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Furth carries on signature tradition in its own unique, electric way

Whether playing legendary venues such as the Chicago Theatre and New York’s Apollo Theater, or other stages in small towns across the country, many performers have carried on a common tradition: adding their John Hancock to a backstage “signature wall.”

That tradition has continued in a unique way in Trine University’s T. Furth Center for the Performing Arts, although it might not have if inaugural performer Lee Greenwood hadn’t made the effort.

“As he walked around admiring our new facility, he asked me where our signature wall was,” recalled Judi Abney, a member of the university’s Campus Safety staff. “I had no idea what he was talking about.”

Greenwood explained the tradition to Abney, but the backstage had not been completed, meaning there was no wall to sign. John Wilson from Clear Lake Electric, Inc., who was in the new building to help make sure all the electrical devices worked correctly, suggested that Greenwood instead sign one of the building’s electrical panels.

“They weren’t going anywhere,” Abney said. “So Lee Greenwood was the first one to sign our ‘signature panel.’ ”

“After doing a lot of research online, I wasn’t able to find that special signature wall for Trine University’s concert hall,” she said. “Finally, our associate director, Victor Morrow, turned to me and asked why I was spending so much time looking for the perfect idea when I had already started our own tradition, and I realized he was right.”

Since then, Abney, who is the hospitality host for all of Trine’s concerts, has made sure each performer has added his or her autograph to the panel – now panels, as they have become filled with signatures.

 “Several entertainers have commented that they had never signed an electrical panel before. They loved the idea,” she said.

She said the biggest challenge was the late country superstar Kenny Rogers, who wanted his signature at the top of the panel.

“He was too short, so we held his arm up so he could sign the panel,” she recalled.

Other signatures include Montgomery and Gentry, Paralee, the Charlie Daniels Band, Three Dog Night, America, Wynonna, Michael Bolton, Amy Grant, Travis Tritt and Dionne Warwick.

Abney hopes that eventually the panels are able to be displayed backstage to help tell the story of Trine and the entertainers who have performed.

“This is part of the history of Furth,” she said.

  • Judi Abney

    Judi Abney - Judi Abney of Trine University’s Campus Safety staff stands with two panels of celebrity signatures inside the electrical room at the university’s T. Furth Center for Performing Arts. Abney has made sure every artist who has performed at Furth has signed the panels. (Photo by Dean Orewiler)

  • Lee Greenwood

    Lee Greenwood - Lee Greenwood signs the electrical panel in Trine University’s T. Furth Center for Performing Arts prior to performing the inaugural concert in the venue on May 2, 2014. The country music superstar began the tradition at Furth after asking Judi Abney of the university’s Campus Safety staff when the new building’s signature wall was located. (Photo by John Wilson)

  • Closeup

    Closeup - A closeup shows some of the celebrity autographs on the signature panels in the T. Furth Center for Performing Arts. (Photo by Dean Orewiler)