Gift to Leeds honors Carla VanMeter

Published 4:10 pm Saturday, February 20, 2021

This time last year, the future of the Leeds Center for the Arts was as bright as klieg lights.

The performing arts center’s annual gala, Puttin’ on the Glitz, was a big success, and staff and volunteers were looking forward to a season that would include “The Music Man,” “Seussical” and “The Little Mermaid.” It also announced a $2.5 million capital campaign to fund a backstage area and rear entrance.

Then came the coronavirus pandemic, and so began an interminable intermission.

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Supporters of the arts haven’t forgotten the theater, though, and recently, an anonymous patron gave a very generous gift to the nonprofit corporation in memory of one of the Leeds Center’s founding board members, Carlisle (Carla) VanMeter, who died five years ago this week.

VanMeter’s daughter and namesake, Carlisle Mayer, said Saturday that not even she knows who gave the money, but she knows it was a large amount.

Mayer said she and her brothers — George, Tom and Larry VanMeter — are grateful.

“We’re very appreciative of this donor who’s given this gift in memory and honor of our mother, and this will make a big impact on the theater and their finances,” she said.

The Leeds is important to Winchester, she said.

“It makes performing arts accessible to our community,” she said, and contributes to “a better quality of life” for its residents.

“She would be pleased,” Mayer said of her mother.

Carla VanMeter’s background was in education, not acting, but she had “a love for performing arts” and for all arts, Mayer said.

She performed in one play at the Leeds, as Katharine Hepburn’s character, Ethel Thayer, in “On Golden Pond,” and Mayer’s son Will played the part of the Thayers’ grandson, Billy.

“That was really fun for Mother to be in a play with her grandson,” she said. “That was quite special for her.”

The Leeds began nearly 100 years ago as a movie house, but after it closed in 1986, the Winchester Council for the Arts raised the money to restore it to its original appearance and reopened it in 1990. It underwent a major renovation in 2016.

Mayer said her mother’s friend Fara Tyree recruited her to be one of the early leaders of the Leeds Center for the Arts.

“Fara was so visionary in turning the Leeds into a performing arts center, and that was important to Mother,” Mayer said. “She was more than willing to donate her time and treasure to be a part of it.”

Mayer said that when her mother was on the board, no job was too small for her. She ushered, sold concessions, cleaned up afterwards and did whatever needed to be done.

One of Van Meter’s sons, Kentucky Supreme Court Justice Laurance (Larry) VanMeter, said his mother had a strong commitment to her “adopted hometown.”

Carla VanMeter grew up in Maysville and came to Winchester when she married George VanMeter, and when George died in 1991, the judge said, someone asked when she would be coming back to Maysville.

“Winchester is my home,” she replied.

“When she died, it occurred to me at the visitation, as we were greeting people,” he said, that “her focus was her church and her community.”

“She was the happiest person I knew. There’s a lesson in that for all of us — that the more you give, you get so much more in return,” he said.

“I don’t know that she consciously had a mantra about that, but that was her life,” he said. So I think this was a great tribute, that someone gave this money to the Leeds to help it however it can, and it’s a great testament to our mom. … I know it was near and dear to her heart.”

Justice VanMeter said he would like to know who made the donation, but it’s “fine that it’s anonymous.”

Tracey Miller, president of the Leeds Center for the Arts, said she also doesn’t know who made the donation.

“There are some wonderful philanthropic people out there who just don’t want to be recognized for the good that they do,” she said.

Miller said she met VanMeter only once, but Tyree spoke fondly of her, and she knew her to be “a great proponent for the arts in Clark County” and someone who “shared the vision … of what the Winchester Council for the Arts and the Leeds Center for the Arts could be.”

Miller said the donation hasn’t been designated for anything in particular, but it will be put to good use, and will help the theater get through what has been a difficult time for all theaters.

“We are so appreciative of everyone to continue to donate and believe in our mission,” Miller said, and she looks forward to seeing audiences again whenever it is safe for them to return.

“We can’t wait for our comeback, hopefully this fall,” she said.

About Randy Patrick

Randy Patrick is a reporter for Bluegrass Newsmedia, which includes The Jessamine Journal. He may be reached at 859-759-0015 or by email at

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