With a click of a lighter, an orange flame sparked, and nine pieces of paper caught fire Thursday evening.

The paper was the note for the loan the Seguin Conservation Society took out eight years ago to pay off the final renovations of the historic movie house.

In front of the ticket booth of the Stephen and Mary Birch Texas Theatre, members of the Seguin Conservation Society, who was crucial in the renovations, watched as the note burned signifying the debt was paid.

“None of this would have happened without you,” Steve Tschoepe, current board president and long-time Texas Theatre Management Committee chairman, said to the crowd gathered in the reception room. “This is attributed to a great community and, more importantly, great support — coming to our shows, memberships, through other fundraising like July Fourth and watching the parade out front.”

Tschoepe thanked past and present board members, Friends of the Texas Theatre and the Texas Theatre Task Force, who each played significant parts in helping the Texas Theatre come back to life.

The process of getting the theater’s doors open and the note paid off was a long and arduous one that started about 20 years ago when the Seguin Conservation Society purchase the Texas.

In 1997, the local group decided to buy the property after many conversations, director Robin Dwyer said.

“There was a lot of controversy at this time about whether or not we should do this,” said Dwyer, who was the board president at the time. There were some board members who were very vocal, saying this is a terrible idea; it was going to cost way too much money. Those of us who believed in Seguin believed we could do it, had a fight on our hands.”

The theater sat vacant and unmaintained for years. When the conservation society purchased it, there was a long list of work to be done, including patching up the roof, which had a hole large enough to count the stars, Dwyer said.

In the decade that followed, the Seguin Conservation Society collected donations and grants, including a $2 million financial contribution from the Birch Foundation and a sizable grant from the San Antonio Conservation Society to fix up the facade, Texas Task Force member Nancy Masterson said.

Through the work of the Koehler Company, the pieces of the renovation project started to take shape, and once the work was completed, the conservation society faced a new battle — finding the money to pay off the remaining bills.

“We were blessed that in our fundraising when we started the process, we had donations come in, and we got some big gifts,” Tschoepe said. “And suddenly, the Koehler Company came in with the final steps in March of 2011, and they sent us our last bill, and it was about $266,000, and we had about $40,000 or so in the bank.”

Until this point, Tschoepe said the Conservation Society was debt-free.

“We went to American Bank of Texas, which is now First United Bank, and asked them to take a risk and help the Conservation Society,” he said. “The Conservation Society had never gotten a loan before. It had never been in debt before and had never taken anything on like this. They were gracious and went out on a limb … and gave us a loan for $230,000.”

Eight years later, through more donations, shows and events, the Conservation Society was able to pay off the loan.

“We got this paid off, and what really made this accomplishable is the fact that we work on the cheap,” Don Keil, Seguin Mayor and Texas Theatre Management Committee member, said. “There were no salaries involved in this. Steve has a full-time job here running this place, and he has done it for nothing. This place would not be here without him.”

Dwyer echoed Keil’s sentiment, adding that it was a complete volunteer effort.

“This just tells me that our group dedicated their time and effort selflessly to do this on a volunteer basis,” he said. There was a lot of people and the vision of Seguin. That is really why the theater is here, in my book. Thank heavens we have all of these good people; these people that helped us and the people that gave money and the people that supported us and the people who stood up and said ‘we’re with you.’ Without that, we wouldn’t be here.”

With the note paid off, the Texas Theatre Management Committee and the Seguin Conservation Society is looking to the future of the old movie house, and what the next steps are, Tshcoepe said.

“We will continue to raise funds. We still have some issues and still our needs,” he said. “It is like a home; you never really stop making it better.”

Felicia Frazar is the managing editor of the Seguin Gazette. You can e-mail her at felicia.frazar@seguingazette.com .

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