A Tribute to a Friend: Bill Salerno

A Tribute to a Friend: Bill SalernoImagine Award 2010 Nancy Schlagel and Bill Salernoresized

by Jessica Barraza

I’ve been struggling to write this for a few days. In my own life, the last six months have been full of loss, but one never fully accepts that it continues to happen. And yet, happen it does. The news of Bill’s illness, rapid decline, and passing happened so quickly that I and many others who knew Bill well didn’t have time to process that he was leaving us; and now he’s gone. I’ll start at the beginning, and try to do some justice to the incredible man I’ve come to know over the past nine years.

The Salernos came to The School of Imagine Ballet Theatre in its infancy, back in 2005. We had just moved out of the Eccles Community Arts Center and officially declared ourselves The School of Imagine Ballet Theatre, in conjunction with Imagine Ballet Theatre the pre-professional Company that had been founded the year prior by Artistic Director Raymond Van Mason. At the time, Ray, myself, and one other instructor made up the entire Faculty and Artistic Staff of our school, and we used the single rehearsal studio in the Peery’s Egyptian Theater. I taught all of the “little ones” classes, and that’s where Bill and his family came in. Bill’s daughter Marissa was ready to be a ballerina. From the instant I saw the Salernos, I knew these three belonged. I loved seeing a little Marissa holding her Daddy’s hand, walking from his office down 25th street to and from ballet class.

As most know, Bill was a hugely influential member of the Ogden community. He designed many of the structures and buildings that truly define the revitalized face of downtown Ogden. I don’t believe Ogden could be what it is today without Salerno Architects. I know Imagine Ballet Theatre wouldn’t be what it is today without Salerno Architects, either. Bill lent his talents and skill to our sets, designing and constructing most set pieces for IBT’s The Nutcracker. Bill personally and pro bono designed our current home across the street from the Peery’s Egyptian Theatre, as we yet again faced a difficult situation and were forced to move quickly. Because of his incredible talent and unimaginable generosity, we have a space that is customized for our every need as a state-of-the-art dance facility. We could never thank him enough.

Bill served IBT continuously as a board member, as well. I was honored to work with on the board and learn from him as he upheld this position, and many others, throughout the area. He kept us in line, in a lot of ways. Being a small non-profit arts organization is hard. Being a small business is hard. Being an artist is hard. Bill had an eye for all three – and it seemed like he knew what to do in every situation. I’ll always be grateful for the advice he gave us, the directions in which he led our board, and the many occasions he worked with other members of the community on our behalf.

Lastly, I must honor Bill as a dancer. I was privileged to share the stage with Bill as my stage “husband” in IBT’s The Nutcracker in 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010. When injury took me off stage in 2011 and 2012, and then him in 2013, we sighed and laughed and said we’d dance again. I’ll miss our little moments – the times when he would sigh out loud instead of pantomime, roll his eyes at me and almost make me laugh, or when that hobble with a cane was a little too real. We used to talk about his dancing days in college and how much he missed it, and how he wished his knees didn’t give him so much trouble. He appreciated the art of dance so much, and you could see it in his enthusiasm for this annual performance.

Thank you, Bill. Thank you for being my friend and mentor. Thank you for your legacy. Thank you for your work and your dedication to the good things in your communities. We’ll think of you when we see Clara in her sleigh, our giant Christmas tree, and every time we walk into our beautiful home studio. Thank you for your families. Thank you for sharing your lovely daughter with us for so many years. Thank you for trying to make the world a more beautiful and inspiring place.

I believe that’s what Bill wanted to do – make things better, and he supported everyone who wanted to do the same. I know he’s at peace now, no longer with aching knees and back problems, nor facing the debilitating illness that ended his life earlier than we would have liked it. I wish that we had him for a bit longer, or that I’d been able to say goodbye, but for now, I’ll remember all those sunny days along 25th street.

Keep your dancing shoes on, Bill, and we’ll waltz again.

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