Five years after the roof of Pretty Prairie’s theater blew off in a storm, it’s back in business and operated by local high school students.

For more than 30 years it was known as Pretty Prairie Civic Theatre but has been renamed the Blue Shoes Theatre because the words “Blue Shoes,” were painted on the bricks above the Collingwood General Merchandising store and spotted by Cliff Wray in a historic photograph. It was Wray, from Hutchinson, who restored the building before handing it over to the high school’s entrepreneur, career, and technical management classes.

“When I saw that picture I wanted to name it Blue Shoes,” Wray said. Blue Shoes were a brand of footwear sold back in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The Doc Martens of their day, Wray said.

Two back-to-back storms blew through Pretty Prairie during the summer of 2013 causing extensive structural damage to the 1890s buildings housing the Civic Theatre. It left the carpet in the lobby saturated and covered with chunks of plaster.

After the storm, Wray with Wray Roofing, was in town repairing the roof at Pretty Prairie Middle School. He heard about the damage to the theater which occupies the former Collingwood General Merchandising and Coal building and the State Bank, both once owned by the Collingwood family, early settlers of Pretty Prairie.

Wray was concerned when he heard talk that it might have to be torn down because the city couldn’t afford the repairs. So he went to the city council to see if he could buy the buildings and prevent an empty gap appearing on Main Street.

“I’m not from Pretty Prairie, but they always talked about the theater,” Wray said. “And tearing it down would be like pulling up roots underneath a tree.”

He was prepared to pay up to $500 for the buildings. However, the city sold the theater for $1.

It took several years, but with the help of the city, family, volunteers and his crew with Wray Roofing, the job was completed.

After giving it some thought, Wray, who has served on the Buhler School Board for 23 years, handed the theater over to the Pretty Prairie School District to use as an extension of their classrooms.

“Kids don’t have a lot of opportunities, and I thought what a great idea for them to run the theater,” Wray said.

It's now their theater; they are invested, said Randy Hendrickson, superintendent.

Managing a theater fits into the high school’s entrepreneur, career, and technical management classes. They applied for and received a movie license. Then they were trained to be projectionists by Darrell Albright, who operated the Civic Theatre on a volunteer base for more than 30 years.

Students have already operated the theater on different occasions, including after-school movies on Fridays.

“I know the high school kids can do a good job,” Hendrickson said. “They will learn how to deal with people, showing up on time to work. They will learn about advertising and marketing. They’ll get a lot out of it."

Already they have selected and ordered movies, others operate the projector while some get the popcorn ready, and others sell tickets in the original ticket booth. After the show, there is clean up detail including windows and bathrooms.

Hendrickson said the gift of the theater opens up a variety of learning opportunities with everything from entrepreneurial theater management and business to technology and theater classes.

Meeting in the lobby of the small theater on a recent morning with Hendrickson and Albright, Wray said that Darrell the former proprietor of the theater represented the past, while the school was the future.

In the 1920s the store was known as Grace Graber’s Dry Goods, then in 1936, the two stores and the bank were converted into the Civic Theatre. By 1955, television had killed the small town’s theater business, said Albright.

For the next few decades, the building was used for special town gatherings. Then in April 1981, Albright and his family re-opened with the movie “High Noon.”

Before the storm hit this town of 600 people, the Civic Theatre was the place to go for classic Saturday night movies. An “Our Gang” episode played before the feature film. That’s because Carl Switzer, who played Alfalfa in the series, briefly lived in Pretty Prairie while he was married to Dian Collingwood.

On a good year, about 3,000 people would come from around the area to see an old movie at the theater. It has also been used as a spot for class reunions and wedding receptions, especially popular with couples who met and fell in love at the theater.

This summer the Blue Shoes Theatre will host "Stage 9: On Broadway" at 2 p.m., June 24. All the proceeds will go to the career and technical education program for the entrepreneurial theater management

“If not for Cliff this would be a bare lot,” Hendrickson said. “We’re indebted to him for his work, time and  for our kids to have this opportunity.”