By Denise Richardson Staff Writer
The Daily Star
---- — The theater at the Foothills Performing Arts and Civic Center has a name: The Bettiol Theater.
About 115 people gathered in the Foothills atrium for a ceremony Sunday afternoon to dedicate the theater and to celebrate the support of the Bettiol family.
“We thank you so much,” Carol Blazina, president of the Foothills board, said in comments directed toward Eugene Bettiol Sr. and his wife, Elizabeth, who were in front-row seats at the event.
A plaque beside the main entry door to the theater reads: Dedicated to the Bettiol Family, Eugene Sr. and Elizabeth Bettiol, Eugene Jr. Bettiol and Family, Jan Laytham and Family, Jaci Bettiol and Family, for their vision and commitment to the Foothills PAC’s mission, 2013.
The unveiling of the theater’s name and the ceremony were a well-guarded secret kept from Bettiol Sr., a local businessman, a long-time supporter of Foothills and an emeritus board member.
Eugene Bettiol Sr. addressed the gathering, saying “this is unwarranted” and thanking the board for the recognition.
“I didn’t have an inkling as to what was going on,” he said. “You surprised me. … thank you.”
The event, about an hour long, included speeches by politicians, Foothills leaders and Bettiol family members. Tributes were made in words and songs, with mentions of the family’s generations-long love of music. Guests included Foothills supporters and Bettiol relatives and friends.
The ceremony was bittersweet, with applause for the Bettiols and the success of Foothills tempered by references to family challenges, including the 2003 death of Eugene Bettiol Jr. at age 47 after a battle with cancer.
On Sunday, Elizabeth “Betty” Bettiol also expressed gratitude for honors presented by Foothills.
After Eugene Jr.’s death, she said, she wrote her obituary during training to become a hospice volunteer. Through that exercise, she learned that the only thing she wanted was “to love and be loved,” she said, and her “small part in making Foothills a reality” was “all because of you.”
Speakers alluded several times to early days when Foothills was an idea discussed by Peter Macris, Bill Campbell, Arnie Drogen and the father and son Bettiols.
The Foothills Performing Arts and Civic Center today includes a theater, a production center and the glass-enclosed atrium, and the facility has been used for a range of entertainment, receptions, civic and community events and other activities.
The multi-use facility on Market Street in downtown Oneonta is on the site of the former West-Nesbitt feed mill.
The center had its grand opening in 2005, according to the Foothills website. Construction began in May 2008 for the main 624-seat theater, the atrium and scene shop.
More than $6 million of state money have funded the project, state Sen. James Seward, R-Milford, said in his remarks Sunday.
“It is so appropriate that we dedicate this theater in the name of the Bettiol family,” Seward said. “It is an occasion to say `thank you.’”
Blazina said work on finishing details, specifically acoustic improvements, continues at the theater.
Efforts were made many times to recognize the work of Bettiol Sr., Blazina said, but he refused formal acknowledgment.
“He’s too humble,” Blazina said.
Organizers told Bettiol that Sunday’s event was to focus on development of the facility’s patio, she said, and some potential donors might attend. But word that Bettiol’s granddaughter Carleigh would be singing, was the clincher for his attendance, Blazina said.
Other speakers Sunday included Oneonta Mayor Dick Miller, U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson (R-Kinderhook), and businessman Arnie Drogen, a Foothills board vice president.
Drogen said he remembered when Eugene Bettiol Jr. called with an invitation from him and his father to be involved in the creation of a performing arts center in Oneonta.
“I have been so inspired over the years to see vision at work,” Drogen said. The vision of “love and support” was for the Oneonta community, the region and its economy and children, he said.
Jaci Bettiol, daughter of Eugene Bettiol Sr., narrated a slide show about the family. Referring to her father as “Poppy,” she said he doesn’t like recognition for accomplishments without acknowledgment of his family.
“Our Poppy is happiest when he is in the presence of family,” she said. “Your family celebrates your accomplishments. … We celebrate you.”
Jaci Bettiol said her brother, Eugene Jr., also was committed to family and community and was “in our hearts” Sunday. In a recording, Carleigh Bettiol sang “A Time for Love” as photographs of her father, Eugene Jr., with family members appeared.
John Thompson, a family friend from Oneonta, sang “Storms Never Last” at the request of Elizabeth Bettiol. Through the storms in their lives, the family “kept giving back to the community,” he said, and recognizing their contributions was overdue.
“It’s about time,” he said.