Strength, determination, perseverance and spirit are just a few of the words colleagues have offered to describe Holly Henson, the executive artistic director for local summerstock theater Pioneer Playhouse. Henson died Saturday after a long battle with breast cancer. She was 51.
Community leader Mike Perros said Henson was “a big promoter of the arts in Danville before being a promoter of the arts in Danville was cool.”
“When Holly was promoting Pioneer Playhouse in a big way five, six, seven years ago, it was at one level. And now, I think the Pioneer Playhouse is viewed in an entirely different way,” Perros said. “And that’s because Holly’s talents and promotion and production elevated not just the Pioneer Playhouse but the arts in Danville.
“The other thing Holly did, to some criticism, although not from me, was Holly made us aware that the old ways of tourism and advertising dollars for tourism ... were outmoded, outdated. In the day and age of the Internet and instant media, she understood what people were looking for.”
Karen Logue, managing director for West T. Hill Community Theatre, said Henson’s “contribution to the arts scene has been an incredible asset to local tourism, and her efforts to bring audiences to the playhouse were amazing.”
“Her enthusiasm was contagious,” Logue added. “To sit through her ‘welcomes’ prior to each summer show made you feel special. Holly’s tenacity and dedication for Pioneer Playhouse could only compare to her mother and father’s love for their joint creation.
“We can all take a lesson from Holly to pursue work we love with all our might, never doubting or wavering.”
Local artist Wilma Brown, a longtime patron and supporter of Pioneer Playhouse, said she will miss Henson “as an arts colleague and a friend.”
“Holly Henson will be remembered for her spirit and her devotion in maintaining Pioneer Playhouse as a premier arts venue in our community,” Brown said.
Perros played drums with Henson’s older brother Eben and was in first grade with Henson’s other brother Robby. He joined the board of directors at Pioneer Playhouse about 1999 or 2000.
“She really had the artistic side of the place as her domain,” Perros noted. “My role as incoming chairperson of the board was the business side. The business side is one side of the brain, and the artistic side is the other side of the brain. Early on, Holly had a pretty healthy distrust of the business side of the playhouse and what we as a board were trying to cultivate.
“With a great deal of warmth, I look back on that. We were able to get past the trust issues and got to where she would trust my instincts, and I certainly got where I trusted her instincts.”
Perros said Henson and he had “a good, healthy exchange of viewpoints but never once a cross word.”
“She had her perspective and talents, and we as a board had our perspective and talents. We were able, between those two healthy tensions, we were able to elevate the playhouse,” Perros said.
Lori Kagan-Moore, curator of The Great American Dollhouse Museum, said Henson was “an extremely bright, articulate, creative woman who added energy and sparkle to every room she entered.”
“Her quick smile and rapid humor will never fade. Rest well, Holly. You will be missed,” Kagan-Moore said.
Pioneer Playhouse as it is today is a testament to Henson’s determination.
“The playhouse was at a fork in the road (when her father died in 2004). A lot of folks, including me, were really wondering, ‘How’s this place going to survive without the drive and talent and ... fortitude of Col. Henson,” Perros explained. “And Holly just singlehandedly put that thing on her shoulders and said, ‘I will not let this die.’”
A service will be held at 4 p.m. Sunday at Pioneer Playhouse. Visitation will be from 2 to 4 p.m.
Memorials are suggested to Pioneer Playhouse, 840 Stanford Road, Danville, Ky. 40422.