Isis Theatre Gets Hearing Loop

Executive Director Inducted into National Sertoma Hall of Fame

October 11, 2023

The Isis Theatre in Crete was originally designed for “talkies” in 1926 – four years before movies with sound were released in Nebraska. A local resident, Otto Feeken, had just been working in Hollywood and he brought this advanced technology back home. The Isis is believed to be the first theatre in the Midwest built with both an orchestra pit (for live music with silent movies) and a speaker system.

            Now this nearly century old icon is being renovated, and thanks to a grant from the Nebraska Arts Council, the theatre originally built for sound will now be rebuilt with sound for all. The NAC awarded an accessibility grant to the Blue River Arts Council (BRAC) so that a hearing loop can be installed in the Isis Theatre. A hearing loop uses a system of copper wires installed in a venue’s floor and a T-coil in a patron’s hearing aid or cochlear implant to create a magnetic field. This magnetic field transmits the venue’s sound system directly into the user’s hearing device. With a hearing loop installed in the Isis, persons with a hearing loss will actually be able to hear the sound effects in movies and attendees at corporate events will be able to understand the speakers because their own personal listening device can accommodate for their own personal hearing issue.

            This grant award, and the installation of a hearing loop in the Isis Theatre, is the product of a lifetime of work for Blue River Arts Council Executive Director, Shaylene Smith. After attending speech therapy for years growing up, Shaylene was diagnosed with a mild-moderate hearing loss and first fitted with hearing aids in her 30s. Smith explains, “While my loss is not severe, the pattern is unusual because the sounds I miss most are in the middle range rather than low tones or high tones. This results in human speech being hard for me to understand in many settings. Historically, hearing aids just made sound louder. That didn’t help folks like me. Loud but unintelligible is still unintelligible. Now digital technology allows a hearing aid or cochlear implant to be programmed to directly address the user’s needs.”

Shaylene, pictured here with a public art sculpture she designed and painted for the Blue River Arts Council in 2019, is being recognized for that lifetime of work October 14th by being inducted to the national Hall of Fame for Sertoma – a hearing-health charity with community-based service groups throughout the country. Smith was actively involved in Sertoma for more than 20 years and continues to be a Life Member and donor today. She credits her Sertoma involvement with the correct diagnosis of her disability.

            “I first joined Sertoma in Crete to meet people and find a place in my new community when I graduated from law school. I was 24 and didn’t realize that I was already dealing with the effects of long-term hearing loss myself. I just knew that I didn’t watch television much because I couldn’t understand what was said. It wasn’t until I was chastising my children for mumbling that I realized the years spent in speech therapy might mean that the issue was mine. I was finally willing to go get my hearing tested because of Sertoma’s messaging,” says Smith.

            Through the years, Smith served Sertoma as a Gold Honor local club President, a Distinguished District Governor, a Regional Trainer, and a National President’s Advisor. She was named International Sertoman of the Year in 2005. Sertoma is launching a National Hall of Fame at its convention this month and all past Sertomans of the Year are being inducted as the inaugural class.

            Shaylene is especially excited to use her history, and her work in Sertoma, to bring a hearing loop to the Isis Theatre. Smith served as the first President of the Blue River Arts Council from 2018 – 2022 and is now its Executive Director. BRAC has been working for years to raise the funds necessary to renovate and reopen the historic Isis Theatre. While about $375,000 is still needed to complete the $2,000,000 renovation, construction is underway.

            The Nebraska Arts Council grant means one more step can be completed. Smith notes that while hearing loops have been available for years, the technology was initially considered cost prohibitive. Because the Isis Theatre is already gutted for renovation, installation of the copper wire system is feasible now. To help the Isis Theatre reopen quicker, consider a donation at