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Joan Hurst Moe

January 24, 1935 - June 8, 2013

There will be one seat forever empty in the Norris Theatre. It will be the one Joan Moe would have occupied.

Joan, whose idea it was to have a theater on the Hill and whose mission it was to develop it into a thriving center for the performing arts, died peacefully at her Rolling Hills Estates home on Satur…read more

There will be one seat forever empty in the Norris Theatre. It will be the one Joan Moe would have occupied.

Joan, whose idea it was to have a theater on the Hill and whose mission it was to develop it into a thriving center for the performing arts, died peacefully at her Rolling Hills Estates home on Saturday, June 8. She was 78.

“We’re just all devastated by the loss,” said Robin Franko, the executive director of the Norris Center. “She’s such a huge loss, not only to the Norris but also the entire South Bay community.”

Not many people knew of her 13-year battle with cancer, said her daughter, Julie Moe-Reynolds. Even though a round of chemotherapy nearly killed her about six years ago, Joan kept her illness quiet.

“She didn’t want anybody to know she was sick; so much so that she went all the way to Long Beach Memorial so she wouldn’t run into anybody she knew,” Julie said. “I didn’t realize how much pain \ and how badly she was doing. … She was just a pillar of strength.”

Joan, active all her life, moved to the Peninsula with her husband, Richard, in the early 1960s, and soon after became involved with her adopted community. She served the city of Rolling Hills Estates as a member of the Parks and Activities Committee and the Planning Commission. In those roles, she helped put bike lanes in the city and worked on establishing Ernie Howlett Park and the activities there. She was also instrumental in installing a median down Hawthorne Boulevard, protecting drivers on that road.

She also served as the first chairman of the board for the Switzer Center, a learning center for kids with disabilities, and helped build its first facility in Torrance.

She earned many honors for her political and philanthropic endeavors, including Woman of the Year, Citizen of the Year and a Legend in Our Time recognition.

“Joan was definitely a legend in our time and will continue to be one,” said DeDe Hicks, the president of The Volunteer Center. “It was an honor for the Affinity Group of The Volunteer Center to officially recognize Joan as a Legend in Our Time – recognition that she truly deserved.”

While she gave of her talents to many organizations, Hicks said, the community will always be thankful to Joan for the major role she played in making the Norris Theatre the fine theater it is.

Of all of Joan’s accomplishments, it was the creation of the 450-seat Norris Theatre that was her greatest.

“I think that was her biggest accomplishment, really the legacy that she wanted to leave to the community,” said her daughter. “There wasn’t a conversation that the Norris wasn’t in. … Everything she was about was to get a theater on the Hill.”

Joan’s original idea for the theater was to provide a place for high school students to perform.

“It was definitely Mom’s dream to build that theater, because back East, they had theaters. All the schools had theaters,” Julie said. “Here they just had the Multipurpose Room stage. And she thought the kids were good enough that they deserved to have a real stage.”

Joan joined forces with Agnes Moss and got the Norris Theatre built. It opened its doors in 1983 as a community theater.

With Joan as the driving force, the community theater blossomed into a performing arts center, with an Equity theater, an education center, and a pavilion used for performances, classes and functions.

“As things changed, the theater changed,” Franko said. “We became a regional theater where, of course, we began producing our own productions. It evolved into an education center where we … teach dance, voice, improv and acting. And Joan has been here through all of it.”

Approximately 15,000 guests walk through the Norris Theatre doors per season, and that doesn’t count the kids who come through the Norris’ education program, a critically acclaimed education program that has transformed the lives of thousands of children, including at-risk youth.

Norris scholarship recipient Nick Womack was one such life transformed by the nurturing environment cultivated in the Norris program. Womack, who appeared in a number of productions at the Norris in the mid-2000s, has moved on to Broadway, where he recently completed a 12-week engagement of “Bring It On: The Musical.”

On June 9, he performed at the Tony Awards.

The theater that Joan built has touched many lives. Outreach programs give senior citizens and special-needs children the opportunity to express themselves, and open new worlds to children in the poorest areas of Los Angeles.

“She didn’t create a rinky-dink thing,” Franko said. “I think many people who have never been here before don’t have a sense of the monumental achievement this woman created.”

Joan loved theater, said her daughter, and was a performer herself. An English major in college and a teacher by trade, Joan performed on the Norris stage with the Prime Time Players community group.

“I loved watching her perform on stage,” Julie said. “She was really good.”

Life came full circle when Joan was able to see her granddaughter, Ashley, perform. Ashley did a Shirley Temple number and sang and danced.

“The look on her face; the pride, it was certainly wonderful,” Julie said. “She got to see it come full circle, and that was amazing. She was so proud of her little Ashley.”

A prankster who would short-sheet your bed if the opportunity came up, an athlete who enjoyed swimming, water skiing and tennis, a community organizer who made the Palos Verdes Peninsula a better place to live, and a great friend, mom and grandmother, Joan left an indelible mark on the community.

“We will all miss Joan terribly,” said friend Maude Landon. “She was a great lady and a dear friend of the Peninsula.”

Joan is survived by her husband of 53 years, Richard; two children, Julie and Steve; and four grandchildren, Austin, Colton, Travis and Ashley. A public memorial service and a Celebration of Life reception will take place on Monday, June 17, at 2 p.m. at the Harlyne J. Norris Pavilion, located at 501 Indian Peak Road in Rolling Hills Estates. Guests are asked to park in the structure at the Promenade on the Peninsula shopping mall across the street. The center has established the Joan Moe Memorial Fund for the perpetuation of the Norris Center. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the fund.

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