Imperial Valley celebrates 17 years of NoCCA with Dr. Patricia Shreeves Saracco Lang

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front2It was May of 1997 when Dr. Patty Saracco began to nudge the Imperial Arts Council to bring back Palmer Auditorium in Brawley.

The tenacious former physician had recently won a battle against cancer, decided to slow her pace down by returning to Claremont Colleges to earn a degree in orchestration conducting. Now she had her sites on Brawley, and bringing arts back to the town by renovating the dilapidated Brawley Union High School auditorium, Palmer.

Most of the Arts Council work was presented in El Centro, and Patty felt the Brawley community would appreciate more plays and music in the north end of the Valley. As her insistence on repairing Palmer increased, an idea emerged to have an offshoot of the Arts Council, the North County Coalition of the Arts, (NoCCA) to serve Brawley.

NoCCA could be charged with taking the daunting task of renovating Palmer, the Art Council reasoned.

Patty, the visionary, formed a committee of art lovers, financiers, and doers. They formed a 501(3)(c) and then the doctor turned conductor spoke at the Brawley Rotery and her P.E.O. group, plus she took every opportunity to share her vision of bringing back Palmer in a grand manner.

She painted mental pictures of filling the seats with people who desired to see and hear musicals, ballet, orchestras, dance, and every form of the arts.

Money began to pour in, lots of money. Soon, the old faded, black widow infested curtains of Palmer were hauled away, and new, elegant curtains rose from the stage.

The side door that couldn’t be locked, was replaced. No longer could vagabonds and vandals enter Palmer at will.

“I had great people donating valuable resources, like Duggins Construction, Jim Duggins was a life saver, Mike Scaroni- he called me every morning with that day’s problems. I was just a wreck every morning!” Patty laughed recalling those first turbulent months renovating the old school auditorium.

Names kept rolling off her tongue as she remembered all who gave, like Paula Riley of Home Interiors who sold her carpet at cost.

Meanwhile, with not enough on her plate, Patty asked BUHS English Teacher and Broadway fan, Dennis Croughan, what he would like to see brought to the stage. His answer – Kiss Me Kate – a modern rendition of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew.

Now that Patty knew what her first production would be, she assembled her third team, after her NoCCA board, her construction crew, she now had a creative squad.

After putting $5000 on her personal credit card for props and costumes she said, “We were in it, man!”

Meanwhile, pregnant Rosemary Wood, a transplant to the valley because of her husband’s work, went to Dr. Peter Saracco to deliver her son Brian, never realizing his wife, Patty, was going to be her life time arts partner.

With a major in theatrical production, Rosemary headed to El Centro to talk to the Imperial Valley Arts Council, looking for a way to be involved. Once they realized she was from Brawley, they pointed her to Patty.

Patty had hired a stage manager when Rosemary walked into her life, but as fate would have it, the stage manager couldn’t keep her commitment. Patty turned to Rosemary and asked, “Do you think you could do this, be our stage manager?”

Rosemary, no stranger to the back stage, and just ending ten years as the children’s director in her previous town said yes.

Kiss Me Kate was produced, the town came forward with abundant talent, tickets were sold, Palmer was reintroduced at the Palmer Performing Arts Center with new seats, curtains, carpet, and more, and a friendship between Patty and Rosemary was cemented.

Looking back at their partnership, Rosemary is grateful for Patty’s mentorship. When renovation and production were happening simultaneously, Rosemary said, “Patty had to calm me down. She was a rock, she had a vision and a purpose.”

Patty appreciated Rosemary’s managing style. Rosemary jumped into her role by putting a team together and having weekly meetings, making sure each goal along the way was met.

The two believe everyone under 18 has been touched by NoCCA in Brawley as the two have booked performances for the elementary schools for 17 years, bringing in modern dance, music, and just recently the City Ballet of San Diego performed at the Lion’s Center as once again Palmer is closed after the damage caused by the August earthquake in 2012.

NoCCA through the summer Arts Sparks program also introduced cello, violin, guitar, and percussion lessons to hundreds of children, who then performed at Palmer.

Patty, who says she will be 70 in August, has stepped down from her position as Executive Director for NoCCA, but not before recommending Rosemary to take her place. The board totally agreed.

Thursday night, a surprise retirement party was given for Patty in appreciation of the 17 years she has brought culture to Brawley. Emcee of the evening, founding board member Larry Fleming, called her a “treasure for our community”.

Brawley Mayor Don Campbell read a resolution citing all the contributions Patty has done during her tenure at NoCCA.

Then past performers took the stage from now professional singers Esther Rayo and Janell Escalera who started under Patty, to local talent such as Luke Hamby and Meghan Strahm, De Hilfiker and Sal Ortiz, and reprising past roles in Annie, Mollie Willson and Larry Fleming. All shared their appreciation of being part of Patty’s vision.

The active partnership is ending as Patty officially stepped down last fall, although she will always be there to advise and encourage.

Looking at Rosemary when asked what advice she had for her protégé, Patty smiled as she reminded her friend who dislikes the fundraising aspect of being the NoCCA CEO, that she needs to be bold when asking for donations. “Don’t be afraid to promote the organization, its not you.”