By George Basler
Friends of Lou Ligouri gathered last Saturday (Nov. 20) at the Endicott Performing Arts Center to remember the man they called “larger than life” and a welcoming presence in their lives.
The evening, billed as a tribute concert, was filled with songs, reminiscences, accolades and laughs, memoralizing a man who co-founded and helped build EPAC into a showplace that has become a Washington Avenue landmark.
“I really wanted this to be a celebration of his life, not a sad event,” said T.J. Ligouri, Lou’s widow. “I think he’d be thrilled and happy to know his life had such an impact on the community.”
Lou Ligouri, who passed away July 1 after a battle with cancer, was part of a core group who founded EPAC in 1998 and, along with scores of volunteers, worked through the years to renovate the dilapidated former movie house. The theater now houses a repertory company, a children’s workshop and a rock project (which stages rock operas). Outside groups also rent the facility for performances.
Ligouri’s legacy is creating a performance space for everyone from “children to crotchety old men like me,” said Rick Barton, who joined EPAC in 2009 and performed with Ligouri several times. “This is where the magic happens, and it’s all because one man had a dream,” he added later.
Barton was one of more than 20 performers took the stage after being personally contacted by T.J. Ligouri and Patrick Foti, another co-founder and former executive director of EPAC.
The performers knew Ligouri from his work at EPAC and as a singer and instrumentalist on the local music scene. “We wanted to put a show together with music he enjoyed and people he enjoyed,” Foti said. Money raised at the event will go to an EPAC scholarship named in Ligouri’s honor.
Over the years Ligouri compiled a series of honors, notably a “Heart of the Arts” award from the Broome County Arts Council and a “Having Made a Difference” award from Union-Endicott High School, his alma mater. But friends who spoke and performed at the concert didn’t focus on these honors. They focused on what Ligouri meant to them personally.
“We’ve been married twice, and he played my father. So, I’m sure that’s illegal in every state in the union. But through the magic of musical theater it’s A-OK,” joked Terri Jo Ramia, who performed with Ligouri and is now president of EPAC’s board.
As board president, a position Ligouri once held, she’ll have big shoes to fill, she said.
Ramia then performed “For Good” from the Broadway musical Wicked, a song about forgiveness, love and how people can influence and change lives. The song concludes, “Because I know you, I have been changed for the better.”
Jo Whitney who performed music with Lou and her husband, Mike, called Ligouri “the most positive person I ever met” and “a friend who never crumbled under pressure.” She remembered, with a laugh, Ligouri’s “theater smile” that was a comfort whenever she made a mistake as they performed.
Carol Van Horn compared the concert to a big family gathering. She had begun singing folk music with Ligouri when they were both teenagers and later performed with him in the duo Old Friends.
“And that’s what we were — old friends,” she said. “He was a wonderful friend, who supported me through the tragedies of my life.”
Performers also included children and teenagers from EPAC’s youth group. “This is a second home me. I can express my weird and creative side in here,” said AJ Patrick, 17, who began performing at EPAC at the age of seven.
“I would call him the father of the performing arts,” added Maria Gable, 30, as she remembered Ligouri. She had performed with him as a child and teenager, first with the St. Anthony’s Players and then at EPAC.
The concert concluded with a video of Ligouri singing the John Lennon song “Happy XMAS (War is Over)” with a chorus of EPAC children in the background.
It was a fitting way to remember Ligouri, several people said. A portrait of him, unveiled after the concert, will hang at EPAC as a reminder of the gift he left for the community.
Lou’s Tribute Show can be seen on YouTube. To watch the show and/or make a contribution to a scholarship in his memory, go the EPAC’s website, www.endicottarts.com.