Ralph Wolfe, guiding light of Gish Theater, disappointed by planned move

Ralph Wolfe in the lobby of the Gish Film Theater in October, 2016


BG Independent News

Ralph Wolfe, the founder and, until recently, the curator of the Gish Film Theater, has mixed feelings about the venue’s move from its home in Hanna Hall.

“I am grateful for the preservation of the Gish sisters name and the fact that there will be a theater on campus,” he said.

The Gish Theater will be moved to the theater space in the Bowen-Thompson Student Union. Some of the memorabilia of the Gish sisters, now in the Gish lobby, will be displayed in the space. Other items will be sent to the Jerome Library. Wolfe said that through his efforts BGSU has the largest collection of Gish sister memorabilia anywhere other than California and New York.

This and other details of the administration’s plans are the source of Wolfe’s disappointment.

The university plans to renovate a room in Olscamp Hall to be used for film studies and take the place of the Ralph Wolfe Viewing Center, which contains a collection of more than 3,000 video cassettes and DVDs. The room will be named in Wolfe’s honor.

He’s also concerned what will happen to the commemorative seats that recognize donors to efforts to fund the theater and its $500,000 endowment.

Wolfe said he was not consulted about the arrangements. “I had no involvement whatsoever.”

Describing the approach as “top-down management.”

Also last year, the title of curator of the Gish, which had been bestowed on him in 1982 by President Paul Olscamp at the initiation of the BGSU Foundation, was not approved. He was never told why.

On Friday Bowling Green State University issued a press release outlining where programs now in Hanna Hall will be relocated as the 96-year-old building undergoes renovation and expansion to become the Maurer Center, the new home for the College of Business.

The Women’s Center and the Geography Department will move to Hayes Hall. (Story here.)

Provost Rodney Rogers stated in the release: “This project allows us to meet the needs of tomorrow’s students while honoring the legacy of the Gish sisters. Moving the theater to the center of campus will highlight the Gishes’ contribution to early film for our students and the community.”

In response to Wolfe’s concerns, Rogers stated: “We appreciate Dr. Wolfe’s longtime passion and contributions to the Gish Film Theater and the Gish collection, which have brought tremendous recognition to the University. We look forward to his continued involvement and counsel as we transition the theater and collection to their new homes.”

Last October the theater celebrated its 40th anniversary. (Story here.)

It was through Wolfe’s efforts that the university granted the legendary actress Lillian Gish an honorary doctorate. When the auditorium in Hanna was converted into a film theater to support the new film studies program, he approached her about naming the venue in her honor.

She said she’d prefer if it were named for her and her actress sister, Dorothy. She came to campus in 1976 to receive the honorary degree and participate in the dedication of the theater.

It was the first of four visits. The last was in 1982 when the lobby was dedicated. At that time, she brought BGSU alumna Eva Marie Saint with her. It was the first time Saint was back on campus since her graduation in 1947.

Films will continue to be shown in the venue through the end of the academic year in spring.