1940-1957: The World at War

A Community, World at War

April 23, 1941 – John C. & Althea Leora Elbert purchase the Avery Theater from the Grans, who continued to operate their theater in Sioux Rapids. New to Garner, Mr. Elbert was an experienced businessman in mercantile management and with sales organizations.

April 29, 1941 – The historical film “Land of Liberty” was shown at a special screening for civic organizations, schools, churches, and town and county officials. Producers gave all profits of the film to war relief organizations. (Note: the United States was not yet “at war.”)

June 14, 1941 – The Iowa State Highway Patrol’s Safety Education Division presented the film “On Two Wheels” to help create interest in safe bicycling. Efforts by local Police Chief Aaron Greiman helped ensure that “every boy, girl, and their parents” were invited.

Jan. 14, 1942 – As part of the national response following the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed Mr. Lowell Mellet to be the government coordinator to work with the film industry. In his statement, the President said, “The American Motion picture is one of the our most effective media in informing and entertaining our citizens, and must remain free insofar as our national security is concerned…The motion picture, especially as used by the federal government, has a very useful contribution to make during the war emergency.”

April 22, 1942 – Owner John Elbert was appointed to be the “county chairman for theater publicity” on behalf of the Navy Relief drive. Due to “unprecedented Navy personnel increase and heavy casualties,” the relief program was in need of funding from outside sources. The State of Iowa was asked to contribute $125,000 for the Navy.  Most communities would complete their quotas and provide extra.

April 27, 1942 – Mr. G. B. “Gil” Kirchner purchased the theater from the Elberts. A long-time resident of Lone Tree and owner of that town’s theater, Kirchner had 22 years experience in the banking and automotive garage businesses. He also managed the Allison Hotel in Britt at one point.

Sept. 20-22, 1942 – “Tarzan’s New York Adventure,” starring Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O’Hara, was playing when this photo of the Avery was taken. (see picture) The Sweet Shop, located in the north retail space, was a fixture for candy, magazines, ice cream and cigarettes. The south retail space was occupied by Stella Krall’s Beauty Salon.  Later that space would house an insurance company first operated by Charlie Wellik, and later by Al Barz.

September 1942 – War bonds and stamps are available for purchase at the Avery Theater box office. Two free adult admissions were given with each $25 purchase of war bonds.

Nov 27, 1942 – “The World at War” movie is shown as part of the Women-at-War Week observations. The Bureau of Motion Pictures of the Office of War Information created the hour-long documentary. Former Hollywood writer Sam Spewack produced and edited the movie using footage from newsreels and captured Nazi films documenting the events leading up to the second World War. Admission was free to Hancock County residents with purchase of a war bond.

The movie presentation was also used to help boost lagging war bond sales; Hancock County was significantly behind in raising its quota of $40,000. Under the guidance of Joint Chairpersons Mrs. Paul Elling and Mrs. C.H. Tompkins, the theater seating was divided into reserved sections for bond purchasers in the amounts of $1000, $500, $100, $50 and $25.  At the end of the reporting period, the City of Garner had raised $34,825 from the purchases made at the local banks, the post office and the movie theater; altogether Hancock County raised $122,475.

Dec. 5, 1942 – About 200 area children made their own contribution to the war effort by participating in a salvage collection.  Free movie admission was granted to those bringing iron, copper, lead, rubber or any other salvage scrap material being collected on behalf of the government.  Nearly 3,000 pounds of salvage materials were collected, with young Mickey Schoneman earning a $5 prize for personally bringing in 463 pounds of salvage materials.

Dec. 12, 19 & 23, 1942 – Free matinees were shown on the two Saturdays before Christmas, and on Dec. 23, as well. In what would become an annual tradition, treats were presented to the children following the movie.

Feb. 10 & 11, 1943 – In cooperation with the motion picture industry’s efforts to help meet the War Production Board’s urgent need for scrap metal, the Avery Theater held Copper and Brass days. Free admission to movies was given to each person who brought in one pound of scrap metal.  Proceeds from the sale of the metals collected at the Avery Theater were donated to the American Red Cross.

Feb. 15, 1943 – The Avery and theaters throughout Hancock County showed a 15-minute film about hemp production and processing; the government-produced film educated area farmers about the need for increased hemp crops for rope-making and other products.

1943 – Theater owner Gil Kirchner was appointed Hancock County Chairman for the State of Iowa’s annual fund drive against infantile paralysis.

Dec. 18 & 22, 1943 — Children were invited to a free matinee at the Avery while their parents conducted their Christmas shopping. Santa Claus also visited the downtown area and passed out treats to the youngsters after the movie.

Feb. 23, 1944 – A “Free John Deere Picture Show,” sponsored by Wesenberg & Son, is shown on Wednesday afternoon at the Avery. The film presented valuable tips on the care and servicing of all tractors, regardless of make or model. (see ad)

March 31-April 4, 1944 – The 20th Century Fox movie, “The Sullivans,” is shown at the Avery to significant fanfare.  Based upon the true-life story of five brothers from Waterloo, Iowa, the Sullivan brothers all lost their lives as a result of enemy fire upon the USS Juneau, the battleship on which they served together.  (see big ad)

October 1944 – The City of Garner placed four sets of bicycle racks “at various points in the business district to accommodate shoppers” in the downtown. One set was locate on the south side of the Avery Theater (see photo). Other locations were near the band shell, the post office and Zeiger drug store.

April 8-15, 1945 – The Hancock County branch of the United National Clothing Collection designated this as “Clean Out Your Attic Week” to help collect usable clothing for war relief. The Avery Theater was one of multiple drop-off locations designated by committee members Mrs. N.E. Brear, Gil B. Kirchner, Verne Pringle, Mrs. J.N. Steil and Chairman Chet Stille. Items collected were intended for distribution to the men, women and children facing hardships in the war-devastated countries.

Jan. 30, 1946 – A historic weeping elm tree, located on Fifth Street just to the east of State Street, was cut down and removed due to concerns about the danger of its overhanging branches. Due to its size, age and majesty, the elm was a significant local landmark. (In some historic photos the massive tree is seen providing shade to the southeast corner of the theater building.)

April 24, 1946 – Henry & Gabrielle Johnson of Westbrook, Minn., purchase the Avery Theater from the Kirchners. Mr. Johnson had operated a smaller theater in Westbrook which he sold prior to relocating to Garner. Altogether the Johnson family had seven children: Kathryn, Ihla Jean, Betty Jane, Gerald, LaVonne, Carole and Diane.  The eldest three daughters took active roles in assisting with concessions and other duties at the theater.

Early 1947 – Wednesday and Thursday night were “Prize Nites” at the Avery Theater, according to a photo courtesy of Betty (Johnson) Tompkins. The south display case advertises the movie “Two Years Before the Mast” which dates this photo to early 1947.

Feb. 25, 1949 – Mr. Lloyd B Kingsbury, owner of several theaters throughout the Midwest, buys the Avery Theater. While Mr. Kingsbury often travelled between his various properties, Mrs. Alice Kingsbury was a well-known presence at the ticket booth in Garner. John Banks, the couple’s son-in-law and a war veteran, worked as the manager along with Mrs. Kingsbury.

Summer 1955 The Chamber of Commerce, along with local merchants, sponsored a weekly “Pot of Gold” drawing. Each week the businesses would contribute $50 into a collective “pot.”  Throughout the week patrons would register at participating merchants. Those names would be pooled and a name would be drawn at the Avery Theater each Saturday at 9 p.m.  If the week’s “Pot of Gold” was not won, additional funds would be added and the total potential winnings would grow until it was won.


Oct. 31, 1955 – Trick or Treat for UNICEF parties were held in Garner. Children attending the movie “Assignment: Children” received boxes in which they were to collect pennies for UNICEF. The movie was designed to help bring recognition to the relatively young international organization. The documentary followed comedian Danny Kaye’s tour of projects in Hong Kong, India, Japan, Korea, Myanmar and Thailand. Kaye, the original UNICEF celebrity representative, was a Goodwill Ambassador for the organization from 1954 until his death in 1987.

Aug. 2, 1956 – A county-wide “Queen of the Furrow” beauty pageant, sponsored by the Hancock County Soil Conservation District, was held at the Avery Theater.  From among the contestants, two girls were selected to compete in the regional contest at the North Iowa Fair in Mason City.