by Sophie McNeil Wolf
Eleven years ago, Broadmeadow United Methodist Church was looking for a few good men – to sing in the church Christmas program, that is. Francine Thomas Reynolds knew a music teacher named Chuck Reynolds, where she was working at Jackson Prep, who could lend a voice. When he found out his former college pastor, Tom Pace, was at Broadmeadow, Reynolds couldn’t say no. A few months after the performance, he was asked to be the church’s choir director. The next year, he and Francine were married.
For the couple, music has always been a part of their lives. “I started in band when I was in the sixth grade,” Chuck said. “I always enjoyed playing the horn. It was fun. There’s also the social aspect — you already have a built-in group of friends.”
For Francine, music was also a big part of her growing up in Negaunee, Michigan. “I did music all through high school — chorus and band. I even was in the college marching band. I also did community theatre. I loved theatre so much.”
Francine graduated from Northern Michigan University with a degree in theatre, and then set her sights on graduate school at Atlantic University in Florida for acting and directing. It was during that time she got her first taste of Jackson.
During grad school, she did an internship in Little Rock, Ark. at Arkansas Reparatory Theatre, making connections to come audition for shows at New Stage Theatre. “I really liked Jackson and I stayed for a while because they hired me to work in the summer. (After college) New Stage hired me as the education director,” she said.
In the late 90’s, she worked around the state doing film castings, and then later to direct plays at Jackson Prep, where she met Chuck. In 2006, she came back to New Stage Theatre as their artistic director, where she does everything from direct plays, handle staffing, select programming, run auditions and hire designers. Last year alone, New Stage had 113 guest artists (teachers, actors, designers), primarily found by Francine in New York, Atlanta, New Orleans and the Jackson area.
Since coming back, Francine has pushed the envelope by doing more musicals each season, up to three a year. “It’s unusual for us to do them, but I love it,” she says. “I like them because they tend to be larger and inclusive. It’s an opportunity for us get locals to participate.”
Chuck, on the other hand, has always been a teacher. “Adults don’t listen any better than kids,” he said, thinking about the one year he didn’t spend teaching. “Matter of fact, they’re worse,” he said with a smile.
Raised in Yazoo City, Chuck graduated with an undergraduate degree in music education from Delta State University and a masters degree in music education from Mississippi College. He is currently the assistant band director and director of the marching band at Madison Central High School. A highly lauded band director, who’s band consistently ranks all superior each year at state competition, we point out. “Yeah, right,” he says brushing it off. “It’s a very good band. We have great kids to work with.”
Amid their busy schedules, they call Broadmeadow neighborhood home. Francine thought the location was ideal when she bought the place in 1996. “I wanted to live in Jackson. I always said if I lived near a city, I needed to live in the city. It was also important for me to live in a diverse neighborhood,” she said.
For Chuck, the location is even more ideal when he moved in after they were married. Visitors are always shocked to know that Chuck lives literally across the street from the church where he serves, but he’s proud of it. “People can’t believe it. It’s the most convenient thing in the world.”
Of all places, why stay here? “Because it is such a great neighborhood,” Chuck said. “Fondren itself is great, but especially Broadmeadow. Everybody knows everybody and it’s like a big family. We look out for each other and we go over to each other’s houses. It’s just a lot of fun. There is a true sense of community.”