Movies and memories

Former Harlan Theatre owner Alvin Woodraska passes away

HARLAN — For decades, Alvin K. Woodraska, Jr. brought the magic of movies to the Harlan community. Woodraska, former owner of the Harlan Theatre and the Harlan Drive-In, passed away Sunday, January 21. He was 89 years old.
 Woodraska was born in Aberdeen, SD. He served in the Air Force for five years. Following his stint in the service, he attended barber school. There he met and married Dixie Backer in 1958. Al was a barber for ten years, during which time, Dixie’s parents, Sylvester  and Marjorie Backer owned the Harlan Theatre.
 In 1968, Backer contacted his son-in-law and told Al the Harlan Drive-In Theatre was for sale. Al and Dixie moved to Harlan and purchased the drive-in, which they operated until 1985.
 “I first met Al when he ran the drive-in and I would go watch movies after I got my license,” said friend Jeff Branstetter.
 “He was a very wise, astute businessman,” Branstetter recalled, noting Woodraska’s versatility. Throughout the years, he invested and ran several other local businesses, including a liquor store, video store, take-out pizza, tax business and basement arcade.
 In 1972, Al and Dixie purchased the Harlan Theatre, which then had one screen.
 A second screen was installed in 1995. Woodraska added a third screen in 1997, and in 2002, a fourth screen was added on 7th Street.With that addition, Harlan became the smallest town in the United States with four theatres.
 “He was ahead of his time,” Branstetter said. Wednesdays “Buck Night” at the drive-in was a huge success. In 1972, a record-breaking 99 people piled into one  pickup to take advantage of the $1 per vehicle admission.
 Woodraska was always good for a laugh, but was known for being a “straight shooter”, Brandstetter said. “There was no sugar coating things with Al.” Many Shelby County residents hold fond memories of Saturday matinees with “Uncle Al”, with reminders to “get their feet off the seats.”
 In 2005, the Woodraska’s daughter and son-in-law, Sharon and Kevin Lucke, purchased the theatre, and continue to carry on Al’s legacy of providing newly released movies to Shelby County.
 “You were an inspiration and full of passion and knowledge of the movie business,” Sharon wrote in a social media post about her father.
 “After 37 years and 5,000 movies, I was happy to take over for you.”
 Alvin is survived by his wife Dixie, children Terri (Larry) Duffer of Thaxton, MS, Sharon (Kevin) Lucke of Harlan and Ken (Marcia) Woodraska of Oelwein, IA, six grandchildren and a sister, Yvonne Barr of Sioux Falls, SD.



Harlan Newspapers

1114 7th Street
P.O. Box 721
Harlan, IA 51537-0721

(800) 909-6397

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