations and word of mouth, the event grew into a day we will never forget. Twenty-five World War II Veterans and their families and friends joined us. Many tears were shed as we witnessed special moments over and over again.
Two veterans, Robert Bareford and Howard Pruett, who were deployed together at 6:30am on June 6th, on the same beach, met for the first time in front of the theater.
A group of active military came to take part in the celebration and they agreed to escort the WWII veterans to their seats.
Five veterans, John Grillo, Robert Bareford, Gene Goodrick, Clarence Goldsmith and Charlie Ryan, agreed to share their personal stories of the war with us. (Watch the video of their personal stories here.)
We shared their stories with a noticeably moved audience of more than 300 people. One came to watch his video on the big screen the week before but did not stay to watch the film. He wanted to watch the film together with the other vets.
Boy Scout Troops 353 and 984 served as our color guard. As the boys carried their flags past a group of Battle of the Bulge veterans into the theater to practice, the veterans called themselves to attention, stood up, and saluted as the flags passed in front of them.
All visitors entering the Science Center were greeted by 100, 8-ft. American flags lining the driveway to the parking lot courtesy of Rick Randall and St. Louis Honor Flight.
The Mid-American Chapter of the Military Vehicle Preservation Association brought jeeps and other WWII vehicles to line the entrance to the Science Center.
These organizations helped us reach out to veterans and were on hand to engage our visitors:
- Missouri Gateway Chapter 101st Airborne Division
- Missouri Gateway Chapter Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge
- Missouri Veterans History Project
- The Mission Continues
- U.S. 2nd Ranger Infantry Battalion of St. Louis, Inc.
Many visitors came to Science Center on Friday to say thank you to all who served. Toward the end of the afternoon, as I was standing by Sgt. Ganz from the Battle of Bulge group, a group of boys, probably 8 -10 years old, were listening to the sergeant talk about how he received his Purple Heart. One asked, “So did you get shot?” and he said, “Yes.” He showed them the scars on his hands and pointed to his arm and leg where he got hit. The boy’s eyes got really big. I could tell he was really thinking about this, and then he stuck out his hand to shake Sgt. Ganz’s and said, “Thank you for your service.” This was one of the many highlights of my day.
One of our goals at the Science Center is to be a convener for the community, to be a place where the people come together to learn and share and interact. Those of us who work in cultural institutions often hear that we should consider how to take our institutions from being nice to being necessary. I would say on this day and on many days, our OMNIMAX Theater is necessary.
Reprinted with permission from Jackie Mollet and the Saint Louis Science Center. The Saint Louis Science Center won the GSCA 2014 Award for Best Film Launch by a Theater for its launch of
D-Day: Normandy 1944.