(Photo by Michael Fischer)
What started as a summer job turned into a career of sorts for Jeri Langenfeld.
"I started Memorial Day weekend of 1978 ... out at the drive-in," she said, detailing the beginning of her tenure with R.L. Fridley Theatres.
For three years, she worked at the drive-in during the summer and the downtown theater the remainder of the year. Since then, she has held numerous positions -- from concessionaire to janitor to projectionist -- and has served as Spencer 3 Theatres manager since the opening of Southpark 7 in April of 2004.
As the longest-tenured Fridley employee, Langenfeld has mixed feelings about the theater's impending closure in August.
"It's bitter sweet," she said. "I do understand why it's closing (but) it'd be neat if we could keep it open... To me, the downtown theater is a true movie theater like they used to be... To me, it's what movie theaters should really look like... They've got class."
Throughout her tenure, Langenfeld has witnessed many changes, including the addition of two new theaters at the end of 1979.
"I was thinking they opened around the 27th or 28th of December," Langenfeld recalled. "They wanted to have it opened by Christmas, but some equipment didn't come in so they had to wait. They opened before New Year's, I know that."
With the opening of the new theaters came a new way to project the films.
Originally, the theater utilized reel-to-reel projecting.
"The projectionist had to flip from one projector to the next and had just a matter of seconds to flip-flop and the movie continued onto the second reel," Langenfeld explained.
Because the projectionist had to change and manually rewind reels every 15 to 20 minutes, he or she stayed in the booth for the entirety of each film.
A single-reel platter system replaced that system and is used to this day.
"We would go from one platter, through the wheels, thread it through the projecter and back onto an empty platter and it would rewind itself," Langenfeld said. "When it was done, you'd be ready for the next show."
Now many theaters, including Southpark 7, use a digital system, she added.
Sound has evolved to surround sound from a system using only front speakers.
When asked what she has enjoyed most about her time at Spencer 3, she simply responds, "The people... especially my employees. I've had a great bunch."
Langenfeld has also met many repeat customers throughout the years.
"I may not know them by name, but they know me and I know them," she said.
Of course the most obvious benefits she receives are the movies.
"I thoroughly enjoy them and always have," she said. "(Working at the theater) was one job I always wanted."
With her job, she has seen quite a few big-name blockbuster releases.
Topping the charts were "Titanic," "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial" and "The Passion of the Christ," with "Star Wars" films also drawing a large, sometimes costumed crowd.
As for Langenfeld's personal preference, she listed "Pretty Women," "My Side of the Mountain," "Uncommon Valor," "Remember Me" and "Last Song" as favorites.
"I always said I wanted to have my funeral in (theatrer) number one and be buried there and have my favorite movie playing, but I can't figure out what that would be," she said, adding with a laugh, "I was always told I haunted the theater enough that I couldn't do that."
"It's just another phase," she said of the impact the theater's August closure will have on her. "The last day, I think, is going to be the hardest."
Twelve employees feel the same way.
"My help all want to work the last day," she said. "I can't have all 12 working, but they've been really good."
Frequent customers have had the chance to sign a guest book.
"A lot of people have shown support as they don't want it to close, but they understand," she said.
Even as her time at the theater comes to a close, Langenfeld has job security.
"I was told last summer when Bob (Fridley) informed me they were closing (the theater), the company would take care of me. Wherever I want to go, I could go," she shared.
When asked if she would be interested in managing Southpark 7, "I said 'no' because I can't give my whole heart to that," she reflected.
Instead she has agreed to work part time at the multiplex, in addition to managing Video Warehouse and working with special needs students at Lincoln Elementary.
The latter job she has held even longer than her theater position, since 1976.
"I'm a diehard," she said. "I don't change jobs; I just add jobs."