Town Hall South kicks off 49th season
You know Jane Pauley from a career on network television that extends all the way back to the ’70s.
Her older sister, Ann, goes back with her all the way to the beginning. And because Ann lives in the Pittsburgh area, it was natural for her to accompany Jane when she spoke at the Town Hall South lecture series a few years ago.
“It was interesting to watch the family dynamic,” Upper St. Clair resident Maureen Ludwig said.
The chairwoman of the Town Hall South board recalled that at the luncheon following the lecture, the hosts offered the Pauleys the centerpiece at their table.
“Ann says, ‘Janie, get the flowers,’” which she dutifully proceeded to do. “Then, as we’re walking to the car, the water of the flowers spilled all over her beautiful suede shoes. And so her sister said, ‘Now, Janie, don’t get my trunk wet!’”
Once a little sister, always a little sister.
“You see the human side, the real side, of a speaker, that they’re just regular folks,” Ludwig observed.
Town Hall South organizers have been making such observations since 1969, when the initial run featured a slate of guests including horror film legend Vincent Price. Going into its 49th season, the series represents a vanishing breed.
“Independent, privately run lecture series are dropping like rocks,” Ludwig said. “There are very few left. And the reason is money. Speakers’ fees are rising exorbitantly, and most independent lecture series that are still in existence have a corporate sponsorship.”
Thanks largely to subscribers who pack the Upper St. Clair High School Theater on five Tuesday mornings each season, Town Hall South has been able to avoid a situation in which an outside entity is selecting the speakers. As such, the board continues to work diligently on scheduling individuals who fit numerous criteria.
“We want somebody who’s dynamic at the lectern,” Ludwig explained.
From there, board members take into account such matters as gender – they strive for a balance of male and female speakers – and of course, price.
“It’s truly a juggling act,” Ludwig said. “We try not to repeat a topic done the year previously. We try to do something very current.”
The process, she said, starts with the legwork of longtime board member Nancy Koch.
“She researches for three months, and she deals with five or six different speakers’ agencies,” Ludwig explained. “What Nancy is so good at is finding up-and-comers, finding that speaker before he or she hits big-time. She’s very good at trends.
“Often, it’s fascinating to us that a year or two after we have them at Town Hall South, ‘a little church lady organization,’ we will then see them at Drue Heinz or Robert Morris,” she said, referring to the high-profile Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures’ Ten Evenings Series and Pittsburgh Speakers Series at Heinz Hall.
Town Hall South, indeed, owes its existence to “church ladies,” two women who approached Westminster Presbyterian Church’s founding pastor, the Rev. John Galbreath, about bringing a cultural event to still-largely rural Upper St. Clair.
Along with keeping the series running, proceeds from subscriptions also go toward philanthropic gifts. According to Ludwig, the amount donated over the years will reach $500,000 by the rapidly approaching 50th season.
In the meantime, Academy Award-winning actress Marlee Matlin kicks off the 2017-18 season on Oct. 3 at the usual venue in Upper St. Clair High School. The doors open at 9:30 a.m. and the speaker usually begins shortly after 10 a.m.
“We’re so grateful to the school district’s willingness to let the building be opened to us during the day, when students are present,” Ludwig said.
For more information, visit www.townhallsouth.org.