Surprise gift helps ballet hit mark

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 11, 2011

Meryane Murphy, Chris Mohon, Earl Johnson and Kathy McMillan.

Tuesday, members of the Andalusia Ballet Association’s board of directors got quite a surprise.

Meeting at the Church Street School, which will become home to the ballet in September, the board was discussing its half-million-dollar commitment to the City of Andalusia, with which it partnered for the renovation of the historic school as a cultural arts center.

“Of that, we’ve paid $453,640 to the city,” board president Kathy McMillan said.

Nonchalantly, board member Roy Mohon spoke.

“Gitty-Up-And-Go will write a check for the balance tomorrow,” he said.

When the impact of his comment fully registered with those present, the room it erupted in applause.

Mohon shrugged.

“I like to pay off debt,” he smiled.

Wednesday, he made good on the promise, and his son, Chris Mohon, along with McMillan and ballet founder Meryane Murphy, presented a check to Mayor Earl Johnson.

“The response of donors for this important project has been most gratifying and validates my belief that the citizens of Andalusia understand and appreciate the value of the arts in our community and the importance of salvaging and putting to use the architectural icons of our city,” Johnson said. “My congratulations go out to The Andalusia Ballet Foundation for their efforts and success and my sincere appreciation to their donors. We look forward the completion of this project in the near future and, quiet literally, the pitter patter of little feet in the halls of Ole Church Street once more.”

Chris Mohon said the family’s interest in the ballet is partially because of their love of their late grandmother and great-grandmother, Joanna Richardella, who died last September. Known as “Little Grandmother,” Richardella emigrated from Belgium, where she studied ballet.

Mohon recalled that she loved all kinds of dances, and enjoyed dragging his father onto the dance floor.

While the surprise gift was a boon for the Andalusia Ballet Association, both McMillan and Murphy said the board’s fundraising tasks are not over. The $500,000 commitment to the city represents the contracted construction costs, but does not include furnishings, cabinetwork, and the operation of the facility.

“We still have to outfit the building as a dance studio,” Murphy said. “We still have to pay for sound systems, barres, mirrors, security systems and cabinet work.”

Additionally, she said, part of the dream of moving to a larger facility was to have the space to offer outreach classes to the community, partnering with schools and pre-schools, and adding more adult classes. This fall, the ballet expects to have classes for adult pilates, yoga and dancercise, Murphy said.