Meredith College has begun a renovation of Jones Auditorium, which was built in 1949. Phase one of the project, which includes new seating, new carpet, lighting, sound system, a new mechanical lift for accessibility, and general upgrades, started in July 2023.
Phase one of the renovation is supported by a lead gift from Lisa Robie Poole, ‘86, and her husband, Ven Poole.
“This gift from the Pooles gives the College a great start with the renovations and we are really, really excited about this and thank the Pooles for this gift,” said President Jo Allen. “Next will come phase two of the renovation, an addition that honors the front of the auditorium but also adds a glassed-in space that will give us room for performances, events, receptions, and lectures.”
Phase two funding will lead to the creation of the Meredith College Performing Arts Center.
Poole had a desire to give this gift because of her love of theater and what Jones Auditorium meant to her when she was a student at Meredith College and the fond memories she treasures.
Poole has had an interest in music and theater since childhood and was able to pursue that interest at Sanderson High School in Raleigh during her junior and senior years. After deciding to attend Meredith College and wanting to major in drama or a related arts curriculum, her father said “no.” She was heartbroken but eventually decided to major in American civilization with a minor in communication. She enjoyed learning how history affected culture and society.
“Even now, I am drawn to stories of how the happenings of our world, the good and the bad, are affecting children, animals, social groups, religions, the marginalized, and so many more,” said Poole.
Poole says she floundered her freshman year. But her sophomore year she decided to take a drama class and had a wonderful professor who showed her she had talent. He cast her in the lead role of Alma Winemiller in Tennessee Williams’ Summer and Smoke. Being on stage 98% of the time during the show taught her how to focus on learning her lines and rehearsing.
“Jones Auditorium became my hang-out place. I performed one play a year. That allowed me to do what I loved most and it saved me,” said Poole.
Poole points out that Jones Auditorium is a place for other events like classes in art, music, and drama, as well as dance performances.
“The black box theater is a wonderful space to put on intimate theater-in-the-round performances. And I watched all three of my daughters present years of ballet and tap recitals in Jones Auditorium.”
Jones Auditorium is also an important hub for faculty, staff, and students and for the Raleigh community. For instance, Poole said she never imagined decades after graduating she would use Jones Auditorium to host author events with her business.
With her love of stories and with the encouragement of her husband, Ven, and their three daughters, in 2012 she bought Quail Ridge Books. At the time the store was located behind Meredith College on Wade Avenue.
“Ven put a copy of the News and Observer in front of me, which had a story about Quail Ridge Books and that the owners, Nancy and Jim Olson, were selling. He wanted to know what I thought,” said Poole. “I wasn’t sure what to think. Could I even run a bookstore? But having the chance to try it was very exciting.”
Today she is thankful for Meredith’s hospitality in using Jones Auditorium for author events. Pat Conroy, Jodi Picoult, John Grisham, Gloria Steinem, Anna Quindlen, Cokie Roberts, Ibram X. Kendi, Nic Stone, and many more well-known authors have graced the stage.
“I want the Meredith community to be proud of Jones Auditorium, whether it’s for hosting dignitaries, school performances, college traditions, parents, donor celebrations, or authors from a certain Raleigh bookstore. I want Jones Auditorium to have the ‘wow’ factor, yet still feel like home,” said Poole.
To learn more and see construction photos, visit meredith.edu/campus-growth.
Interested in helping fund phase two of the project? Contact Cindy Godwin, associate vice president for institutional advancement, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (919) 760-8206.
Photo information: Images shown are tentative drawings for Phase 2 of the project