79 and Pushing The City’s Future

Written by: Hilary Decent, for the Naperville Sun

Read the original article.

At the age of 79, most women would be happy to sit reminiscing about the past as they rocked on their porch. But not Bev Patterson Frier. After retiring from a successful business selling pianos and organs, she hasn’t let the grass grow under her feet.

Bev still flies her own plane and is spearheading an ambitious campaign to see a performing arts theater built in Naperville. She has the energy of someone not half, but quarter her age, and is certainly not going down without a fight.

“This town has been so good to me. I believe you have to give back in life, so this is payback time,” she said. “It’s like washing a spot on the wall. You’ve got to keep going because it’s right.”

Bev’s life focus has been getting children involved in the arts. She’s an emeritus board member of Interlochen, the arts and music school in Michigan, and started her working life as a piano teacher. But when her husband died of cancer at just 39 years old, she had to raise her two teenage children by herself.

“I had to get out of my house, and Dutch Beidleman offered us his old apartment when he built his funeral home,” she recalled. “He helped me to start my own business. I knew nothing about how to do it, of course, but with his help, I opened up a 700-square-feet store right near The Naperville Sun’s old offices in downtown Naperville.

“Harold White, the editor, taught me how to advertise. Some of the local businessmen were real Naperville old-timers, and they looked after me. I’m so grateful to Naperville.”

Bev Patterson Pianos and Organs grew from one small store to a larger one where Jimmy’s Grill stands now. She also opened other stores in Elgin and at the Woodfield and Fox Valley shopping centers as they were developed.

As friends with White and his wife, Eva, he would take her flying in his plane, persuading her to learn to fly herself. She met her second husband, Bill, during this time, and the two of them not only learned together, but gained their pilots’ licenses on the same day. They’ll be celebrating Bill’s 90th birthday this summer.

Bev began her campaign to build a theater in Naperville 12 years ago. As support grew, she formed a not-for-profit group, Omnia, to raise money for feasibility studies, and on Saturday, their reports and feedback from the community will be handed over to the city for consideration.

The development, which has been profiled in The Sun, would be on land around Fifth Avenue Station. In addition to a 2,700-seat performing arts theater, it would include parking and housing, the revenue from which would pay for the development. The city already has been considering plans to use the land in its Fifth Avenue study. Bev’s plan is apart from that.

“In 100 years’ time, what do we want our legacy to be?” Bev asked. “Parking decks on the surface, or a beautiful theater with parking underground? This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Bev believes you can never go back, and Naperville has to look to the future.

“I want to keep the small-town feel we have, but we won’t be able to do that unless we are a walking community,” she said. “Downtown Naperville is constantly evolving. You can’t put toothpaste back in the tube. We’re a city. We enjoy its quaintness, but to do nothing is to go backwards.

“We must keep reinventing ourselves. To have a facility like this is something nobody else is going to have. We can’t live in the past. We have to think about what our town will be like in the future.”

How would she feel if the city didn’t back the proposal?

“I can’t quit this project,” she said. “There are too many people who want this. The naysayers just don’t have all the facts.”

Would you like to see a theater in Naperville? Bev needs your feedback. Leave a message at www.omniaarts.org by Friday.

Hilary Decent would like to hear your stories about great women in the community. E-mail her at hilarydecent@yahoo.co.uk.

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