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Gala and auction added $400K to arts school fund

June 25, 2009|By MARLO BARNHART and ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN -- When Vincent Groh unexpectedly contributed $250,000 Saturday night to help the arts school bearing his late wife's name, the Hagerstown attorney and philanthropist received a standing ovation.

"I was surprised and pleased," Groh said Thursday.

Groh, who previously donated the downtown Hagerstown building that will house the Barbara Ingram School for the Arts, said he got caught up in students' enthusiasm at Saturday's gala and auction.

During the auction at The Maryland Theatre, about 100 students cheered heartily from the balcony, creating a lively atmosphere as 10 butterfly statues were sold.

Between the butterfly auction and a gala at the school on Saturday, about $100,000 was raised, said Dale Bannon, Washington County Public Schools' director of system development.

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Groh's son-in-law and daughter, Brendan and Katie Fitzsimmons, donated an additional $50,000, for a total of $400,000 raised Saturday.

The money will to go a foundation that supports programs for the school.

Bannon wrote in an e-mail close to $700,000 has been raised for the foundation, including pledged donations and Saturday's fundraiser.

"We continue to raise in hopes of reaching at least $1 million before the school opens in August," Bannon wrote. "Naming rights of $5 million are available in the building and it is our hope to raise that amount over the next few years."

"The Barbara Ingram School for the Arts Foundation is extremely pleased to learn of Mr. Groh's and the Fitzsimmons' generous pledge of support," Bannon wrote in a separate e-mail.

The school is housed in the former Henry's Theater and Elks Lodge in the first block of South Potomac Street. Renovations began in late 2007.

When crews began work on the century-old building, it was three stories, but a fourth was added.

The building also includes a basement, the site of the school's black-box theater. The theater, which is about 1,600 square feet, will have capacity for about 140 people, but principal Michael Thorsen has said he believes the maximum allowed will be 125.

"The third-floor ballroom has been restored," Groh said. Original features of the room were saved and replaced, keeping the room's beauty intact.

"I'm very pleased with how things are going," Groh said.

The school will offer certificate programs in dance, instrumental music, vocal music, theater and visual arts.

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