FORT ATKINSON, Wis. — Richard F. “Dick” Klopcic, founder with his wife, Betty, of the Fireside Dinner Theatre in Fort Atkinson and iconic Wisconsin hospitality industry leader, passed away Sept. 30 in Madison, Wis. He was 82.
“Dick was a visionary in dining, travel and entertainment,” said GLAMER chairman Charlie Presley. “He created a destination in Fort Atkinson that has become a household word in the travel industry.
“I speak with groups from California to Chicago, and they all know about the Fireside. I believe the real tribute to Dick is in his family and the dedication that he instilled to recognize that travel is all about hospitality,” said Presley.
As pioneers of a full hospitality experience for their guests, the Klopcics became known for their company credo, “People will come to where they have been invited and will return to where they have been made to feel welcome.”
“We’ve showcased productions and the intimate guest experience offered by this iconic Wisconsin attraction many times over the years in The Group Travel Leader,” said publisher Mac Lacy. “In this industry, when you think of exceptional theater offered in venues outside New York and Broadway, the Fireside always comes to mind. I don’t know of another dinner theater in America that entertains travel groups any better.”
Two generations of Klopcic’s family have succeeded Dick in the dinner theater, which now auditions more than 1,000 professional actors and actresses annually for 60 to 75 roles in Broadway-level productions.
The theater’s iconic “flame of friendship,” a 35-foot tall, fiery-red steel sculpture that was dedicated in 1970 by Wisconsin Gov. Warren P. Knowles, stands at its entrance, “What an honor and a privilege it has been to work for Dick Klopcic and his family for almost 30 years,” said marketing manager Julie Nordeen. “He was a true visionary, a man of great integrity and a leader that inspired everyone around him to work harder and smarter and accomplish more than they thought possible.
“Many of us owe our entire careers to Dick Klopcic and are as committed to the success of the Fireside as if it were our own.”
“I first met Dick Klopcic when I was 27 years old,” said artistic director Ed Flesch. “I was acting at a dinner theater in Madison when I got a call out of the blue. It was Dick. He said he owned a restaurant in Fort Atkinson and wanted to open a theater. I immediately answered, ‘Where on earth is Fort Atkinson?’
“Thirty-three years later, not only do I know where Fort Atkinson is,” said Flesch, “but hundreds of thousands of people around the country and the globe know where it is — largely due to Dick Klopcic.”
“If you haven’t enjoyed this magical Fireside experience that he created, that has blessed thousands of people for 47 years, come join us and we’ll give you a warm Dick Klopcic welcome,” said Nordeen.