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With a little help from his friends: Speer hopes to help sister buy ride to school

Speer and Couch

Tara Couch

Tara Couch

Chris Speer

Chris Speer

By Susan Shinn Turner
For the Salisbury Post

SALISBURY — As technical director for Lee Street theatre, Chris Speer is responsible for designing and building sets, giving attendees a fresh experience every time they walk through the doors.

“I got a great opportunity to work in a brand-new theater,” says Speer, who joined Lee Street in 2010 and is its only full-time employee. “People come in and say, wow, this is a different set-up. I like throwing curve balls at people, I guess.”

Life has thrown its share of curve balls at Speer. He came to Salisbury to attend Catawba College, but left about a semester shy of graduation because his mother could no longer pay his tuition. Later, he was diagnosed with cancer. Last month, he found out he was cancer-free, but instead of celebrating, he was making arrangements for his younger sister to come and live with him.

Speer and his sister, Tara Couch, have numerous step-siblings, but they’re the closest in age. Speer is 26 and Couch turns 17 on Feb. 7. Speer is in the process of becoming her guardian. He’s also hoping to buy her a used car so that she can continue to commute to Yadkin Early College, about 45 minutes from Salisbury. To do so, he opened a Go Fund Me account on Thursday.

He’s requesting a modest $5,000 — enough to purchase a reliable vehicle and pay for the fees and insurance. Couch is also looking for a part-time job. As of this writing, $1,759 has been donated.

For someone who typically works behind the scenes, asking for help was hard, Speer says. “It’s kinda weird. I had cancer. All through that time, I refused to ask anyone for money. I never thought I’d have a problem that I’d have to ask for help.”

But Craig Kolkebeck, Lee Street’s artistic director, told his friend that people want to help. The two met when Kolkebeck came to Catawba’s theater department.

“He has not only been a colleague but a valuable friend,” Kolkebeck says. “He has been instrumental to helping me, as well as an entirely new staff at Lee Street theatre. For fact-checking Lee Street’s history and standard operating procedure, I typically go to Chris to get the answers. He possesses a work ethic that is unmatched by anyone his age.”

Mollie Ruf and Speer became friends three years ago, when she had her wedding and reception at the theater.

“We both work in events and we have a similar mindset,” says Ruf, who’s with Miller Davis Studios. “I also have a performing arts background so we’re like-minded. He’s one of those unsung heroes who doesn’t look for recognition, but he’s always willing to go above and beyond to help you with what you need.”

Speer didn’t grow up with any siblings but he and his “kid sister” quickly bonded, he says. “We’re in a situation where we really need two cars. If we could just get one, we can make it work.”

Speer lives at Wellington Hills, and says he could walk to the theater downtown if need be. Once his sister has a car, she can drop him off at work on her way to school, he says.

“She needs this more than I do,” he says.

Speer says his sister plans to transfer to the early college program at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College this fall. They couldn’t make the transition mid-year because she only had half-credit, he says. “But I don’t want what happened to me to happen to Tara. Education is so important. We used to joke about who would graduate first, but I thought I had a five-year head start.”

Meanwhile, Speer keeps putting in 60-hour weeks at the theater.

“I’ve now been the one who’s been here through all the transition, and I keep fighting to make sure Lee Street is OK,” he says.

He says he’s enjoyed taking on more management responsibilities. “It’s new and exciting. We all help each other any way we can.”

And that makes it maybe a little easier to accept help from others.

“I’m really embarrassed that I even have to ask for help,” Speer says. “I shouldn’t be and people have told me this a million times over the past few days. I’ve always worked hard for what I’ve had.”

If you’d like to help, visit www.gofundme.com/a-car-for-tara.

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