Familiar Face

Madison’s Ashby
is a mainstay among locals

Many know him from his
50 years at the Ohio Theatre

By Tess Worrell
Contributing Writer

(January 2013) – The Ohio Theater in downtown Madison, Ind., offers many attractions to the movie-loving public – the historic setting, the fresh popped popcorn, the competitive ticket prices. One of the greatest attractions may be ticket-taker, Richard Ashby, a theater employee for more than 50 years.
“Everyone has a Richard story,” says Nancy Cutshall, who works with Ashby at the Salvation Army in Madison. “If you’re between ages 30 and 50 and grew up in Madison, you have a story of Richard and the theater. Everyone knew him. He was always catching people doing what they shouldn’t. Yet, the same people who complained about Richard as kids, now they can’t say enough about him as adults. Everyone loves Richard.”

Richard Ashby

Photo by Don Ward

Richard Ashby
recently retired from
the City of Madison
street department
but still sells tickets
at the Ohio Theatre.

Ashby, 63, was born on Walnut Street in Madison. He was number 14 out of 15 children. At age 11 Ashby began working the variety of jobs that would both define him as a man and his contributions to Madison. He first began working for the local Boys Club, doing a variety of cleaning jobs. John Paul, who ran the Boys Club, was friends with John Galvin, who owned the Ohio Theater. Paul recommended Ashby for work there. The 50-year streak began.
Ashby began by passing out fliers to advertise the coming shows. “I also had to walk down Main Street in the winter in my pajamas carrying signs to advertise,” says Ashby, laughing and grimacing at the same time. He moved on to ushering, then running the projectors.
During the summer, he also worked at the Skyline Drive-In, which was then located on Hwy. 62. He first worked as a soda jerk then as a security guard. When asked what kept him at the theater for so many years, Ashby says, “I love working with the people. The free movies are nice, too. But the people are the reason I’ve stayed.”
He shares that he felt a little lost when the theater closed for two years. “It was like a second home. I didn’t know what to do with myself. Then, it re-opened, and I was back.”
Though Ashby loves the people who come to the theater, he also acknowledges that there have been challenges. “When I was ushering, I hated Friday nights. It seemed like the teens got together and had a meeting to see how long it would take for me to kick somebody out. It was like a contest or something. But the rest of the time was OK.”
Ashby’s greatest hope is for people to support the Ohio Theater, which has struggled economically in recent years. “People were shocked when it closed. They begged for it to re-open and promised to come. But they need to come more. If people don’t help raise the money the theater needs, it can’t stay open. People just need to come.”
Tony and Laura Ratcliff own the theater now and have been very creative in keeping the theater doors open. As for Richard’s many years of contribution, Laura said, “Richard is wonderful to work with. He’s very lively. He always has a joke to tell or question to ask that keeps you on toes. He is extremely dedicated and you can rely on him no matter what. The theater can’t be open without him.”
Ashby hasn’t limited himself to the theater. He recently retired after 32 years of service to the City of Madison, most recently by driving a garbage truck in the sanitation department. For 20 years he worked the back of the truck, and then he switched to driver. Ashby credits a high school teacher, Mr. Freeman, with getting him started at the city.
“Some kids were making fun of garbage collectors, and Mr. Freeman spent the class giving a sermon on how important garbage collectors were. I went out and applied for a job.”
Ashby said he loved his time with the city, especially serving the people.
Ashby’s other main endeavor likewise involves serving people. An active member of the Salvation Army church, he volunteers in a number of ways. “Richard does it all – Christmas, cleaning and odd jobs,” says Cutshall. “Whatever we need, he’s ready to help.”
Ashby’s primary role involves heading the emergency response team for the Salvation Army. The team assists fire departments and first responders as they go to fires, tornados or other emergencies.
Ashby began his role in 1996. During the flood of 1997, he organized more than 1,800 volunteers to respond for more than eight weeks.
“Both the city and the theater let me take off the time to cope with that disaster. I was amazed by the response. Those same kids that gave me fits at the theater came and jumped in and did whatever I asked. People really care when the chips are down,” he said.
The fire departments were so impressed with Ashby’s organization, they asked the responders to come to all the fires. Volunteers are on-call 24/7. For fires, the team provides refreshments for the fire fighters and help victims however they can – with shelter, food and whatever else they need.
“We are now teamed with the Red Cross. Together, we are able to do so much,” says Ashby.
Steve Cull works on the response team with Ashby and can’t offer enough praise for his leadership. “Richard was in the military, as I was. He knows the chain of command and how to follow it. That keeps everyone on the same page and everything running smoothly,” says Cull.
Ashby served two years in the U.S. Army. Ashby also has the gift for keeping folks focused in tough situations, according to Cull.
“He’ll be all serious and focused, then without changing expression, he’ll say something that cracks everyone up. He lightens the mood so we can keep going. Then he’s right back to serious,” says Cull.
Ashby’s greatest challenge in leading the response team is finding volunteers. Where many volunteered in the past, he now has great difficulty finding volunteers. He would love interested folk to call the Salvation Army and be part of the endeavor.
Cull agrees: “There’s nothing like seeing those firefighters come out all hot and smoky. They see the cold Gatorade, and you know they really appreciate it. We need to be there for them.”
Some people simply go through their days killing time. Others invest their time. Ashby has invested his life in serving the people of Madison – from serving firefighters to helping keep the city clean to simply ensuring teenage boys don’t put their dirty boots on the seats of the movie theater.
As Cutshall noted, “Everyone has a Richard story. Everyone loves him.”

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