- Associated Press - Saturday, August 23, 2014

MITCHELL, Neb. (AP) - It was 1939. America was about to enter a war, and many were still struggling to come out of the Great Depression. On Nov. 21, in Mitchell, the marquee blazed as the Nile Theater opened with its first film “Under-Pup.”

It is often said movies are a way for people to escape their everyday situations, if only for an hour or more. Back then, movies varied from Westerns to dramas, much like today.

Times changed and digital technology that was a sci-fi feature on the big screen has become reality.

The Nile Theater is owned by Ward Kirchau and his wife, Sara, as well as his sister Barb and her husband Tearle Schmer, the Scottsbluff Star-Herald reported (http://bit.ly/1p0Mmpa ). The group also owns the Wyoming Two Theater in Torrington, Wyoming.

They are only the fourth owners of the Nile Theater since it opened. Peter Kirchau bought the Nile in the mid-1990s and was killed in a car accident in 1996. It was then that his brother Ward and sister Barb, with their spouses, took over the theater.

“We wanted to keep the theater in the family,” said Barb. “It’s fun to be part of the community and provide movies everyone wants to see.”

Back in 1969, Barb worked the box office and concessions and her brother Ward worked as a projectionist. It was family affair even back then, Barb said.

The youth who are now employed at the Nile find it welcoming.

“It wasn’t just a place to work, they treated you like family,” said Shaunda French of Chadron, a past employee. “We were all in high school and they were great people to work for. They were supportive of our extra-curricular activities and gave us time off if needed.”

French worked from the time she was 16 years old through college, when she would come home in the summers and work.

“At times it didn’t even seem like work,” she said. “Some of my best memories are from working there at the theater.”

While the youth hand out popcorn and clean up the theater after the movies, the public enjoys one of the few big screens left in the valley with digital quality.

The Kirchaus and Schmers put in the digital projection and Dolby sound system a couple of years ago. Everything now works with the push of a button. It takes up less space and delivers a crisp clean image every time.

“It’s so different now,” Barb said. “It’s quicker and not so heavy.”

The canisters the films came in were large and heavy and loading the film onto the projector was always a bit of a task.

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