By George Basler
Following Lou Ligouri’s funeral Monday (July 12), his friends and family will gather for a reception at the Endicott Performing Arts Center, and no location could be more fitting. Ligouri, who died of pancreatic cancer on July 1, was one of a small group of committed visionaries who took over a vacant and decaying former movie theater and, through hard work and perseverance, turned it into a jewel in Endicott’s downtown.
“Lou was a fantastic person, who knew how to deal with people,” said Bob Corwin, another of those “save the theater” visionaries. “He was a great theater person and a great businessman who liked helping make the community a better place.”
Ligouri attended Union-Endicott High School, Binghamton University and Rochester Institute of Technology. He worked as a manager at Prudential and later at Binghamton Savings Bank.
Through the years, theater and music remained Ligouri’s lifelong passions, said his sister-in-law, Diana Ligouri. He sang and played the guitar and banjo while acting in local productions, notably with the St. Anthony Players, a theater troupe that traced its history back to the 1960s at St. Anthony of Padua Roman Catholic Church on the north side of Endicott.
The plan to resurrect the former Towne Theater came together in 1998 when Corwin and two other theater lovers, Patty and Steve Daglio, purchased the building, which had been vacant since 1993. They then asked Ligouri and Pat Foti, who was also associated with the St. Anthony Players, to spearhead the building’s renovation as artistic director and executive director, respectively.
“Pat and Lou took a chance” and were an equal team in creating EPAC, Corwin said. Without their work, the building was almost certainly headed for the wrecking ball, he added.
Renovation started in April 1998 with the final acquisition of the building. The task was a monumental one. The roof had hole in it, water had flooded the auditorium, rusted seats were piled everywhere, heat was non-existent and the floors were warped. Moreover, the onetime vaudeville house had been converted into a movie theater years before and was no longer equipped to host live performances.
Thousands of volunteer hours went into repair work, wrote Chris Kocher, former editor and reporter with the Press & Sun-Bulletin, in a 2018 article marking EPAC’s 20th anniversary.
One group, known as “the dirty dozen,” dug out the basement, built the stage, put in dressing rooms and took out the chairs to be refurbished, recalled Tom DeForest, who volunteered as “a sound guy” at the theater.
Ligouri, with his encouraging attitude, had a way of finding the volunteers, DeForest added. “I don’t know how he did it, but he’d find them,” he said, with a laugh.
Ligouri, in Kocher’s article, explained it this way: “We put out the call, and people by the dozens came down to help us. There were no paid employees here for five years. Everything that was done was completely by volunteers. Even beyond that, most people who were involved didn’t get compensated. They did it because they had children they wanted to get involved in theater, or they wanted to help Washington Avenue.”
The renovation became a focal point of her brother-in-law’s life, Diana Ligouri said. He spent his time working, cleaning, writing grants to help support the operation, planning productions and watching EPAC steadily expand.
The 300-seat theater is now home to a children’s workshop, a repertory company, a dance company, a rock project (which stages rock operas), the Lyric Performers (which presents original music and dance shows), and outside groups who rent the facility. An estimated 25,000 people attend each year for the various events.
“Lou was at times demanding. It was because he loved that theater so much. He wanted it right,” said Stephen Foulk, who did electrical work at the theater. “I wish we had more folks like him with his dedication and energy.”
As for himself, Ligouri called helping create EPAC the biggest honor of his life. The 2010 Broome County Arts Council Heart of the Arts Award recipient retired as EPAC executive director in 2013.
Following the announcement of Ligouri’s death, messages of condolence and appreciation flooded Facebook.
“Lou gave me some of the most influential words of wisdom I will ever hear, shared his music with me and so many others, and most importantly helped shape, grow and change the arts community in Endicott and the surrounding towns/cites in ways I think none of us can put into words,” wrote Matt Gaska, a local actor who has performed at EPAC numerous times.
“There are not enough words in the world to express my gratitude for having walked through the majority of my life with this man,” said Maria Gable.
Tanyelle Newman noted that members of the theater community had heavy hearts and added, “Lou, thank you for your amazing heart, for pouring into and encouraging thousands of lives, for your music and for your amazing talent on stage and for your hard work and dedication.”
Ligouri died knowing how he impacted the community.
Three weeks before his passing, dozens of friends, family and community members gathered on his front lawn to sing songs, play music and thank him for his work. “He’s a real treasure,” Foulk said at the time.
The outpouring touched Ligouri deeply. As he told WBNG-TV: “They take the time to pay a tribute to somebody who is saying goodbye shortly. You can’t have more love than that, and love is what it is all about.”
Ligouri is survived his wife of 22 years, Tracy “TJ” (Johnson) Ligouri; his children, Heather (Dan) Esposito and Lou Jr. (Kelly) Ligouri; three grandchildren; his sister in law, Diana Ligouri, and his brother, Anthony (Mary) Ligouri. He was pre-deceased by his parents, Rose (Quaranta) and Ray Ligouri, and his brother, Armando Ligouri.