Founders of Ragtown Gospel Theater
After beginning their radio careers together at their home town radio station in Post, brothers Glenn and Chip Polk, and their wives, have found their lives woven together in completely different ways again and again, culminating in the building of Ragtown Gospel Theater, and one extraordinary production after another since 2007. It is hard to deny that God has drawn these two couples toward a destiny that has had a profound effect on many, many people, and continues to touch lives with the truth of the Gospel.
Glenn Polk was a drama major at Texas Tech when he and Twila Hill married. A new wife and the prospect of starting a family altered Glenn’s dream of a career as a film actor. A brief stint as a session musician in Nashville had given him a taste of the rocky path to success in the entertainment business. Glenn was not willing to subject his young bride to that kind of uncertainty. He chose instead to find a “regular” job that would provide for his family, and to be content with community theater roles to satisfy his desire to act.
Over the next several decades Glenn directed and performed in dozens of community theater productions. He would eventually find himself cast in a feature film, satisfying that long-held ambition to act in a Hollywood production, but his path was to be a winding one that resulted in his true life’s work being realized.
He was working in administration at Methodist Hospital in Lubbock when his brother, Chip started working at KPOS in Post. Chip recalls the day Glenn drove down from Lubbock to pay him a visit after an overnight shift at the hospital.
One Saturday morning he got off work and drove down to Post to see our folks and stopped by the radio station to see me. We had a regular feature called “Swap Shop” on the air, during which we would read about garage sales, cats and dogs to sell and such. Glenn sat down across the console from me to watch me do the show. There was a microphone in front of him, so I handed him a stack of the “Swap Shop” index cards and turned on his mic.
Little did I know that I was turning a page in both our lives. Most people are scared to death the first time they are on the air. Not my brother. The first card Glenn read was about some Chihuahua puppies for sale. He called them Chi-hoo-ah-hoo-ahs. The first thing he did was a joke. He was hooked. He quit his job at Methodist Hospital and came to work at the radio station.
A very colorful fellow from Georgia, Gary Joyner, had recently purchased the radio station when Glenn was hired. Gary taught Glenn and Chip the fundamentals of small town radio. He gave them the freedom to write and produce commercials, sell advertising, and be as outrageously corny as they were willing to be on the air. Both of them were more than willing.
One of Gary Joyner’s great passions was Southern Gospel Music, and he introduced the Polk brothers to the greats of that era. They played records by the Florida Boys, Happy Goodman Family, the Statesman Quartet, The Cathedrals, LeFevres, and all the others that would later populate the Gaither Homecoming concerts, and whose songs Chip would eventually perform on the Ragtown stage.
The radio station flourished, and both Glenn and Chip thought that they had found their calling. Then tragically, Gary Joyner died in an airplane crash, and everything changed. The station sold after a few months, and both found radio jobs, but in different towns.
Glenn and Twila moved to Snyder, where he took a position at KSNY, while Chip moved to Lubbock to work as an announcer at KLLL.
Glenn had moved to Lubbock to attend college when Chip was 10 years old, so their experience of working together gave them a chance to form a different bond. It was a mutually encouraging creative partnership that was destined to bring them back together twice more, each time doing vastly different work.
Robin Salter was an interior design major at Texas Tech in 1975 when she met and married Chip Polk, who was then program director at KLLL in Lubbock. The couple later moved to Plainview, where they started their family, and Chip did a morning talk show and advertising sales at KKYN.
In 1988 the Polk brothers joined forces again, forming a partnership with their wives, along with partners Bourley and Rita Gray, to open Family Home Health Equipment. Chip had left radio several years prior to work in medical equipment sales, and when the opportunity presented itself to start his own company, he knew Glenn’s heart for people would make him a natural in that arena.
Together, Glenn and Twila, Chip and Robin, and the Grays built Family Home Health Equipment into a multi-store chain, with operations in Lubbock, Midland, Odessa, Big Spring, Hobbs, and Clovis that served over 10,000 active patients when they made the decision to sell the company in 1995. Chip and Glenn handled sales and management, while Robin supervised billing, and Twila served as comptroller.
Shortly after Family Home Health Equipment sold, Chip began writing the musical, “Ragtown,” which commemorates the colorful story of the founding of Post City, Texas by cereal magnate C.W. Post. In the midst of working on the musical, God began to gently nudge him toward ministry, and when he finished the musical, he penned his first biblical drama, “Paul the Apostle.”
In the meantime, Glenn, for several years, both directed and portrayed Ebenezer Scrooge in Lubbock’s Trinity Church production of “The Gospel According To Scrooge.” Through that experience he was able to see that drama could have a profound effect in conveying the Gospel.
Because of his work as “Scrooge,” a friend thought of him when she saw the video, “Saint John In Exile.” It is a one-man show by Christian actor Dean Jones, whom most remember best from his roles in the Disney movies of the sixties. Glenn describes the effect watching the video had on him:
A friend of ours had gotten this video of Dean Jones doing “Saint John in Exile.” She said it reminded her of me when she saw it, so she gave to us to watch.
Halfway through it, I just turned if off and turned to Twila and said, “This is what I am supposed to do! This is what I am supposed to be doing!” I had never been more certain of anything in my life.
Years before, I believed I was being called into ministry, and I talked to our pastor about it. I didn’t know if I was supposed to preach, or do music. I just thought there was something I was supposed to do…some kind of ministry. He told me to just wait on the Lord, and when the time was right, He would tell me. He did.
I actually called Dean Jones to see if I could get permission to do “Saint John In Exile.” That wasn’t available, but he suggested that I find a similar play that I could make my own. I knew what play that was. My brother had written it.
The year prior, Chip and his son, Jordan had portrayed Paul and Timothy in Chip’s play’s “Paul the Apostle” at the church they attended at the time. Glenn and Twila, along with other family members attended the performance, which Chip remembers as having tepid response from the congregation:
When I was writing the play, it felt like the most important thing in the world. It was my first experience of writing with the counsel of the Holy Spirit. I was bringing everything I had to the work, but there was more there than my words. It was an exhilarating, deeply moving experience, and I anticipated something special when we performed it. That didn’t happen.
It confirmed to me that I am not the actor in the family. Jordan did a wonderful job as Timothy, and it is one of the treasures of my life to have shared that experience with him, particularly given the eventual outcome. But the thing was…the play wasn’t for me. It was for Glenn.
Glenn called his brother and asked if he could perform his play. Over the next seven years he performed the one-man adaptation of “Paul the Apostle” for over 260 audiences, and on the Prime Time Television Network, which broadcasts in 168 countries to over 2 million households around the world.
In 2002 the Polk brothers and their wives once again formed a partnership. Their goal was to build two theaters side-by-side. One would be an outdoor amphitheater, where the musical “Ragtown” would be staged. The other would be Ragtown Gospel Theater, where they would produce shows year round, coupling a Gospel music concert with Gospel drama productions.
In 2007 they opened Ragtown Gospel Theater with the premier of Chip’s second biblical drama. It was Glenn Polk in a gripping one-man-show called “Peter the Rock.” Over 5,000 people attended that production. Since the theater opened in January 2007, Glenn has directed every one of the productions staged at Ragtown, and played a leading role in most. Twila has served as her husband’s assistant director of each production.
Twila also recruits and coordinates the family of committed volunteers who have become such a vital part of the Ragtown experience. She has nurtured and grown that family to well over 50 individuals that have been drawn to join the Polks in their mission to convey the Gospel through drama, music, and the arts. Without the dedication and heart for the Lord that these men and women bring to the ministry, the theater would not have flourished as it has.
The logistics are daunting to have people in place to drive buses, direct traffic, handle concessions, ushering, and other duties required to provide the hospitality and trouble-free experience we hope to offer every audience. Since the entire staff at Ragtown is volunteer, Twila spends many hours coordinating schedules and assembling a team for each weekend’s performances. Fortunately, we are blessed with many wonderful people who are willing offer their free time any weekend their schedule permits. Twila works hard to put the teams together, but at the same time, God is busy drawing their hearts together with ours into this ministry. That continues to be one of the many Ragtown miracles for which we are most thankful and amazed.
Glenn and Twila have a son, Jason and a daughter, Amy. Both have performed in Ragtown Gospel Theater plays, as have their son-in-law, Steve Sever, and daughter-in-law, Tracy Polk. Amy played Mary, opposite her husband as the Apostle John when she performed the title role in Magdalene. More recently she was Ula Goiterflaven in “Say Nicklaus.” Glenn and Twila’s children have made significant financial contributions to Ragtown Gospel Theater, in addition to time and talent, to assure that the ministry flourishes.
Robin Polk designed the stunning theater that has been lauded as a landmark in Christian entertainment. Its awe-inspiring atmosphere, reminiscent of a Jerusalem plaza, prepares the heart of everyone who enters to fully experience the message shared through the music and drama.
In addition, Robin handles all reservations and ticket purchases, so most people who attend regularly have come to know her cheerful voice on the phone.
Audiences see Robin’s creativity as she continues to weave new touches of beauty and interest throughout the theater. All agree that the atmosphere is one of spiritual sanctuary. We who see Robin at work know that her artistry comes from a heart of humble dependence upon the Spirit, as she lovingly crafts every visual nuance with deep affection for the people the Lord brings to this place. Those first careful renderings of her plans, created at her drafting table, were the beginning of a never-ending quest to build Ragtown Gospel Theater into a place that would resonate the joy and freedom in Christ its productions would proclaim.
Chip performs in concert during the Ragtown productions. He formed the Ragtown Gospel Band in 2011, and until her recent marriage, the group included Chip and Robin’s daughter Jency. In the two years she sang with the group, Jency became an audience favorite. Her soulful voice and joyful presence on the stage became a special part of the music. She will continue to collaborate with her dad on music from her new home in near Washington. DC. , with plans to continue recording with the group, and returning for special concert appearances.
Chip Polk has now written a score of plays and musicals that Glenn Polk has directed and staged with the Ragtown troupe of actors. Of those works, many have been released as video productions, filmed and produced by Chip and Robin’s son, Jordan Polk. The videos of Ragtown Gospel Theater’s productions have been shipped throughout the United States, and to several locations in Canada, Europe, and Africa.
The popularity and success Ragtown Gospel Theater has enjoyed since opening in 2007, has been built and sustained almost entirely by the enthusiastic “word of mouth” advertising by people who have attended. We are so thankful for such amazing support.
The Ragtown Gospel Theater website (ragtown.com) is primary the way we communicate with our audience, and have managed to build greater awareness of the plays, concerts, videos, and recordings we produce, in order to support their efforts to get the message out.
In yet another example of the unique gifting for this mission that God has woven throughout the Polk family, Chip and Robin’s son, Jordan, has been the heart of that effort since the theater began. His website design and continual updating for the past six years, and now the recent launch of this exciting new site design has kept Ragtown Gospel Theater in touch with the people who love and support what the Lord is doing here.
The video presentations of Ragtown Gospel Theater’s productions have presented an opportunity to take the powerful message within each play to locations around the nation, and around the world.
Again, Jordan Polk has made that possible. In 2007 he began filming and editing the plays staged at Ragtown Gospel Theater. Jordan brings a relentless commitment to convey the experience of attending a live Ragtown performance to his production of each video. For every video produced, he devotes countless hours to carefully selecting camera shots from up to nine hours of video footage and sound recordings to faithfully capture the and portray the story.
The time and talent that Jordan contributes to the theater, both on the website and video productions, are of inestimable value, both in financially sustaining the theater, and in the outreach of the message.
This year we plan to launch a new initiative to provide Ragtown videos to missionaries, military installations overseas, and selected prison ministries, Through Jordan’s generous contribution to the ministry of Ragtown Gospel Theater, there is an opportunity to pursue a significant world-wide impact.