News of drive-in drive spreads

by ANNE KAZMIERCZAK
Register Reporter

Register/Anne Kazmierczak
Deidra Johnson, whose son Caleb began a petition campaign to reopen the 54 Drive-In in Gas, sits with some of the more than 1,500 signatures collected in the campaign. People are still calling to add their names to the list, she said. Caleb and the petition drive were featured on National Public Radio affiliate KRPS of Pittsburg on Friday.

Interest in the 54 Drive-In in Gas has grown beyond the immediate area.
Caleb Johnson, the 10-year old who started a petition drive to keep the big screen open after its closure was announced in mid-October, was featured on Pittsburg’s KRPS radio station Friday, said his mother, Deidra Johnson.
Anthony Moreno, on-air host at the National Public Radio station, read about Caleb and the 54 Drive-In in The Iola Register, he said.
Moreno said he was surprised to learn of the drive-in’s closure because he had featured it in an on-air piece in the summer of 2008.
“When I interviewed the regional manager, he was pretty proud of the fact he was going to keep it open,” Moreno said.
The June 18, 2008 piece can be heard over the Web on the station’s archives, www.krps.org.
In the piece, B&B Theatres regional manager Jason Foster told Moreno “there was no need to worry about the 54 Drive-In” and “there’s no plans on getting rid of it, ever.”
“It seems like every year we get more and more people who haven’t been to a drive-in before,” said Foster on the radio piece.
A lot can change in a year.
“We will not reopen,” general circuit manager Dan Van Orton told the Register after the drive-in’s closure was announced.

DEIDRA JOHNSON said she recently mailed more than 1,500 signatures to B&B’s owner Robert Bagby on Oct. 31 to try to change his mind.
There were so many names on the forms, Johnson said, “We stopped counting. They were writing on the back and in the margins.”
Johnson also spoke to Elmer Bills, co-owner of B&B. When she asked him what could be done to save the drive-in, “He told me he thought it was already torn down.”
But the Johnsons are undeterred.
“When I sent the petition, I wrote a letter asking them to please contact me and set up a meeting in Iola” about keeping the drive-in open, she said.
She hasn’t heard back.
Moreno, like Johnson, tried contacting B&B Theatres owners — but got no response.
“I did get an e-mail from their general manger that said they didn’t have anything to say about it,” he said.
Johnson said since the Register’s article appeared, variations have been reprinted in newspapers in Chanute, Fort Scott and Independence, and she has received supportive phone calls from members of those communities.
“People continue to call us, asking to put their names on the petition or to pass out petitions. We’re trying to get as many people to call (B&B Theatres owners) as possible,” Johnson said.
Supporters have hung a banner near the drive-in with Bagby’s office number to facilitate that effort.
“Just call and leave messages in support of the drive-in staying open and ask them to please come and talk to our community,” Johnson said. “We’re just trying to do anything we can to keep the drive-in open.”