The Founding of Pax Amicus
But Pax Amicus Theatre actually began seven years earlier. In 1970 Stan Barber and Bob Findlay (both are still residents of Mt. Olive), tenured teachers at West Morris Regional High School in Chester, left their jobs to found PAX AMICUS, a community art center which they originally housed in a historic, (built in the 1850s) former Presbyterian church in Flanders, which they purchased with personal loans and mortgages. Within a year of remodeling and rebuilding, assisted by teens, their parents and many good Samaritans, they were up and running, opening its doors with a musical tribute to Jacques Brel, the French and Belgian troubadour who set the tone for the musical and social revolutions of the 1960s and 1970s.
By 1977, Pax Amicus, by then a successful community theatre, made the decision to purchase the Knights of Columbus Hall and convert it into a castle as a home for its growing theatre for children productions.
Stan Barber, Pax's co-founder and director, with the herculean labor of friends and colleagues: Paul Berry (of Mt. Olive), George Stults (of Washington Township), Rusty Cook (of Basking Ridge), Tim O'Brien (of Chester) and John Hammel (of Morristown), conceived and rebuilt the dilapidated, aging building into one of Mt. Olive's most vibrant and visible landmarks.
The re-construction took less than two years, and for their efforts Pax Amicus Castle was named Outstanding Building of the Year – FIRST PLACE by the National Remodelers Association. The guests of honor at its ribbon cutting ceremony, which also included a production of A Man for All Seasons, included Margaret Hamilton, the Wicked Witch of the West, of the MGM film classic of The Wizard of Oz, and an up-and-coming unknown young actor named Kevin Bacon.
For 6 years, both theatres - the Church Theatre in Flanders and the new Castle Theatre - functioned full time, but in 1983, it was decided to move all productions to the Castle, and the old Church was sold to a private family. Sadly, in 2011, a fire destroyed the top half of the old Presbyterian Church (gratefully, no one was hurt) and its future will depend on its present owners.