The Story Theatre/Grand Opera House

512 Broad Street, Story City, Iowa



Curtain Falls, Lights Dim on Local Icon

Originally published in The Story City Herald, 2005

Photo Identifications: Top Left: Dick Peterson; Middle Right: Virgil (standing) and Dick; Bottom Left: Todd Thorson and Dick Peterson

The curtain finally came down and the lights dimmed on a well-known and well-respected Story City businessman when Dick Peterson passed away at the age of 85. For the last seven-plus years, Dick had resided at Bethany Manor, but his first and only home here in Story City was located upstairs at the Story Theatre.


Dick and Virgil, together with their parents, operated the theatre from 1946 to 1983, and weathered through some very tough times in the 1950s and 1960s, when television took away much of the theatre’s patrons. But through it all they persevered, keeping the doors open when many small town theatres were closing. When both brothers “semi-retired” in December 1983, they gave way to a young movie-lover, college student and native Story Citian who wasn’t quite sure what he was getting into.

Following the death of my father in 1975, I had to grow up rather quickly. Having helped out in the newspaper business in junior high, I proceeded to add additional duties at the local theatre. Helping Dick and Virgil during high school, along with my sports reporting and picture taking, kept me busy throughout my last years at Roland-Story. It wasn’t until after my first year of college in Colorado that I realized my heart, as well as my opportunities, remained back home in Story City. Upon my return to Iowa, I enrolled at Iowa State University and began working again at the theatre and newspaper, while living in Ames and taking in all that college life had to offer. In 1983, Dick approached me about buying the theatre business and naturally I was surprised and honored he would ask. I promptly said yes, took over in December of 1983, and have continued operating the theatre ever since.

Dick, however, was always present to lend a helping hand or offer advice even up to the time he went to Bethany Manor in 1998. The reason I’m writing all this is that Dick and Virgil became like family to me, filling part of a void obviously left by my father’s passing. And together with my mother at the newspaper, I learned everything there is to know about dedication and loving what you choose to do with your life. I learned about the theatre business and how rewarding it is to bring laughter, tears, joy and sorrow to many of the area’s filmgoers. I learned about the projection booth and film presentation from Virgil, and how providing a service to the general public is a very enjoyable experience. And I learned about taking care of what you have. I began to love movies, both past and present; probably more than the average person. I learned about history, and family, and the changing times. I learned about bad times as well as the good times. And so much more.


Dick and Virgil, and their parents, ran the local theatre here in Story City almost 40 years; 37 to be exact. They were also in the theatre business in Minnesota before coming to Story City. All totaled, the Peterson family members (brother Wayne and his wife Della were also in the movie business) were in the motion picture business for over 50 years! And since Dick and his brother Virgil never had children, and Bob is the only surviving nephew (Wayne’s son), the Peterson family “screenplay” is about to write one of its final chapters here in Story City.

Dick had a very full life and always loved talking about his growing up years in Lake Benton and Balaton, Minnesota; from his exploits as a kid, riding horses, sledding and playing in the high school band, to the tough times of the Great Depression. And through it all, his love of movies and music was constantly at the forefront of his everyday life (Greta Garbo was his favorite movie star and the Big Bands were his music of choice). I’ll always remember many a Saturday night hearing Benny Goodman or Glenn Miller coming from Dick’s apartment through the projection booth door. He was also very proud of his World War II years, and the infantry mates he met while serving in the U.S. Army from 1942 to 1945; unfortunately many of these new found friends never made it back alive. Those years were always in the back of Dick’s mind; though talking about the war and the experiences he had always seemed to bring tears to his eyes.


One can honestly say that you do indeed learn from those who have gone before you. You take with you what is passed on. History, especially family history, is the lifeline that bridges the past with the future. Dick proved that point over and over each and every day of his life. One couldn’t possibly fathom the abundance of knowledge, conversation and personal recollections this small-framed man carried inside until you got to know him. And now that he’s gone, not only have many of us lost a personal friend, but the entire town of Story City has lost one of its own. He may not have been a native of Story City, but he certainly called it “home”. And just remember, Dick, as long as I can and as long as it's feasible, “the show will go on”.

As Bob Hope used to say (he was also a favorite of Dick’s), “Thanks for the Memories!”


--by Todd Thorson, Publisher/Editor, Story City Herald and Owner/Operator, Story Theatre/Grand Opera House