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Wisconsin hospital legend Dick Klopcic dies at age 82

Courtesy Fireside Dinner Theatre

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, Wisconsin. He was 82.

“Dick was a visionary in dining, travel and entertainment,” said BankTravel partner 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.

When it was founded in 1964, the Fireside was a 60-square-foot pyramid-shaped restaurant that seated 120 diners and had a Polynesian decor. Fourteen years later, in 1978, the Klopcics opened a 456-seat theater in the round facility, which was expanded again over the years to its current capacity of 650 seats. Five gift shops, a bakery and a lounge that accommodates up to 1,000 guests are also a part of the current facility.

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.”

Two generations of Klopcic’s family have succeeded him 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 or 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. Would I come talk to him about running it? I immediately answered, ‘Where on earth is Fort Atkinson?’

“Thirty-three years later, not only do I know where is, but hundreds of thousands of people around the country and the globe know where it is — largely due to Dick Klopcic. Whenever I travel and tell people that I work in Fort Atkinson, they will more than likely say, ‘Isn’t that where the Fireside is?’”

“The Fireside Dinner Theatre has been a constant in our various tourism-related endeavors,” said BankTravel partner Mac Lacy. “The Fireside is Wisconsin’s traditional No. 1 year-round destination for tour groups, and we’ve been blessed to have first had June Brandow and now Jackie Brisko attend many of our events as sponsors and supporters. Dick Klopcic can be credited with always having true hospitality professionals in his company.”

“Dick would probably say that his family is his legacy, and that would certainly be true, but all of us in the tourism industry in Wisconsin and across the country know that the Fireside Dinner Theatre is also a legacy that will stand as a testament to his life for generations to come,” said Presley.
“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.