Changing of the guard at the Opera House

NEWBERRY — The Newberry Opera House will have a changing of the guard later this year as its two long-time leaders retire from their respective positions.

Dr. James E. Wiseman Jr., founding chairman of the Newberry Opera House, has resigned his position as chairman of the board, citing his long service. He has consented to remain on the board.

Deborah Smith, the founding executive director of the Opera House, has also announced her retirement. Smith joined the Opera House project nearly 20 years ago, coming from Middlebury College in Vermont and has been instrumental in its development.

“Newberry is home and I hope to do some traveling in the immediate future and returning home to this wonderful city. I am looking forward to coming to see shows as a member of the audience at the Opera House,” Smith said.

The new board chairman will be Phil Spotts, a current board member and a long-time South Carolina educator. The Opera House Foundation board has formed a search committee to hire a new executive director.

“Dr. Wiseman, as founding Opera House Chair and visionary leader, was instrumental in its renovation and in the ongoing operations of the Opera House,” said Mayor Foster Senn . “He has led the Opera House since its inception and is the heart of the organization. We appreciate all he has done and for him continuing to serve on the board.”

Senn said what Smith has done as director is remarkable.

“She has taken the Opera House and a vision and turned it into one of the great historical theaters in America. Deborah is a wonderful director, a community leader, and a great friend to many in Newberry and beyond. She will leave the Opera House as strong and vibrant as its ever been,” Senn said.

Under Smith’s leadership, the Newberry Opera House has received much recognition, including being named Outstanding Theater in 2008 by the League of Historic American Theaters.

A retired dentist and a member of the SC Dental Association, Wiseman is past president of the Central District Dental Society and past president of the S.C. Academy of Practice Administration. He has frequently been published in national medical and dental journals. Wiseman is a graduate of the University of South Carolina and obtained his D.M.D. from the University of Louisville.

He is the recipient of many awards, including the Governor’s Rural Summit Award, Woodrow Wilson Award Order of the Palmetto, Citizenship Award S.C. Dental Association, and the S.C. Downtown Development Award, and has served as Vice Chair of the Medical University of SC. He served as a councilman on the Newberry City Council.

Spotts has had a long and successful career in education. He served as principal of Irmo High School and also on the School District Board of Lexington/Richland 5 during its formative years.

Spotts graduated from Newberry High School and from Newberry College. He joined the Marine Corps and has also been Interim Athletic Director at Newberry College.

He is on the Newberry County Chamber of Commerce board of directors, is vice president of the Newberry Museum Society and is a Rotarian. After some 30 years in public education and five years as a private school headmaster, Spotts and his wife, Cathy, have retired to Newberry.