It is a whole different role for Mikki Jones than anything she’d ever had at The Little Theatre of Walla Walla.

And that’s saying a lot for someone who got her start there in 1979 as a shy teen and worked her way through lighting, set design and construction, stage managing and prop creation.

Then again, managing director is a whole new role for anyone at the Little Theatre.

The community theater that started in 1944 and continues its 74th season as a now mostly volunteer-operated endeavor with final shows of “Spamalot” this weekend, made the historic step with the creation of the new position.

The behind-the-scenes position is designed to ensure the show at 1130 E. Sumach St. goes on. And on. And on.

“This is one of the only volunteer community theaters that is always in the black,” Jones said proudly from a front-and-center seat in the theater.

The operation’s boards have taken major steps over the years to secure the organization’s future in performing arts. 

That started in 1948 with the purchase of the World War Veterans Memorial Building on Garden City Heights, where the theater moved from Main Street and has operated ever since. 

An endowment started in 2005 with $25,000 was designed to ensure the theater’s existence.

It has grown to more $500,000 on the path to a $1 million goal.

But there is much more to be done.

A $100,000 fire suppression system is needed to be replaced in the grandfathered building to meet current safety standards.

And as the costs of production rise — royalties for scripts, costuming, lighting maintenance, music rights, construction materials — finding additional resources to offset the costs is crucial.

It’s become more important to have a person dedicated to finding resources.

“As needs grow, fundraising needs to grow,” Jones said.

Spearheading that effort is one of the biggest missions in her new position. 

Grant funds, sponsorships and donations will be actively sought.

Additionally, Jones will create and oversee a volunteer management plan.

Her job is funded by a three-year capacity building grant from the Donald & Virginia Sherwood Trust. 

Although the exact amount has not yet been disclosed, the grant funds the new position fully for the first year and then decreases the remaining two years as other fundraising sources are recruited through Jones’ efforts become a permanent part of the equation.

“There’s a lot of nuts and bolts to it,” Jones said. 

“We really need to have a strong business acumen.”

For Jones, co-pastor at Grace Church, the position brings familiarity. It has been more than 25 years since she was a regular part of the Little Theatre. 

Focused on other things, including ministry, as her life changed, there was less time to focus on the theater, she said.

Much has changed.

“I remember running up orchard ladders with lights in each hand,” she said, throwing a glance to a much more elaborate system. “There were pull ropes backstage, and now there are levers. For the fog we’d go down and buy the dry ice.”

Many things are still the same, though.

A dress her mother made as a costumer is still in the wardrobe, a nod to the enduring value of the skill and contributions to the theater, as well as the multigenerational legacy. 

Even the cushions inside the boat used for the current run of the spoof on King Arthur were there all those decades ago.

“I’m excited to help create opportunities for things to come,” she said. 

“Whether in here, on the stage or outside, everybody who volunteers will get to do something. Even the guardrail outside needs painting.”

Jones expects her ministry work to be a huge asset in her new job.

“It’s about relationships,” she said. “Where there’s relationship, there’s return.”

The building has begun. New sponsorship cards are being created. And new relationships are being forged.

“It’s kind of like coming home,” Jones said.

Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at 509-526-8321, vickihillhouse@wwub.com or on Twitter at https://twitter.com/VickiHillhouse.

Vicki covers business and economic development, including tourism, the Port of Walla Walla and the Strictly Business column, as well as features. She has been reporting for the Union-Bulletin since late 2001.