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McKendree draws big names in The Hett’s first decade

    LEBANON — Hundreds of stellar names have appeared in the Russel E. and Fern M. Hettenhausen Center for the Arts, during the 10 years of its existence.
    The McKendree University landmark is today recognized as a premier venue for dance, theater, music and culture — a hub of community life.
    Director Peter Palermo was brought in even before the performing arts building was completed in 2006, to help shape the focus of what is fondly dubbed, “The Hett.”
    “This facility is in much demand on campus,” Palermo said. “There is something going on nearly every day and nearly every hour.”
    It is up to Palermo to schedule speakers, performers, school groups and community members. The facility, which houses all the campus music programs, relies on a staff of about four employees and 20 student workers — plus the ongoing good will of donors, sponsors and volunteers. Tech Manager Doug Magnussen has also been there since the beginning.
    Well-known names have appeared at The Hett, among them musician Doc Severinsen, famed zookeeper Jack Hanna, reporter Carl Bernstein, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, environmental activist Robert Kennedy Jr., Mary Cheney (Dick Cheney’s daughter), and Hans Blix, the nuclear arms negotiator.
    “It’s hard with a 500-seat hall to get a lot of the household names so we get a little creative. But almost all of our shows sell out,” Palermo said.
    An estimated 200,000 visitors, 1,000 performers and 200 “McKendree Presents” acts and distinguished speakers have taken place, along with music concerts, theater productions, dance recitals, children’s theater performances, town hall meetings, film showings, award presentations and university events.
    The Hett celebrated its 10th anniversary on Sept. 23 with an evening of all-star entertainment by soprano Christine Brewer, The Peter Martin Quintet featuring clarinetist Anat Cohen, vocalist Brian Owens, and MADCO Dance.
    Performances have come a long way since the days when McKendree offered little more than a banquet hall, a gymnasium and a chapel on campus to serve artists, Palermo said.
    Fern Hettenhausen, who was not an alumni but attended campus events, was looking for a way to memorialize her husband when she approached school officials with the idea of contributing toward a permanent venue. She donated nearly half of the money needed for the $12 million project, which opened in November 2006. She died in 2011, leaving a lasting legacy.
    Palermo, who has been in show business his entire adult life but on the production side, is already planning for upcoming events. Just ahead is a band from Toronto called Classic Albums Live, which plays albums start to finished and will be doing “Led Zeppelin II,” on Feb. 2.
    Also planned are appearances by “Eat, Pray, Love” author Elizabeth Gilbert and Parsons Dance from New York.
    Palermo is now working on performers he hopes to lure for the 12th season, which starts in the fall.

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