Jody Renstrom, who died at age 85 last week, is remembered throughout Utah County for founding the Valley Center Playhouse with her husband, Keith Renstrom.

The Renstroms’ years running the community theater add up to 38.

But those who knew them can’t put a figure on the amount of people the Renstroms influenced for good during that time.

“Mom’s love of the arts was so infectious that it lit the fires of love for theater in hundreds and probably thousands of other people,” their son Greg Renstrom told the Daily Herald. “I think that’s the very essence of community theater is to provide a place and to provide a love, and it just makes life much … richer and more beautiful.”

Lifelong love

Jody Renstrom had a passion for the arts and theater from a young age, according to her daughter Julie Day.

“My mom said that when she was 4 years old, her dad helped her learn all the states and capitals in America, and she said, ‘I never realized how that would impact me, just being able to memorize things,’ ” Day said.

Greg Renstrom said his grandfather reminded him of John Wayne and describes him as “kind of a rough-and-tumble outdoors guy” and carpenter who also wrote beautiful poetry and made oil paintings. Greg Renstrom said his mom inherited this artistic gene.

Day said when Jody Renstrom was in elementary school, her teacher asked her to organize and direct a weekly program for her class.

“It started there, and then through high school just being involved with it,” Day said. “She just always loved theater and acting and singing.”

Jody Renstrom began writing her own plays when royalties for bigger shows at the Valley Center Playhouse started to become too expensive for the community theater. She eventually wrote 15 plays and musicals, as well as 40 songs.

“I think it was just her talent,” Day said. “She had a love and a passion for it.”

Jody Renstrom wrote two one-woman plays, “Portrait of Emma” about Emma Smith and “Mary, the Chosen” about the mother of Jesus Christ.

“She toured all over the United States for about 27 years putting on those productions, and my dad would go with her and help her with all of that,” Day said.

Greg Renstrom described his father, a World War II Marine veteran who died last year on Independence Day, as being “an absolutely marvelous supporter” of his wife and her artistic ambitions.

“Mom would get an idea and Dad would make it happen, and so they were a great team,” Greg Renstrom said.

Valley Center Playhouse

Keith and Jody Renstrom first opened the Valley Center Playhouse in downtown Provo in 1975, which relocated to Orem for a short time in the ‘80s and finally settled for many years in Lindon, adapting what was once a welfare farm maintenance building for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints into a theater.

“When they moved to Utah County from California years ago, they just wanted to provide a place where parents could bring their families and they would have good, wholesome family entertainment,” Day said.

The Valley Center Playhouse hosted productions of plays like “Little Women,” “Hotel Frankenstein” and Jody Renstrom’s original “Shadowbrook Mansion” for Halloween, and “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” during the holidays.

Greg Renstrom said many families made it a tradition to see plays at the Valley Center Playhouse and remembers the theater’s awards shows and children’s parades during the intermissions of the Halloween shows.

“There was a real sense of community,” Greg Renstrom said. “There was a beautiful spirit and a joy, and you’d feel like you were at home and you had friends as you walked into the Valley Center theater.”

Day said her parents also taught acting classes and gave new actors an opportunity to develop their talents and gain confidence onstage through the Valley Center Playhouse.

“Not only actors and actresses were opportunities that were given to Utah Valley people, technicians and publicists and costumers,” said Buddy Youngreen, a longtime friend of the Renstroms who directed productions at the Valley Center Playhouse. “They gave so many people opportunities to have a professional experience.”

Many of the Renstroms’ children and grandchildren also helped to build and run the theater, acting in plays, working the box office, manning the concessions stands and cheering from the audience.

“It had an amazing power to draw the family together and to draw the best within us out,” Greg Renstrom said. “Theater’s a very special thing, and we’re definitely cheerleaders for the arts.”

Daily Herald Features/Entertainment Editor Doug Fox fondly recalled interactions with Jody Renstrom in relation to planning newspaper coverage for plays at the Valley Center Playhouse over the years.

“I had spoken with Jody several times on the phone, but I will never forget meeting her in person,” Fox said. “She stopped in the office to drop off a press release and she was dressed to the nines. For the rest of us, it was just another nondescript middle-of-the-week workday. But Jody was dressed as if she were headed to a gala.”

Recalling her press releases also makes Fox smile.

“Without fail, Jody always brought in press releases that she had personally handwritten in elegant cursive writing on lined paper,” Fox said. “That was just her style.”

The Renstroms decided to close the Valley Center Playhouse’s doors in 2013 when Keith Renstrom was 92 years old and Jody was approaching 80.

“But Mom, she had no regrets,” Greg Renstrom said. “She said, ‘We had a wonderful run.’ … It was a wonderful blessing to them in being able to be comfortable in the final years of their life.”

Community impact

The Renstroms were recognized by the Office of the Governor for their service to the residents of Utah through community theater, the Miss Utah County pageant and the American Cancer Society. Keith and Jody Renstrom also received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the SCERA Center for the Arts for outstanding contributions to the arts.

“I was glad to be numbered among those who knew them and fellowshipped with them,” Youngreen said. “Jody struck me as being really ‘an elect lady,’ according to Latter-day scripture references. She was indeed elect, and we were all blessed for having her in our community.”

Funeral services for Jody Renstrom will be held Saturday at 11 a.m. at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints building at 1548 N. 900 West, Pleasant Grove.

Viewings will be held Friday from 6-8 p.m. at Sundberg-Olpin Mortuary, 495 S. State St., Orem, and Saturday from 9:30-10:30 a.m. at the church in Pleasant Grove prior to the funeral services.

Features Reporter

Sarah Harris writes about arts and entertainment for the Daily Herald.

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