Life in Our Foothills – December 2023 – Impacting Youth for Ages to Come, Mountain Page Theater and the Life of Hilda Pace

Published 12:09 pm Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Story by Emily Williams, photography by Emily Williams and Mountain Page Theater

 

Mountain Page Theater sits unassumingly between two cow pastures in the small Mountain Page community of Saluda. Established in 2020, this building that is the home of the Young Acting Krew, or “YAK,” has breathed new life into one of the oldest settlements in the region. Corinne Gerwe, the founder of the theater, has a deep love for this most unique of areas and for the twenty-three children in the county who make up YAK. Still new to Saluda and gaining momentum, Mountain Page Theater shows promise of positively impacting the community just as much as the woman who donated the building, the late Hilda Pace. Hilda’s daughter, Hope, and Corinne reflect on the lasting legacy of Ms. Hilda, a woman who cherished Saluda and desired to share the arts with the youth in this mountain region. 

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Corinne began the theater troupe in 2016 after retiring from her teaching career. A resident of Saluda for thirty years, Corinne felt there was a lack of opportunity for youth in the area to engage in the arts. Wanting to provide an artistic outlet, Corinne tacked up a flyer for a local theater troupe in Saluda’s post office. To her surprise and delight, forty people attended her first interest meeting. 

“It shows you how, in a community, there’s always going to be a group of people that want to do this,” Corinne states. “Thirteen of those people who showed up were children, and those children became my first group.” 

The troupe, which the children lovingly deemed “YAK,” met weekly for practices, but the group had some trouble finding a suitable practice space, and renting performance venues was costly. After presenting two major productions, Corinne became discouraged by the expense of the performances and the strain of finding a place. Corinne believed in the promise and power of the theater’s mission, but she was losing hope that she could continue much longer. 

For many years, Corinne had volunteered on Wednesdays at the local Thrifty Barn alongside Hilda Pace. The two developed a close bond and shared stories with one another about their day-to-day lives, Hilda often relaying happenings at her local church and Corinne sharing the difficulties of finding a home for her theater troupe. One day in 2018, Corinne confided in Hilda that she had no choice but to end YAK because they did not have a suitable rehearsal space for the growing team—now twenty children ranging all ages. “Hilda said, ‘Well, I’ve got a space,’” recalls Corinne.

Hilda was referring to the building on her property that once served as the Mountain Page Community Center. Hilda’s mother, according to Hope Pace, wanted to meet the needs of the community through the center, especially children in the area. The community center was used to host potlucks, workshops, and even the community’s annual easter egg hunt. To best serve the children in Mountain Page, Hilda’s mother allowed the 4-H club to hold regular meetings at the facility. Since its humble beginnings, the building that is now the theater has been a place of refuge and opportunity for Polk County kids. Before giving the old center to Corinne, Hope remembers her mother saying, “I think it’s the next life for this building, to give back to the community.”

Soon after, Hilda took Corinne to see the space that was to be her very own. “I think she was worried about even having me look at it because when something has been closed up for eight years, it gets pretty overgrown, but I didn’t see anything. I saw no weeds; I saw no mold—nothing. All I saw was a space,” remembers Corinne.

Corinne began to fix up the run-down building with the help of volunteers, mainly the grandparents of YAK members. By 2020, the building was ready for performers of all ages. While primarily catering to teaching children, the theater also has local adult actors who participate in large-scale productions. 

“I believe in having all ages working together,” says Corinne. “The children learn a lot from the adult players . . . we have a really strong rule that people who are here have got to be an example for the children.” Ultimately, according to Corinne, “the children bring out the best in everyone.”

Hilda enjoyed three years of life living next door to the lively theater before her unexpected passing in August of 2023. “Her favorite thing was Thursdays hearing the kids play in the yard,” Hope recalls. “She would sit on the porch and listen to it.”

As a child, Hilda was exposed to the same artistic opportunities as the children in that little theater. Her parents valued the arts and wanted their children to have more experiences than other children in Saluda. Hilda and her brother spent their summers at John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, North Carolina, where they learned the value of culture and the arts. Corinne even keeps a photo of young Hilda dressed as a rose for a performance at the school on a side table in the theater. 

Hilda wanted the children of Saluda to have the same artistic experiences she had when she was young, which played a major factor in her decision to donate the community center. “She had a very soft spot for kids, and it didn’t matter about their backgrounds or where they came from,” says Hope. “She just wanted every child to have an opportunity to be exposed to things they normally wouldn’t be exposed to, either to make a memory with or to grow from.” This, Hope agrees, is the most important legacy Hilda left for her community.

Aside from her contributions to the theater as lawn mower, gardener, and parking attendant, Hilda regularly assisted anyone in the community who had a need she could fill. “Every single day I think she did something for somebody, either taking them to the doctor, taking food to them,” states Corinne. She volunteered at the Thrifty Barn, tutored students at Saluda Elementary, and aided friends facing terminal illnesses such as cancer. 

Hilda was a woman who cared for everyone, be they friend or friend in the making. “Mom was a seed planter, not just with garden, but with people,” claims Hope with tears in her eyes. “And she was so quiet—you didn’t realize what she was doing. But I think that her purpose in life was to plant seeds to make people better.” According to Hope, her mother’s favorite parable was of the mustard seed, and Hope saw that her mother lived out that lesson fully.

Hope and Corinne recount the number of people who attended Hilda’s funeral out of respect for the woman who loved her town so well. “I think she would have been shocked,” claims Hope, referring to the number of attendants. Her funeral was a clear testament to the number of lives Ms. Hilda impacted without her even knowing.

In commemoration of the beautiful woman who made the Mountain Page Theater possible, the theater dedicated their November production of Mary Poppins to Hilda, a fitting accolade Corinne believes is well deserved. 

Pointing to Hilda’s picture on the side table, Corinne poignantly says, “This little girl was a remarkable woman who I admired because I saw her do so much good. She made it possible for me to have a place for the kids, and I think we both knew we were doing something that each one of these kids would not have had we not done this. We’ve seen the change it’s made.”

It takes a truly special person to see a need and meet it with kindness and grace, not wanting anything in return. Ms. Hilda was as remarkable as the area from which she came. The headwaters of the Pacolet River are near the theater, a spring from which freshwater flows. Hilda Pace was a cornerstone of her community, the faith and love she had for people flowing out of her and touching the hearts of all who knew her. 

Mountain Page Theater continues Hilda’s legacy, bringing life, love, and art to this small corner of the earth, hoping its own example might flow to those who sorely need it. To learn more about Mountain Page Theater and purchase tickets for upcoming productions, visit www.mountainpage.theater