VINELAND — Michael and Terri Pantalione were practically kids when they met at the Landis Theater all those years ago.
It was spring 1969: He was a 24-year-old assistant manager working a side job while serving in the U.S. Air Force. She was a high school senior working as a cashier at the theater whose prom date canceled at the last minute. Some friends suggested that Mike Pantalione go with her. He did.
They married that December and now have two children and four grandchildren.
“It was a bit of a whirlwind romance,” Mike Pantalione said Friday.
Landis Theater’s supporters didn’t know what kind of feedback they would get when they asked people for their memories of the long-vacant Landis Avenue theater, which is currently under restoration. The Landis Theater Performing Arts Center is expected to reopen May 22, with tickets available for that night’s opening gala and Bernadette Peters concert. Theater supporters decided to try to draw people in with free tickets to The Lettermen on May 23 for the three most intriguing Landis Theater memories.
In the end, theater organizers heard from about 60 people, the theater’s executive director Joe Marcello said.
“Mostly they were like first dates, first kisses, things like that,” Marcello said.
Pantalione’s story was one that resonated. He was one of three people selected as winners of the free tickets, and of course he’ll be taking his wife. It wasn’t quite a first date, but it was a first — and only — marriage for Pantalione, who lives on South Main Road in Vineland. But there was more for him. He worked at the theater for 10 years, keeping it as a side job when he was stationed at McGuire Air Force Base and later went to school in Philadelphia.
“The Landis Theater for me was like a second home,” Pantalione said. “My parents had both died. I was living with my sister, then with my aunt. But it was almost like I was living out of my car. So the Landis Theater, to me, it was like being in the stable home environment. It’s someplace I knew where I was at and when I go to it, I felt at home.”
Theresa Panichello recalled going to the theater with her lifelong friend Alda Garcia when they were teenagers in the 1940s.
“We were kids, just 13 years old,” said Panichello, who now lives on Oak Road in Buena. “My girlfriend, we just put our pennies together, and we had enough to go see The Hunchback of Notre Dame. That’s all we could talk about on the way home. My friend and I are still friends. We still have a relationship. We’re going to be 85 years old.”
Edith Nightlinger grew up on a poultry farm in what’s now Franklin Township but in the 1940s was known as Forest Grove. She said she and her sister Florence would take the bus to downtown Vineland on Saturdays and spend the day at the Landis Theater and the two other Vineland theaters: The Globe and The Grand.
“I was one of those who probably went there every Saturday,” Nightlinger said, explaining, “There wasn’t anything else to do in Forest Grove.”
One year, Landis Theater held a contest in which a bicycle was given out to patrons each week, Nightlinger said. Nightlinger and her sister won the bicycle the first week they went to the theater, and then they won again the next week.
“We were the toast of the town,” said Nightlinger, who lives on Millville’s G Street. “It’s funny how you remember things like that.”
Marcello said he hopes to post the recollections in the theater’s lobby so that patrons can read them and get a sense of the theater’s history.
After all, he has his own recollections. One that stuck with him is about taking his oldest daughter, Janna, to see the movie “Spaceballs” when she was a small child. Both Janna and his other daughter, Emily Marcello, a drama teacher at Vineland High School, still love that movie.
“They can quote the entire movie,” Marcello said.
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