Allen A. Hicks, or “Skip” to those who knew and loved him, died on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2023, at the Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. He leaves behind a rich legacy in Annville as “Mr. Hollywood.”
Skip and Martha Hicks opened the Allen Theatre & Backstage Cafe, at 36 E. Main St., Annville, in September 1995 after purchasing, partially demolishing, and extensively renovating the former Astor Theater that was trashed and shuttered for more than a decade.
The three-year-long renovation involved replacing the screen, curtains, stage, and seats, installing a new projection system and a new audio system, adding structural reinforcements, getting the building up to code for the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, and overall embracing the art deco style.
Skip Hicks’ vision for the theatre was to provide state-of-the-art entertainment, and a place to gather for the town of Annville and its surrounding communities.
The married couple, who met at Elizabethtown College and built a theater in their Hershey residence’s basement to privately screen 16mm films, renamed the 322-seat theatre in memory of Hicks’ father. And MJ’s Coffeehouse, which has since come to be known as the Backstage Cafe, was named Skip Hicks’ mother.
Under Skip and Martha Hicks’ ownership, the theatre welcomed audiences from Lebanon County and, to Skip Hicks’ surprise, the surrounding areas of Lancaster, Berks, and Dauphin counties for a wide range of films, including the highly attended Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. They also hosted benefit screenings for community organizations.
It also served as a venue for events, some of which, like Santa’s arrival at the Allen Theatre, eventually became community traditions.
The theatre was also a target for pranks like one in 2004 in which several Lebanon Valley College students stole a mannequin promoting Spider-Man 2 and returned it — marred but nonetheless — about a week later.
The married couple owned and operated the theatre until they sold it to the current owners/operators in June 2018.
“I met Skip for the first time in March of 2018 when we started the negotiations for the purchase of the theatre,” Edward and Susan Felty, the current owners/operators of the Allen Theatre & Backstage Cafe, told LebTown in a statement. “Leading up to that first meeting, I only had the knowledge of what I had heard from other people about Skip. Well, everything I had heard was true. Skip was all those great things and much more — [a] very generous man, quite funny, highly passionate about the theatre, and just a good person to his core.”
The Lebanon County natives closed by saying, “My sincere condolences to Martha and the family.”
Skip Hicks was the recipient of the 1997 Founders Day Award from Lebanon Valley College, and the Hicks family received the 1997 Property Pride Award from the founder of Old Annville Day. More than two decades later, they continued to make an impact on the Annville community as Aug. 19, 2018, was deemed “Skip and Martha Hicks Day” by Annville Township commissioners.
“Skip Hicks was as generous and giving as a summer’s day is long,” Michael Schroeder, president of the Friends of Old Annville, wrote to LebTown. “His impact on the Annville community and the greater Lebanon Valley was immense. Resuscitating the dilapidated Astor Theater and turning it into the Allen Theater brought a breath of fresh air into downtown Annville, creating an anchor for the downtown business district that continues to this day. Skip was a genuine community treasure whose legacy will endure for a long time to come.”
Skip Hicks was born in Lebanon on Thursday, Dec. 21, 1944, to the late Allen J. and Mary Jane Hicks. His sister, Jane Morris, and her husband, Walter, of Palmyra, survive him.
Also surviving is his wife, Martha Hicks, and their daughter, Stephanie Anne Hocker, and her husband, Scott, of Lebanon; his nephew, Erich Miller, and his wife, Natalie, and their son, Josef, of Virginia; and his grandson, Nicholas Hocker.
In his 78 years, Skip Hicks was a son, brother, husband, father, uncle, great-uncle, grandfather, and friend to many in the Lebanon community.
Before he became “Mr. Hollywood,” Hicks taught youth in grades four through eight for two decades at the Milton Hershey School.
The Lebanon native himself acted throughout high school and higher ed and in two summer stocks, studied acting/performance at New York University, graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Elizabethtown College, and completed some graduate work at Penn State.
In memory of Skip Hicks, contributions can be made to the Four Diamonds Fund, at 1249 Cocoa Ave., Suite 115, P.O. Box 852, Hershey, or to the St. Jude Children’s Hospital, at 501 St. Jude Place, Memphis, TN.
This article was produced in part thanks to news coverage from decades past of Skip Hicks and the Allen Theatre & Backstage Cafe by the Lebanon Daily News, The Landmark, and The Patriot-News. The late Annville historian Doris Flory gathered the articles and other materials, which are now accessible in the Friends of Old Annville digital archive.
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