In a special ceremony set against the backdrop of the Historic Academy Theatre’s 5th anniversary of its restoration, the Academy Center of the Arts is thrilled to honor Lynda Gentry with the 2024 Lottie Payne Stratton Award. This accolade is awarded annually in memory of Lottie Payne Stratton (1902 – 1965), the compassionate and groundbreaking last known ticket taker of the theatre’s segregated box office, who famously welcomed everyone regardless of skin color or socio-economic status.

The Lottie Payne Stratton Award celebrates unsung heroes in our community dedicated to providing access to the arts, mirroring Stratton’s legacy of inclusivity and kindness. Lynda Gentry, with her unwavering commitment to serving others through her professional work, volunteer efforts, and significant contributions to local theatre, embodies the spirit of this award.

Born and raised in Lynchburg and a proud graduate of E.C. Glass High School, Lynda Gentry devoted over forty years to serving those with mental and physical disabilities at the Central Virginia Training Center. Her commitment to volunteerism, notably with Lynch’s Landing—now known as the Downtown Lynchburg Association—and her significant contributions to local theater have cemented her status in the heart of Lynchburg’s cultural community. Lynda’s deep involvement in theater, including her work with The Black Theatre Ensemble, ACOA, JLP Productions, Wolfbane Productions, Renaissance Theatre, E.C. Glass Theatre, and Bedford Little Town Players, has allowed her to offer extensive support and mentorship within the theater community. This dedication has not only made theater a central aspect of her life but has also endeared her to many in Lynchburg’s arts scene.

Lynda received the award Saturday evening at the Academy Center of the Art’s 5 Year Celebration event. The evening not only honored Lynda Gentry’s outstanding achievements but also acknowledged The Academy’s valued community partners. The event was a memorable one, featuring the dynamic rhythms of Kadencia, a group renowned for their electrifying Bomba, Plena, and Salsa music, which ensured a night full of energy and community spirit.

The Academy Center of the Arts is proud to recognize Lynda Gentry for her significant impact on Lynchburg’s arts and culture. 

Lynda says, “I did not choose my life. My life chose me. I went with it and it has worked well for me!”

If I can help somebody as I pass along,

If I can cheer somebody with a word or song,

If I can show somebody, he is travelin’ wrong,

Then my living shall not be in vain.

Her work exemplifies the importance of arts accessibility and community service, principles that Lottie Payne Stratton lived by. This award highlights the Academy Center’s ongoing commitment to celebrating those who enrich our community through the arts and foster an environment of inclusivity and compassion.- Michelline Hall