Joshua Gibb, President & CEO of Galesburg Community Foundation and Bonnie Powell, Historic Ellisville Restoration Organization Board Member.
Joshua Gibb, President & CEO of Galesburg Community Foundation and Bonnie Powell, Historic Ellisville Restoration Organization Board Member.

Ellisville Opera House Lifts Community

Last month, Bonnie Powell went on a trip. It wasn’t by car, train, or plane, but in a glass-enclosed lift in her hometown of Ellisville, population 84.

Bonnie traveled from the first floor to the second floor of the Ellisville Opera House. “It was wonderful,” says Bonnie. “It gave me goosebumps.”

For three decades, Bonnie and a small group of volunteers have worked to renovate the building, replacing the roof and windows, and addressed other structural issues in the 130-year-old structure. Galesburg Community Foundation assisted the efforts of the group, called the Historic Ellisville Restoration Organization (H.E.R.O.), by providing a pass-through project fund to help them manage their donations.

Today, the Ellisville Opera House serves as a community center and meeting space. The second floor is a venue for plays, dances, and other special events.

H.E.R.O. wanted to make the entire building accessible. Bonnie suggested adding a lift to the side of the building, but the small group wasn’t sure how they could raise the funds. “We only know cooking and feeding people to earn money,” said Bonnie. “We had to learn a different way of doing it.”

When Bonnie ran into Joshua Gibb, President and CEO of Galesburg Community Foundation, at the Spoon River Drive and told him about the lift, he told her that he thought the project was possible and that he’d help in any way he could. The next time he saw her, he had been contacted by an anonymous donor who agreed to give $25,000 for the project. If H.E.R.O. could raise $75,000, the same anonymous donor would give an additional $35,000, which was enough to purchase and install the lift.

“That really lit the fire under us,” said Bonnie.  With the help of the Community Foundation, H.E.R.O. was able to reach out to donors throughout the region to achieve their goal.

“The Community Foundation helped us every step of the way, especially getting our name out in the community to their network of donors,” said Kelvin Sampson, H.E.R.O. board member. “People were interested in what we do down here.”

Kelvin feels that having an accessible building available to the public is helping to keep his hometown alive. “It brings people into the community,” said Kelvin, who noted that children from eight surrounding school districts took the stage in the Spoon River Rascals’ most recent performance. “Now that we’re more accessible, grandparents can see their grandchildren’s plays and we’ll be able to open up the scope of the kinds of programming we do here.”

The success of H.E.R.O. has inspired the village board, which has formed the Ellisville Community Association to help local nonprofits fulfill their missions.

Bonnie sees all of the good happening in her community and is confident about its future. “The Community Foundation helped us learn how to be successful. I think we’ve got it now.”

At the ribbon cutting, where Joshua joined Bonnie on that first trip up the lift, he said that while the Galesburg Community Foundation moved the project forward, “Who gets the credit is the community and the group of people who believed in this. We didn’t do anything other that tell you that we believe in you all, 100 percent.”

Would you like to support your community forever? Learn how you can include your community in your estate plans by contacting the Galesburg Community Foundation at or 309.344.8898.

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Haley Sloss

Charitable Giving Coordinator

Short Bio

Haley provides support to enhance the function and success of the Charitable Giving and Affiliate Teams. She ensures donors receive a personal approach to philanthropy through outstanding customer service by supporting charitable giving for donors and fund holders across the state.