People sometimes wonder if miracles still happen in the day in which we live. The way we came to be here at the Governor’s Palace is nothing short of a miracle. But in order to fully appreciate the story behind the miracle, we need to go back to the very beginning.
My background is in ministry. As a 1976 graduate of Liberty University, my wife Gale and I were involved in local church work for over 25 years. It was during that time that I became increasingly concerned about the lack of biblical values and just plain morals in our country, especially among our nations teenagers.
I am now over 50 years old and I am sure anyone my age or older would have to agree that the America we grew up in is not the same America that young people are growing up in today. It seems that today’s youth are faced with more cultural opportunities for moral failure than ever before. Many of the things that were once shunned and associated with shame are now common place and simply accepted as the "norm".
My idea for addressing this challenge was simple. I wanted
to take a group of talented college aged young people and provide a cutting edge musical educational program and offer it as a counter balance to the many negative influences teenagers are faced with. Our mission field would be the place where teenagers spend most of their time…the public high school campus.
In order to put my plan into effect, I needed a great deal of money. After spending several years of unsuccessfully trying to generate corporate sponsorship, in 1995 I had the
opportunity of meeting Mr. Rich DeVos, the co-founder of the Amway Corporation. I asked him if he would be willing to
partner with me in an effort to try and turn our country’s moral decay around. He and his wife Helen gave me a gift of one million dollars and the dream of The All American Singers
This talented group of young people toured the country for two years impacting over 600,000 high school students from coast to coast. But then something started to happen that we had not been prepared for. We began receiving phone calls from all over the country from elementary school teachers and principals informing us that if we were going to the high schools, we were going to late.
As hard as it was to believe, we came to realize that the
elementary school leadership was right. So in 1997, we changed from the high school program to the elementary school program. We also changed our name from The All American Singers to Primary Focus. Now, elementary,
or primary schools, are our focus.
We started that year with one team until finally in 2003 we had grown to five teams. Each of our teams is now able to impact over 250,000 public school children during their September through June tour year which means combined, all five teams will reach over 1,250,000 children annually.
Though our national headquarters is in San Diego California where we are sponsored by the Sonrise Community Baptist Church under the leadership of Dr. Tony Foglio, in 2000 we began having our five week summer training camp in Knoxville, Tennessee. We are hosted by the Chilhowee Hills Baptist Church under the leadership of Dr. Tony Crisp. That same year the church had been given an old motel located right next door and the invitation was extended to us to be housed in this facility at no cost to us.
Next, we were encouraged to consider putting on a summer show in the Sevierville / Pigeon Forge area at one of the numerous theatres. We discovered that the 1,750 seat Governor’s Palace Theatres, built in 1998 with an estimated value at over $12,000,000, was for sale. We began considering the possibility of purchasing the theatre.
Unknown to us at the time however, another non-profit group in Sevier County was also interested in acquiring the theatre. They had been in touch with an organization in Oklahoma City called Hobby Lobby. This is a craft store company which is owned and operated by the David and Barbara Green family. From time to time, they have purchased facilities, and then later donated them to non-profit groups. The local non-profit group asked the folks at Hobby Lobby if they would consider purchasing the Governor’s Palace on their behalf. Hobby Lobby agreed and in March of 2003 purchased the theatre.
At that point it seemed obvious that our owning the theatre was not meant to be. But then an amazing turn of events would change everything. After being informed that Hobby Lobby had purchased the theatre on their behalf, the other non-profit group decided that they were not supposed to have the theatre after all. Upon reflection, they did not feel that they could use the facility to its fullest potential. They informed the Green’s of their change of heart and walked away from the Governor’s Palace.
As can be imagined, this came as somewhat of a surprise to the Green’s. This wonderful Christian family knew of our interest in the theatre and contacted our office and asked if we would be willing to make a presentation about our organization to their board. In June of 2003, we flew to Oklahoma City and met with the entire Green family. On July 1st we received word that the theatre was to be ours. For legal and tax purposes, Hobby Lobby retained legal ownership of the property until June of 2004 when the theatre was officially deeded to Primary Focus free and clear.
So, do miracles still happen? Absolutely! But in addition to being a story about miracles, this is also a story about people. People caring for other people. Using their gifts and resources to impact a generation desperately in need of positive role models and life changing values. We thank the Lord for allowing us to have a part in such an outreach and for all of those who have helped us along the way. For in reality…this is their story.