Remembering Renee: Fulfilling her grandfather’s dying wish to save The Berwick Theater


BERWICK, COLUMBIA COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — When the future was uncertain for a historic movie theater, she fought to keep the family business open.

Renee Bower followed in her grandfather’s footsteps by putting the Berwick community before herself.

Vince DiAugustine bought the Berwick Theater in 1971, and for the next four decades, you could find him there almost every night, selling tickets in the booth.

Vince faced the daunting task of switching to a digital projector, an investment that would cost tens of thousands of dollars, but a necessary upgrade to show new movies.

It’s something Vince actively pursued until he passed away nearly six years ago.

“He just worked so hard,” said Vince’s wife Lucille DiAugustine.  “His last words were he wanted to keep the theater open!”

It was a dying wish that his granddaughter promised to fulfill.  Renee’s mission was to go digital or go dark, but failure was never really an option.

“If she didn’t step in like that, they would’ve probably demolished the building,” said Renee’s dad Joe DiAugustine.  “We don’t think it would’ve survived!”

Joe said his daughter was determined to keep her word, so it was time to make a change.

She worked with the Berwick Area United Way to turn the East Front Street fixture into a nonprofit with a new name — the Berwick Theater and Center for Community Arts.

“We couldn’t say no to helping to save our theater,” said Ginny Crake with the Berwick Area United Way.  “It’s that vitally important to our downtown!”

Renee told Eyewitness News the decision just felt like the right thing to do, since the theater wasn’t bringing in much of a profit anyway, and Vince never cared about making money.

Thanks to donations, grants, and loans, Renee and the rest of the board of directors spent four months renovating the old building and installing modern equipment.

Renee’s passion to save the theater continues to pay off every Wednesday through Sunday, when dozens of people come through the doors to catch the newest flick, just like they’ve done for decades.

“I’m sure he’s proud of her,” said Joe.  “I told her all the time that I’m proud of her.”

Not long after the theater reopened, Renee was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.  She passed away on December 29, 2018.  She was 27 years old.

“I’m 92 years old,” said Lucille.  “I lived my life, and she was just starting hers.  She should be here, and I could’ve been gone instead.”

Saving the Berwick Theater is only a small part of the legacy Renee leaves behind.

She was a devoted wife to her husband Derek and a loving mom to their two-year-old son, Declan.

The couple also ran a business specializing in vintage furniture rentals.

When Renee’s dad drives by the theater, above the bright lights of the marquee, he said two angels are watching over his family.

“I’m sure she wants us to be happy, but that’s a tall order to be happy here without her,” said Joe.  “But I know she’s happy, and I know she’s with my dad.”

If you would like to support Renee’s husband and son, there’s a concert taking place at The Berwick Theater and Center for Community Arts on March 31st from 5 to 9 p.m.  Click here to buy tickets.

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