April 3, 2023

Ladely to retire after 50 years leading the Ross

Nebraska's Danny Lee Ladely stands in front of the Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center in 2013.
Troy Fedderson | University Communication and Marketing

Troy Fedderson | University Communication and Marketing
Nebraska's Danny Lee Ladely stands in front of the Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center ahead of his 40th year in 2013. Ladely will retire on June 30, having led the campus theater for 50 years.

After a 50-year career, Danny Lee Ladley is retiring as director of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center.

A national search will be conducted to select a new leader of the Ross, and normal operations will continue. Ladely’s retirement is effective July 3.

“Danny has been the director for the entire history of the program,” said Andy Belser, dean of the Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts. “So those are big shoes for someone to fill. But I’m confident we will find a talented and visionary person to lead the Ross forward for its next 50 years.”

Belser said the next leader of the campus theater will have an opportunity to expand the vision of the Ross.

“The Ross is ideally positioned to have a greater national and international presence through events and programming that may include things like film festivals, faculty- and student-curated showings, live events and training for underserved students, just to name a few ideas,” Belser said. “I look forward to working with the Friends of the Ross board and Ross leadership to chart the course for the center for its next 50 years.”

Belser said Ladely built something special with the programming offered through the campus theater.

“The Ross has been a vital entertainment center, showing independent film and connecting Lincoln audiences to filmmakers,” Belser said. “They present works often not ordinarily offered in this area.

“I thank Danny for his service to the university and the community and celebrate his career as director of the Ross. He has introduced so many in the community to independent films.”

In 1973, Ladely accepted an invitation from Norman Geske, the director of Sheldon Museum of Art at the time, to lead a full-time film program at Sheldon.

Ladely’s passion for film took root in his hometown of Gordon, Nebraska, where he paid 25 cents to watch Saturday matinees at the Pace Theater. It deepened during his study at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln and led him to his leadership role with the Ross.

During his tenure, Ladley worked to keep the theater ahead of the curve by playing top independent films and showcasing them through the best technology available. He also developed a relationship with Mary Riepma Ross, a former University of Nebraska student, retired lawyer and patron of the arts, who pledged her support to the film program. It was named for her in 1990.

Ross pledged $3.5 million that led to the Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center being built in 2003 at 13th and R streets adjacent to the Van Brunt Visitors Center.

The Ross was the first university theater in the world to install a digital projection system. The building includes two theaters, a film vault, a library/meeting room and concessions stand. It also housed the new film and new media program that was created in the Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film.

After Ross’ death in 2013, it was announced she left $9.5 million in her estate to the University of Nebraska Foundation to support the campus theater.

“The Ross has garnered a national reputation for being one of the best screening venues of its kind in the country for independent films,” Belser said. “And Danny’s leadership and guidance has been a large part of that.”