Van Wert Niswonger center described as a grand vision

    Artistic expressions have come home in Van Wert, Ohio, thanks to a man who made a fortune on the road.
    The three-year-old Niswonger Performing Arts Center (NPAC) in Van Wert was featured in a presentation given Monday to some 30 people at a Decatur Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Woodcrest Retirement Community. The center was built mostly because of the farsightedness and the finances of a man who grew up there, then moved away: Scott Niswonger.
    Niswonger, a 1965 graduate of Van Wert High School, was described on Monday by Paul Hoverman, executive director of the center, as the man who "had this grand vision" to see well beyond the original idea of a multi-purpose site for the new Van Wert High School.
    Instead, as Hoverman told the Chamber of Commerce group, Niswonger donated not only $3 million toward the $10 million project, but also assigned his "personal architect" to design it and provided guidance on such important features as how the exterior and interior of the structure should look.
    Outside, said Hoverman, the building is covered in red-stained wood from Africa and, inside, the floors are Italian granite.
    The center, opened in November of 2007 after 18 months of construction, has a performance hall with 1,200 seats (twice what was first considered for the high school addition), a 175-seat lecture room, a grand lobby and a smaller lobby, and more.
    Hoverman said it was Niswonger's idea to have in his hometown "a performing arts center to drive the economy through the arts."
    Speaking of "driving the economy," that's how Niswonger made his mark: he is the chief executive office of Land Air Express, a major shipper of goods by truck and plane. He lives in Greenville, Tennessee.
    Hoverman said the fundraising effort covered all the extra costs as the project grew and grew, with some banks in the Van Wert area kicking in $500,000. Among the donors, he said, was First Bank of Berne.
    Hoverman said the center was given to the Van Wert municipal school system, but is managed and operated by the Van Wert Performing Arts Foundation. The schools have free use of all the Niswonger facilities.
    He also described the wide variety of events for young and old scheduled at NPAC during its seasons from September through April, with many sellouts. The 2010-11 season includes the Charlie Daniels Band, lecturer and author Steven Kellogg, nine-year-old piano prodigy Ethan Bortnick, gospel and pop singer Amy Grant, the Toledo Symphony, impressionist Rich Little, portraying the life of film star Jimmy Stewart,the famed musical "Oklahoma", instrumentalist Kenny G, whose show was postponed from December 9 to December 12, the well-known ballet "Swan Lake" by Tchaikovsky, and more.