Idaho State University’s $34 million L.E. and Thelma E. Stephens Performing Arts Center grew out of a vision shared by longtime ISU supporter Thelma E. Stephens and President Richard L. Bowen, and encouraged by the Idaho State University Foundation Board of Directors.
Many years ago, Mrs. Stephens and her husband, the late potato-marketing pioneer L.E. Stephens, would go to the top of Bartz Hill in Pocatello and gaze out at the Portneuf Valley, Scout Mountain and the Snake River Valley. In 1998, ISU received a gift of $10 million from Mrs. Stephens. It was seed funding for the center that would bear the couple’s names.
When Mrs. Stephens was considering where to locate the state-of-the-art complex, President Bowen suggested Bartz Hill, on Bartz Way on the ISU campus. Mrs. Stephens agreed. June 10th, 2002, was the first day of construction.
The center’s design and construction was funded primarily through the support of hundreds of private donors, as part of University’s $152.5 million capital campaign to fund a variety of needs. It was the largest capital campaign in the history of higher education in Idaho.
The first performance in the Stephens Center was “Man of LaMancha,” in October 2004 in the Beverly B. Bistline Theatre. A gala evening featuring a diverse range of musical talent inaugurated the Joseph C. and Cheryl H. Jensen Grand Concert Hall on April 1, 2005. Mrs. Stephens died on Sept. 15, 2006, at age 98.
Today, musicians, actors and other performers from around the world regularly grace the center’s stages.
The center’s most significant performance venues, promenades and other spaces are named for the largest donors to the center. Seats in each performance venue bear the names of hundreds of additional donors. More names are continually being added through donations managed by the ISU Foundation. Each gift help to assure that the facility is operated and maintained in keeping with the spirit with which it was built. The L.E. and Thelma E. Stephens Performing Arts Center, unique in the Intermountain West and Pacific Northwest in many ways, is a living legacy that will enrich the cultural life of southeastern Idaho for decades to come.