Jan. 23, 2004 – Threats of rain had postponed the re-dedication of Frederiksted's historic Dorsch Cultural Activity Center three times, and when the ceremony was finally held on Friday, a sun shower drenched the town. About a hundred people, many sheltered from the rain under a tent, were on hand to witness the event.
Originally known as the Open Air Theater, the center located on Strand Street next to Athalie McFarland Petersen Library had its first formal dedication in 1933. In 1972, the 9th Legislature renamed the facility in honor of Frederick D. Dorsch.
Born in Scottsville, Mich., Dorsch moved in the 1930s to St. Croix, where he taught English, music and industrial arts at Frederiksted Junior High School. A humanist, educator, dramatist and civic enthusiast, he served on the Virgin Islands Municipal Council and became a school superintendent. In 1955 he married Delta M. Jackson, and they had one daughter, Helen.
At Friday's ceremony, Planning and Natural Resources Commissioner Dean Plaskett said the center, devastated by Hurricane Hugo in 1989, was rebuilt with Community Development Block Grant funds. Plaskett said the reconstruction showed his department's and the administration's "commitment to Frederiksted and the arts."
"The construction has preserved the character of the original facility while utilizing modern lighting and other facilities," he said. "It combines functional appropriateness with classic Greek representation."
Delta Dorsch, the widow of Frederick Dorsch, was present for the dedication. Hailed as one of the Virgin Islands' great storytellers, she has been honored by many organizations including the V.I. Cultural Heritage Institute. She recently finished a video and booklet on "The Role of the Storyteller in the Preservation of the Virgin Islands Culture" that includes music by Blinkey and the Roadmasters.
Others attending the ceremony included Gov. Charles W. Turnbull, Lt. Gov. Vargrave Richards, Delegate Donna M. Christensen, Senators Louis Hill, Luther Renee, Usie Richards and Ronald Russell, St. Croix Administrator Gregory Francis, Tourism Commissioner Pamela Richards and Property and Procurement Commissioner Marc Biggs.
Lenny James, who has researched the life and times of Frederick Dorsch, presented a historical sketch of his subject to the crowd. "Mr. Dorsch introduced the game of basketball to the island, held the first school carnival and gave the children their first taste of cotton candy," James said. And, he said, Dorsch was the first person in Frederiksted to own a radio, and many residents would gather at his home to listen to the "fireside chats" of then-President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Gustave James, who headed the team contracted to renew the center, said he would like to see the entire town of Frederiksted renovated and called for the creation of a fund to assist property owners in re-construction. "The government needs to intervene and assist property owners," he said.
Lt. Gov. Richards hailed the re-dedication as "the turning point in the rejuvenation of Frederiksted."
When Turnbull presented Delta Dorsch with a mahogany "key" to the center inscribed with the date of the re-dedication ceremony, she quipped: "I was hoping it was the key to the vault in Government House!"
Turnbull said the center will "continue the dream and vision" of Frederick Dorsch, who saw the potential, skill, energy and talent in the local youngsters and "captured and showcased that talent."
"Our culture must be kept alive and passed on to prosperity," the governor stated. He also said the facility will bring the community together: "Dorsch Center will again be the premier place to foster good, loving and caring relationships."
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