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Celebrating 94: Michigan woman returns to movie theater for first time since she was 10

"I enjoyed it because it's color now," Justina Thalison said.
Ionia Theater Justina Thalison Movies
Posted at 12:41 PM, Mar 09, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-09 17:03:58-05

IONIA, Mich. — A Michigan woman celebrated her 94th birthday by going to the movie theater for the first time since she was 10 years old.

This week, Justina Thalison returned to the Ionia Theater, which is exactly where she went 84 years ago.

“Why didn’t you see a movie in the movie theater for so long?" FOX 17 asked Justina Thalison.

“I don’t know," she replied.

“The movie you saw when you were 10 years old must've not been very good if you never came back."

“That’s right," she joked.

The last and only time Thalison went to the movie theater was in 1938. A class field trip with her elementary school took her to the Ionia Theater.

After 84 years, the exact movie they watched has slipped her mind.

Tracy Hodgkins, a nurse administrator with Just Like Home, the organization that made this day possible, said, “We’re trying to figure that out. She can’t quite remember so we gave her a list of movies. She thought maybe Mutiny on the Bounty, but we weren’t really sure what was playing on that time. We kind of had to ask, ‘What do you think of this one?’ She goes, ‘Hmmm, that sounds familiar.’ I don’t know if I could remember 80 years ago either.”

The Ionia Theater was built in 1931, just three years after Thalison was born. The experience was a bit different back then.

It cost a quarter to buy a movie ticket, and no more than a nickel to get some popcorn. Of course, the films were also in black and white.

As expected, watching Sing 2 on Tuesday felt a bit different for Thalison.

“I enjoyed it because it’s color now," Thalison said. "I enjoyed it a lot more than black and white.”

Thalison got to share the theater with all her friends at Just Like Home, an adult day center for anyone 18 and older, usually living with different abilities or just growing old.

The center started in November 2018, and now has 21 members.

Hodgkins said they have each of their members create a wish list of things they want to do in their lives. For Thalison, topping the list was coming back to the movies.

“We do questions that are memory questions," Hodgkins said. "‘What do you think about this?' 'What color was your favorite color?’ One of them was, ‘What was your favorite thing you’ve ever done?' It came about, ‘Well, I’ve never done that.' 'Oh, I’ve never done that.’ So then we just started saying, ‘Well, what would you do if you wanted to do it?’ So that’s how that kind of came about.”

There were times when the movie was a bit much, with Thalison asking for the volume to be turned down. Overall, though, Thalison was happy to have the experience and create new memories.

One of the other items on her wish list was to be on television, so she has checked off that box too!

This story was first reported by Max Goldwasser at WXMI in Grand Rapids, Michigan.