Generous Gift Secures Naming Rights For New Theater!

Generous gift secures naming rights for new theater

Sitting down to talk about the gift are, from left: Ben Ratkowski, Lakeshore Players Artistic Director; Kari Bullion, president of Children’s Performing Arts; Sharon Hanifl-Lee, CPA board member and foundation director; Rob Thomas, Lakeshore Players Managing Director.

Debra Neutkens | Press Publications

WHITE BEAR LAKE — Lakeshore Players Theatre will have a new moniker on its soon-to-be-constructed performing arts center.

A $2.75 million gift from a Chicago-based foundation has secured naming rights to the new theater planned for the city’s Arts District. The marquee will display the name “Hanifl Performing Arts Center” with “Home of Lakeshore Players Theatre and Children’s Performing Arts” in smaller letters underneath.

Paul Hanifl, a vice president of business development for a Chicago health care manufacturing company, and his wife, Suzanne Hanifl, started the foundation about 20 years ago. Their daughter, Sharon Hanifl-Lee, is a Hugo resident and board member of the Children’s Performing Arts Center (CPA), a nonprofit currently based in Forest Lake.

The name may ring a bell for area residents who have attended youth soccer and lacrosse games at Hanifl Fields in Hugo. The park was named for the family after the foundation awarded $500,000 to Hugo for a park shelter and athletic fields in 2010.

Hanifl-Lee said the foundation’s mission is to support communities through programs promoting environmental awareness, conservation, education, the arts and sciences, health and physical fitness.

“My parents have been blessed with success,” noted Hanifl-Lee, foundation vice president, “and we feel this success should be shared with the community.”

Her involvement with the CPA and seeing its impact on youth led to Hanifl-Lee’s endorsement of the foundation grant. Her children have all been involved in the Forest Lake performing arts center and the mother of three feels theater is a “life-changing, positive force in their lives.”

“Everything the foundation does is very personal,” she added. “It relates to us in some way.”

Her seventh-grade daughter Maddox, for example, dreams of being on Broadway. “She is a vivacious, outgoing person who loves being on stage,” said Hanifl-Lee. “I called around looking for a theater and someone from CPA called me back. They were doing ‘Jungle Book’ that year. We signed her up.”

That introduction eventually led to Hanifl-Lee joining the CPA board of directors and helping the program grow. Her children attend the Lakes International Language Academy in Forest Lake.

“The CPA is an incredible program to be part of,” she said. “It gives the kids so much confidence; they feel so good about themselves. I get goosebumps talking about it.”

A portion of the foundation’s grant, $1 million, has a matching component — “to re-energize the base,” noted Rob Thomas, Lakeshore Players’ managing director.

He recalled a recent conversation with a local banker who commented on how strange it is for a project this size to proceed with this type of funding. “It’s pretty much all private,” Thomas said. To date, Lakeshore has received about $8 million in cash and pledges.

That support made an impression on the Hanifl family. “We saw how Lakeshore Players impacts the community and how the community has embraced Lakeshore Players. People here really support the performing arts,” said Hanifl-Lee. “This is the kind of thing we want to help with, to get involved with, and we are super excited to do that.”

A final monetary goal is still being calculated as construction plans are finalized and bids come in. The original $6.2 million goal has grown now that the CPA is involved.

The building has expanded from 17,000 to 21,500 square feet, with the CPA occupying 4,100 square feet of that space for its programming.

A groundbreaking date has not been set, other than it will be sometime this summer. A Minneapolis contractor has been selected, Engelsma, and they have started working with the architects on development of the construction drawings.

Thomas said the missions of the two theaters are complementary and Lakeshore is “elated” over the partnership, an arrangement he called “serendipitous.”

“The performing arts center will be the premier destination for theater and performing arts education in the northeast metro region,” he added.

Ben Ratkowski, Lakeshore’s artistic director, pointed out: “We’ve been planning this building since 2013. We are very close to breaking ground and creating this great collaboration. It’s fabulous.”

Lakeshore Players Announces Collaboration with Children’s Performing Arts (Forest Lake)

Lakeshore Board President Mike Spellman (top left), Managing Director Rob Thomas (top right), Artistic Director Ben Ratkowski (bottom left), CPA President Kari Bullion (bottom right). Photo cred: White Bear Press


We are pleased to announce an exciting collaboration between Lakeshore Players and Children’s Performing Arts (CPA), a theatre education and youth development organization based in Forest Lake. In our new performing art center, Lakeshore & CPA will continue to operate independently but have the opportunity to co-produce theatre for young audiences. Here are some highlights from the March 1 interview in the White Bear Press:

  • The draft architect’s drawing for the new Lakeshore Players’ performing art center includes rehearsal and operation space for the Children’s Performing Arts group.
  • A date for groundbreaking is yet to be determined. The Facilities Committee is working hard to begin site work this summer.
  • Lakeshore announced a leadership structure change in its executive-level positions.

Stay tuned for more news in the coming weeks about this collaboration which will allow our two organizations to serve even more more youth and families.

Thank you for your support of the performing arts in our community!


Rob Thomas, Managing Director



Wondering What Music was on the Program at Dr. Reid Smith’s Studio?

Look no further!

Click to view the printed program, listing the musical selections played by Dr. Smith’s award-winning students.

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Lakeshore Players hosts several “house parties” throughout the year to build awareness and support for the Light The Stage! Capital Campaign.

A Look into the Lives of Two Fabulous Capital Campaign Supporters

Ginny Leutgeb’s Original Play Wins Lakeshore’s Annual Contest!


Ginny Leutgeb (right) in Everybody Loves Opal, 2013

Last fall, 292 novice and published writers from around the world entered Lakeshore’s 12th annual ten-minute play writing contest. Our dedicated play reading committee reviewed each submission and selected the ten best original plays from the contest for their world premieres on the Lakeshore stage.

The playwright’s identities are not revealed until the very end, and we were all thrilled to discover that longtime Lakeshore artist and Capital Campaign Committee Member, Ginny Leutgeb’s play “Whodunit 101” was among the winners! Come see Ginny’s play, and the other nine winners at the 12th Annual Ten Minute Play Festival, held two weekends only, June 2-12.

Why join us? To quote a line from one of our first Festival plays, because “It’s FUN!”


Dr. Reid Smith’s Beautiful Certified Wildlife Garden Featured in Star Tribune


Dr. Reid Smith in his home gardens in Dellwood

Birds of many species feel right at home nesting in the wetlands and woodlands of Lakeshore friend Reid Smith and LaWayne Leno. They have transformed their Dellwood yard into a wildlife sanctuary—a paradise of blooms and habitat — and one of the Star Tribune’s Beautiful Gardens winners. You can read all about it in a recent article here.

We plan to hold a donor cultivation event in their beautiful home this summer and look forward to enjoying the garden first hand. More details to come!

Lakeshore Awarded $10,000 Capital Grant from MRAC

We are thrilled to have been awarded a $10,000 Capital Grant from the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council.

This award will allow us to purchase new forward/rear projectors, monitors to allow guests to see action onstage when in the lobby or backstage, a stage cyclorama, and other related equipment to enhance the audience experience. 

Furthermore, we will bring the new technology with us to our new facility! Groundbreaking is planned for Summer 2016. Click here to learn more about our capital campaign.



This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund. 



Calling All Volunteers: Join the Cultivation Sub-Committee

Make Our Dream A Reality!

In 2014, we launched the Light The Stage! Capital Campaign to raise funds to build a new performing arts center. We are thrilled to have reached 50% of our goal of $6.2 million in just over one year.

A capital campaign is an intensive fundraising effort designed to raise a specified sum of money within a defined time period for a building project. We seek people interested in volunteering on our Campaign as members of the Cultivation Sub-Committee. In particular, we need people to assist with the following activities:

  • Solicit major gifts on the Cultivation Sub-Committee
  • Open doors to prospects via phone calls, often during business hours, introductions, and scheduling meetings
  • Provide linkage with grant-making corporations and foundations
  • Be a positive spokesperson for the Campaign
  • Meet in-person, via conference call, and at the Capital Campaign Committee monthly meeting (third Tuesday of the month at 5:30 p.m.).

If you enjoy making connections, reaching out to people you know (or may not know), have easy access to the northeast metro area, and have a passion for the performing arts/community building, then we would love to talk with you!

Volunteers are a key link between Lakeshore Players and our prospective donor/business community.   As a Sub-Committee volunteer we ask you to:

  • Lend Your Name. Committee members agree to allow the organization to use their name in all public relations materials and in solicitation of prospects throughout the area.
  • Be a Spokesperson. Speak positively about the organization and the campaign, and be prepared to answer basic questions. Rely on Lakeshore staff and key personnel for detailed information.
  • Open Doors. Review the prospect list and indicate those with whom they can arrange a meeting. Also suggest new prospects.
  • Make a Gift up to your financial ability. We seek 100% participation by Committee members.
  • Maintain confidentiality at all times as donor/prospect information is shared with committee members.

For more details, please contact Executive Director Joan Elwell at 651-429-2316, or Kathy Blegen-Huntley at 651-472-3585,

Download this posting as a printable PDF: Cultivation Sub Committee Roles & Responsibilities


Lakeshore Players Featured in the Star Tribune

We were thrilled to see the Light The Stage! Capital Campaign featured in a Star Tribune article on Sunday, November 1, 2015.

A special thanks to White Bear Lake Mayor Jo Emerson (and Honorary Campaign Chair) for her words of support for this project. Lakeshore Players is fortunate to have the City of White Bear Lake as a firm advocate for arts economic development projects.

Want to get involved? Contact us to join the Capital Campaign Committee, make a financial gift, or connect us with potential business and artistic partners. Call Executive Director Joan Elwell at 651-429-2316 or email today!

Announcing the Lakeshore Players Capital Campaign Blog

New Theatre Design

Lakeshore’s new performing arts center designed by BWBR Architects, St. Paul. Click to view larger image.

This is our first Capital Campaign blog post! Stay tuned for interesting goings-on and highlights about our efforts to build a new performing arts center.

Watch our News page for updates or click here to see only Capital Campaign updates.

You can also read more about our Capital Campaign on the overview page.