Mementos of McFarland
This evening, May 9, the handmade creations of Chuck and Jan Repnow of Rugby will be featured at the Minot State University Gala Auction at the International Inn in Minot.
A major portion of the money raised will go to scholarships for incoming freshmen at the college.
In 2002 the Repnows began the project, which recycles and refashions the stage curtains, window drapes and divider screen from the former McFarland Auditorium on the university campus.
Chuck and Jan were attending a performance of The Messiah in McFarland in December 2000 when it was announced that the auditorium would soon be closing to be refurbished.
That sparked an idea for Chuck, and he soon was in contact with the plant manager at the college asking him what would become of all the fabric in the curtains and drapes. When he was told it would be discarded, Chuck asked if he could have it. The plant manager said, “Either you are really nuts or really creative because who’d want a bunch of dusty old curtains?”
But Chuck was undeterred and insisted he and Jan had plans for them.
Soon the drapes and curtains were taken down, folded, baled with twine, stacked on pallets, and the Repnows were the proud owners of 1800 pounds of fabric which could only be moved with a forklift. The school stored the pallets until Repnows could haul the fabric back to Rugby, one SUV load at a time.
Their first challenge was to clean the fabric. They snipped small samples of each, and after trying various methods, discovered the moire draperies and the plaid screen fabric had to be dry cleaned, but the velvet stage curtains looked great after washing with baking soda and ammonia.
They then set about to fashion memorabilia, starting with greeting cards. They enlisted the aid of Marilyn Niewoehner, who machine embroidered the MSU crest on the fabric for many of the items. Purses made of the fabric have been crafted and donated by Jan Norsby. Chuck and Jan have fashioned nearly everything else, including matted and framed articles, jewelry boxes, piano runners, desk blotters, hats and hat boxes, stuffed hearts, dolls and padded benches.
“Every year we try to do something new,” Chuck said. They often have people call and ask what they’re bringing for the auction, he added. Bidders with fond memories enjoy having a piece of the old auditorium and like the idea of recycling. “People really relate to that,” Chuck commented.
Because of publicity surrounding the project, Chuck and Jan have become de facto experts, which they find amusing. “We’ve had lots of calls from schools that have closed, wondering what to do with their old drapes,” Chuck said, laughing.
More ideas are coming in the future, according to Chuck. They saved all the chain weights from the bottom of the stage curtains and plan to make three-dimensional modernistic collages using the fabric for a background. And with the leftover strips of fabric they hope to someday weave a rug.
A few years into the project, then State Senator Ken Solberg of Rugby mentioned it on the Senate floor during the legislative session in Bismarck. He emphasized that it was great for recycling, was environmentally friendly, and was raising money for a good cause.
The Associated Press picked up the story, and soon Chuck and Jan were contacted by Martha Stewart’s organization. They wanted more information and suggested the project could be featured on Miss Stewart’s television program or in her magazine. The Repnows were intrigued with the idea but decided not to pursue it because of the time it would consume. “There was lots of paperwork and video work involved,” Chuck said.
The door is still open to work with Martha Stewart in the future, however, and they may do it a few years down the road.
For now, they are concentrating on their creations and hoping that this year’s auction is as successful as those in the past. To date over $25,000 has been raised for the university from the more than 175 items that have been auctioned. The project has had an economic impact on Rugby as well, since they buy their additional craft needs locally.
Jan and Chuck are both MSU graduates. Chuck now serves on the Board of Regents at the school and Jan teaches business education there.
The fundraising Gala at the International Inn starts this evening with the viewing of the items at 5:30 followed by dinner and the auction at 6:45. Recipients of past scholarships work at the event so the Repnows get to meet them, a nice touch they appreciate.
Chuck and Jan plan to continue making commemorative items for their alma mater until there is no fabric left.
“We loved being part of Minot State,” Chuck said of the time when they were students there. During those years both performed on the stage of the old auditorium. “At that time McFarland was the heart of the campus.”
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