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Published July 11 2010

Trollwood’s new site beginning to feel like home

After a year that uprooted the literal and organizational foundation of the Trollwood Performing Arts School, it appears that maybe, just maybe, a little permanence is creeping back into the organization.

The dark, fertile Minnesota soil of Trollwood’s home in south Moorhead hasn’t given up the fight just yet, but the fields of green grass are taking over more and more of the landscape at the campus that opened one year ago.

As Trollwood preps for the opening night of this year’s musical “Anything Goes” on Wednesday, that growing sense of normalcy might not be such a bad vibe for the school and arts organization that began producing musicals in 1978.

In 2009, TPAS moved its mainstage musical from Trollwood Park in north Fargo to the new facility in Moorhead, a project that took years to bring to fruition.

Then in August 2009 came word that Trollwood co-founder John Marks was stepping back from his role after more than three decades with the organization. Weeks later, another co-founder, Vicki Chepulis, announced that she would be leaving the executive director post.

But change isn’t always bad, and there’s optimism about the future in the Trollwood camp.

“I’m an advocate for change,” says Mary Roos, a volunteer who’s the mother of a Trollwood alum and a current Trollwood student. She applauds the foundation Marks and Chepulis have laid and believes after so many years of the same leadership, changes in staff are a positive thing.

She believes Chepulis and Marks have “given such good mentorship to everyone that it’s not going to be a challenge at all.”

Fellow Trollwood volunteer and mom Cheryl Lausch says she misses “seeing their faces,” but is also optimistic about Trollwood’s capacity to move into the future.

“I think Trollwood will be just fine through all these changes,” she says.

The locale and staff changes notwithstanding, Kathy Anderson says the ideals that Trollwood was built on haven’t changed; that includes helping children grow as individuals and developing their citizenship, confidence and creativity.

Anderson, who was named interim executive director in November, said she wanted to dedicate the season to the vision that Marks and Chepulis had for Trollwood.

Anderson also shares Roos’ and Lausch’s enthusiasm about the future. She has reasons for that optimism. Trollwood has seen an increase from last year in program participation with 676 people involved this summer. Last year’s total was 525, according to numbers provided by Anderson.

“It’s alive, it’s well, and it’s moving forward,” Anderson says. “We’ve got a bright future, and we’re going to be here for many years to come.”

Even so, transition often isn’t painless. John Ford-Dunker, an 18-year-old who graduated as a home-school student, plays the role of Billy Crocker in this year’s mainstage production of “Anything Goes” and has been involved with Trollwood for four years. He loves the new site, but the north Fargo location was special to him, too.

He says there are “days where I just really miss the old park a lot.”

Ford-Dunker recalls the sense of establishment there and the awareness of the many individuals who had been there before him. There was sense of being “in touch with the past.”

“I think eventually, with this next generation who weren’t very involved with the old park, they’re going to get the same feeling about this place,” he says.

Ford-Dunker considers it an honor to be around Trollwood during the transition from the old site to the new.

“I’m going to be able to come back here in 30 years, you know, 40 years, and be like, ‘I was here when this was built. I was here before this was built,’ ” Ford-Dunker says. “Like, that’s crazy.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Shane Mercer at (701) 451-5734