The Rivoli’s Jerry and Alice Voigt:
Greater Cedarburg Foundation Civic Award 2019 Recipients
What is the heart and soul of our town? You could say it’s the history drenching its well-preserved walls, our perch at the quiet bend of a beautiful creek, the festivals, the fairs, our artistic flair, Summer Sounds, our top-notch schools…all a stone’s throw from the Northwoods, Chicago, and Madison, providing a quality of life here that is easy to love.
However, we all know…none of these things would hold water if it weren’t for the passion, commitment, grit and service-minded kindness of the people behind it all. People who, day-in and day-out, are dedicated to serving this amazing community.
Jerry and Alice Voigt together embody what we cherish about living here, and they are this year’s recipients of the Greater Cedarburg Foundation’s Civic Award for 2019. Not only do they dig in deep, work hard, and have fun in their dedication to managing all aspects of our historic, single-screen theatre, the Rivoli, they help make our lives a little more wonderful with the joy they spread, the volunteers they shepherd, the movies they select, and the popcorn they pop. And there’s so much more to the backstory.
Today, Jerry and Alice manage 600 Rivoli volunteers per year, all of whom make this downtown treasure tick every single day…creating a show-stopping, “old theatre experience” for young and old to enjoy on $2 Tuesday nights, date-night Saturdays, family-matinee Sundays, and throughout the holiday season with a marathon of classic movies that warm everyone’s heart…now a beloved tradition for locals and out-of-towners alike.
Their commitment to giving back didn’t start at the Rivoli, or even in Cedarburg. Their collective ability to inspire people seems to begin with their career choices. Jerry and Alice graduated from UW-Milwaukee with degrees in Elementary Education and Special Education, respectively, and they launched into a lifelong love of teaching. Jerry started in Milwaukee and then continued for the next 31 years teaching at Steffen Middle School in Mequon, where Alice was also teaching. They were married in 1964 and moved to Cedarburg in 1969 to the house where they raised their three children – daughter Carrie and sons Richard and Christopher.
“One year, I had a very special seventh grade class,” says Jerry. “There was one student in particular who was very compassionate, athletic, a leader, and it impacted me.
“We realized our lives were missing something,” Jerry continues. “We needed to give more, help others, spread love.” That’s when their faith began to flourish and they began volunteering.
Flash forward to 1992 when they learned a local church, Lumen Christi, was taking 20 teenagers to Hurley, Virginia, on an Appalachian Service project. Two leaders had cancelled last minute and Alice and Jerry signed up in what would take them on a new path for the next 22 years: mission trips to Appalachia, Brazil, and more.
That first trip, they worked side-by-side with the teenagers, improving housing in poverty stricken communities — drywalling, flooring, roofing, painting, finish carpentry, and installing windows and doors: “The teenagers just loved it, worked hard, and we bonded. You couldn’t plan a vacation as meaningful as this.”
The Voigts feel teenagers have good ideas and they should be listened to. If you respect them and work together, you will witness how much they can grow.
That first year was a success, and the Voigts began planning similar mission trips for the next 12 years. For the next 10 years, they took teenagers to Brazil, to a small city six hours north of Rio, planning work projects, vacation Bible schools, planting fruit trees and vegetables, and doing crafts with the children.
These missions were like heaven, they say. The teenagers fell in love with the local children and vice versa. There was so much adventure, the Voigts loved every minute of it. The teens, they say, were developing purpose. These programs focus them. When teens see that their hard work can make someone’s life better, they will work like crazy, and they won’t want to stop: “We told them, if you don’t leave part of your heart there you are missing out.”
Alice continues, “Jerry is the perfect combination of shepherd and cheer-leader.”
When the Cedarburg Landmarks Preservation Society bought the Rivoli, the idea was to revive the property and renovate it back to its original look. This group was raising funds for the project at the same time Jerry was completing his 14th year as chairman of the Town Board, following 16 years as a Cedarburg Town Supervisor. Add to that Jerry’s involvement as a former board member of the Greater Cedarburg Foundation, the Ozaukee County Jail Literacy Board, and his co-chairmanship of the Cedarburg pool fundraiser.
That’s when Don Levy asked Jerry to help with the Rivoli. The Rivoli closed on December 21, 2006 and re-opened on December 29…eight days later.
Now, Jerry and Alice, along with their part-time staff of seven, do whatever is required to keep the theatre running. Some of these things involve researching and booking movies, banking and payroll, shopping and cleaning, facilitating on-screen advertising, and encouraging volunteers. Alice says, “There is always a list of things to do. We never leave it, but we couldn’t if we tried.”
However, Jerry says, “Without the hundreds of volunteers and the total support of the community, the Rivoli could not exist today.” Some say the Rivoli is the heartbeat of Cedarburg: a renovated treasure with blinking lights. Maybe the secret is this: everyone who volunteers takes ownership.
The Voigts’ children now have families of their own, two of whom live in Wisconsin and one in Virginia. There are nine grandchildren among them (ages 6—17), all of whom love to come home for the holidays and check out the Rivoli when they do.
The Voigts say it’s been a blessing to work together every single day, and they wouldn’t trade it for the world. For this amazing couple, for their family, friends, and all who know them, they have truly created a Wonderful Life doing good, meaningful work that they love. If that isn’t the embodiment of heart and soul, what is?
The Voigts were honored at the 17th Annual Cedarburg Civic Celebration on Thursday, April 25, 2019 at 7 p.m. Community members were invited to join the founders and friends of The Greater Cedarburg Foundation for this event.