“We’re on main street in Winner, South Dakota where you’re going to hear a story about one man’s love of his community, including that quality of life that is so important for every town. How that legacy has continued even after his unexpected passing,” said KELOLAND On The Road Host, Mike Huether.
Way back in October of 1992, Rick Meister purchased the Pix Theatre in his hometown of Winner, South Dakota. For the next 25 years, the marquis lights of “The Pix” shined brightly, with a movie shown every night, adding energy and improving life for this thankful community. Mary Backus, a long-time volunteer at the Pix and a good friend of Rick, captures his passion. “He loved movies so much. And he loved Winner so much. And he rarely ever took any vacation, which was a crazy part. Yah, he loved Winner,” recalls Mary Backus.
Pix Theatre Board Member Lynnelle Anderson remembers Rick fondly. “Rick Meister was quiet and humble and just the nicest guy. And he lived very simply. But he had a passion for movies. He had a passion. He used to run the theatre across the street too, which is now a church, but he always kept this one running.,” said Lynnelle Anderson.
Rick’s presence was impactful, and then the unthinkable happened. While driving to Mission, South Dakota for work, he had a terrible car accident. “The whole town was just in shock, I think. He was the last person I think they felt would pass away. He was young. He was healthy, but when he had that car accident, it was awful,” said Mary Backus.
Rick Meister passed away on October 23, 2018 at the age of 65. Yet his story, along with the Pix Theatre story, didn’t end there. “He didn’t want it sold because in some towns they sell a theatre and then they turn it into something else. And then the town does not have a theatre,” said Lynnelle Anderson.
Thankfully, Rick had outlined his end of life wishes to family and friends. Winner mayor Jody Brozik, who attended his first Pix movie at age 6, spoke with him as well. “Without leaving Winner, you get to visit Rome, you get to visit Germany, you get to visit Hollywood. It all comes to life here. He did not want that to end,” said Winner mayor, Jody Brozik. “That is powerful,” Huether responded. “It is, it really is. He prophesized as you will, his passing. He laid out his plan, which in rural America, you don’t see a lot of people with that kind of exit strategy,” said Brozik.
Making plans is one thing. Executing them is a completely different matter. “The lights of the Pix went dark for a time,” recalled Huether. “They did,” Brozik said. “As mayor, that Main Street, having such a bright light go dark, what happened?” Huether asked. “In rural America, anytime you have door go closed, there is a real possibility that it is never going to open again,” said Brozik.
“We are a small town. We don’t have a lot. But what we do have is a quality of life and we are not willing to let that go. And if you find like-minded individuals that are willing to stick their necks out, that is all you need. You work together as a team and go for it,” said Lynnelle Anderson.
So, it was time to get to work and rally the troops in Winner and across the country, too. “You can do whatever you put your mind to. And people wanted this theatre. And they wanted it open. And the people rallied unbelievably and just did a wonderful job,” Mary Backus said. “You need that teamwork. You need that feeling of giving. Not just giving because you have to, but giving because you want to,” said Mary Backus.
Raising money was an important step. A radiothon was organized with an initial goal to raise $5-10,000 to update the bathrooms. “One other gentleman and I from the board were answering the phones. Now the phones were hot! So, then the radio station employees started helping us answer calls, and by the end of the day, it was $40,000,” said Lynnelle Anderson.
Not only did they raise needed funds, hundreds of volunteers heeded the call to paint, clean, and repair their beloved Pix Theatre. “You do this, you do this, you do this. Let’s go, let’s get’r done. Get it back open. So that is what we’ve done,” said Lynnelle Anderson.
An eight-member community board now manages the not-for-profit theatre, fulfilling Rick’s original wishes. “We have this beautiful, the Pix Theatre lights outside, they are so beautiful. And when they went dark after Christmas, it was just so sad. Rick had free movies, free matinees for the kids. We are now doing that too. And you should see the little kids come in with their smiles on their faces. And then, we are all smiling because we are so happy to be here and have it open,” Lynnelle Anderson said.
Winner town pride runs rampant. I could truly feel it during my visits there. “There is a drive-in theatre in Winner and an outdoor theatre in Winner. I love it. Proud of your town,” said Huether.
“We’re proud of our town. We’re very proud of our town. We are very proud,” said Anderson.
The cars are parked in front of the lights of the Pix on a nightly basis. Thanks to the dream of one man, and a town full of people committed to honoring that dream and their home town.
“Tonight is going to be packed. I mean, there have been lines, there have been nights when you are outside and the line, as you start taking tickets, goes out into the street, down the sidewalk one way and all the way to the other way. People from Valentine, Ainsworth, Bassett, Gregory, Burke, from all over the area, will come to see a show on the big screen, said Mayor Jody Brozik. “In Winner,” said Huether. “In Winner!” exclaimed Brozik proudly.
You can catch a film, and support the efforts of this great community, seven days a week. Most showings are Sunday through Thursday nights at 7:30. With two showings Friday and Saturday nights at 7:30 and 9:30. To get the latest movie news, be sure and “Like” the Winner Pix Theatre on Facebook to get the latest movie news. You’ll find the dedicated volunteers, the buttery popcorn and a great movie at the Winner Pix Theatre right on Main Street. There is so much more to see and experience in this town filled with community pride.