homepage logo

Van Summerill, who helped with Peery’s restoration effort, dies at 81

By Cathy McKitrick - Special to the Standard-Examiner | Mar 22, 2024

Photo supplied, Darren Rogers

Van Summerill poses for a photo with Marie Osmond at Peery's Egyptian Theater in Ogden on Jan. 26, 2024, during a celebration for the theater's 100th anniversary, where Osmond performed.

OGDEN — Born in 1942, Van Summerill spent his childhood Saturdays at Peery’s Egyptian Theater, consuming everything the big screen and majestic movie palace had to offer.

In fact, he was such a reliable fixture that he got hired in his youth for a series of jobs as a ticket-taker, assistant manager and projectionist — giving each role his trademark meticulous attention.

But by 1985, the iconic structure had fallen into gross disrepair and was slated for demolition.

Summerill couldn’t bear to see that happen, so he launched a campaign to save the Egyptian that spanned 12 years. And by 1997, Ogden’s famed theater had been restored to crown jewel status and was back in business.

Based on that gargantuan effort, former Weber State University Provost Michael Vaughan recommended that Summerill receive an honorary degree.

Photo supplied, Michael Vaughan

Longtime Ogden resident and Peery's Egyptian Theater booster Van Summerill is shown in this undated photo.

“Van, more than anyone else, is responsible for the restoration of the Peery Egyptian Theater in downtown Ogden,” Vaughan wrote in his 2013 letter to the university’s Honorary Degree Committee.

Vaughan described the conditions that led to the building’s condemnation: “In the early 1980s, the health department cited the theater for several infractions, including unsanitary restrooms, broken chairs and no heat in the building. In 1984, the Egyptian Theater closed.”

In 1985, Summerill organized the 50-member Friends of the Egyptian coalition and hosted a 61st birthday party for the theater.

Then he and Friends of the Egyptian raised funds through selling T-shirts, sweatshirts and hats wherever they could — some out of a vacant Ogden City Mall storefront they dubbed Cleo’s Closet.

By 1988, the Friends group had evolved into the Egyptian Theatre Foundation, and the group had raised enough money to purchase the dilapidated theater, Vaughan wrote.

He also credited Ogden City, Weber County and WSU for securing funds to restore the theater and also build the Eccles Conference Center. That restoration finished in 1997.

In 2014, Summerill received the honorary degree in recognition of his efforts that had enriched both the university and the community at large.

Summerill graduated from Ogden High School in 1960, earned an associate degree from what was then Weber State College, and then worked 40 years as a designer and layout artist for the university’s Printing Services department, ultimately retiring in 2002.

Darren Rogers — longtime friend both to Summerill and to the Egyptian Theater — described him as a “gentle giant … with a big huge heart and a lot of passion for Ogden.”

During a recent Celtic performance at the Egyptian, Rogers said he looked at the crowd of more than 700 people and thought, “None of us could have been here tonight, enjoying this production in this building, if it hadn’t been for Van.”

As a member of the national Theatre Historical Society, Summerill studied movie palaces throughout the country, and Rogers noted that in 1997 Summerill managed to bring society members to Ogden to tour the Egyptian, along with other movie palaces in the state.

This year marks Peery’s Egyptian Theater’s 100th year in downtown Ogden, and Rogers said that Summerill — who battled Parkinson’s Disease for years and moved into assisted living in 2022 — had still been eager to help plan an exhibit for the theater’s June gala.

But on March 17, Summerill died at the age of 81. However, he’d been able to attend a packed performance in January that featured Marie Osmond — also an Ogden native.

Summerill’s sister, Sally Cannon, teamed with his niece to transport him from Legacy House to the theater that night. Rogers said he wheeled Summerill up to the second floor to meet Osmond, where she spoke with him at length while holding his hand.

“Van was so moved by that,” Rogers said.

Summerill also summoned enough strength to watch Osmond’s entire performance, which included an aria that brought him to tears.

For Cannon, Summerill was her big-hearted big brother — seven years her senior.

“He was meticulous with the details of the theater — he just ate it up,” Cannon said, noting that Summerill eventually constructed his own in-home theater that replicated many of those grand features on a small scale.

“The theater in his house — the Bijou — was just phenomenal,” Cannon said. “He had regulars who would come and watch movies and Van was in his element.”

Rogers often frequented the Bijou and reminisced about how showings began with recorded organ music and the room was properly decked out with neon lights, theater seating, popcorn and more.

“It wasn’t hokey, it was state of the art,” Rogers said. “We watched many films that were released in the 1940s and 50s.”

Rogers said that his love for film noir grew out of that exposure, and he fears that the genre has basically been lost.

This Monday evening, the theater’s doors at 2415 Washington Blvd. in Ogden will open at 6:30 p.m. in preparation for a 7 p.m. service to commemorate Summerill’s life and impact on the Ogden community.

Learn more about Van Summerill here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8UEfZZOPyC4


Join thousands already receiving our daily newsletter.

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)