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Ray Duckler

Ray Duckler: Marty Capodice’s love for the Capitol Center helped him fight to the end

Marty Capodice and wife Arnie Arnesen.

Courtesy photo

Marty Capodice and wife Arnie Arnesen. Courtesy photo

Marty Capodice, an atheist, worshipped the Capitol Center for the Arts and everything connected to it.

He worshipped the plays, the music, the high ceiling that he once helped paint. He worshipped the electricity that events there pumped into the city, the camaraderie between staff and volunteers, the notion that a building, once destined for the wrecking ball, had become the core of the city’s artistic landscape.

“It was his church,” said Capodice’s widow, Arnie Arnesen, the well-known, outspoken local radio host. “Even though he would never admit to having any kind of faith, he did have faith.”

Of all the pieces to Capodice’s life, the one friends and family cited most last week, 10 weeks after his death from cancer at age 71, was his volunteer work at the Capitol Center, and the profound way this role lifted him as he fought a deadly disease.

That’s why a celebration of Marty’s life will be held today from 2 to 4 p.m. at the center, commonly known as the CCA. Music will be played and people will relay stories about their friend.

They’ll talk about a man who worked as a clown in an animal circus in Illinois in the 1960s. They’ll mention a man whose first wife moved to New Zealand, leaving a single father alone with his two grade-school kids to start over in Concord.

They’ll say he had a mind for numbers, reviewing economic indicators for Employment Security, and a mind for words, right down to the goofy puns he tossed out like candy on Halloween.

Behind today’s event stands Arnie, his wife of 11 years, whose liberalism, long sentences and explosive radio commentary continues to be legendary.

When you mentioned Arnie and Marty around here, you knew who that meant, at least if you were plugged in politically, or had any social consciousness.

Arnie and Marty’s first date was a ride to the NECN studio, where Arnie commented on the impeachment of a New Hampshire chief justice.

Since then, they’ve been out front promoting social causes, teaming up on radio and opening their home to Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter and so many others.

But, inevitably, it always comes full circle, back to the CCA. “He role modeled volunteerism,” Arnie said. “He role modeled love of the arts. He really did see it as kind of the heartbeat of the community.”

Remember when the CCA was in trouble, back in the mid-1990s, when it lacked funding and needed a facelift?

Volunteers stepped forward, and Marty was right in the middle of that creative buzz. He painted, he raised funds and, in later years, he walked around the city, essentially a verbal billboard to promote the center, telling people to go there and enjoy what it had to offer.

“If you walked in the room, he would be introducing himself and telling you about the Capitol Center,” said John Caruso, the CCA’s front of house manager who began volunteering in 1995, the same year Marty joined. “He may even be telling you about becoming a member. He was an ambassador.”

Ron King also joined the volunteer effort in ’95. “What I loved about Marty was the way he loved the Capitol Center,” King said. “He retired from the state, so then he was the kingpin at the Capitol Center. Very energetic.”

Marty greeted everyone at the CCA. He greeted children before the kiddie shows, and he greeted the party crowd before rock shows.

Outside the CCA? Well, Marty greeted everyone there, too, according to Gail Kinney, who befriended Marty after serving as Arnie’s campaign manager during her failed bids for governor and the U.S. Congress.

“He walked everywhere, and down the streets of Concord, whether king or pauper, he greeted and treated you the same way,” Kinney said. “And he really wanted to know what your response was. If you walked down the street with Marty, you could not get far without being stopped by homeless folks that gathered, and by people who appreciated being acknowledged by this man in a genuine way.”

The cancer, rare and eventually spreading to his brain, was diagnosed in 2009, a death sentence that was supposed to take Marty’s life quickly, perhaps in months.

But Marty fought back, using the CCA as a cure, or at least a treatment, that no doctor had ever prescribed. He kept going and promoting. He lost weight and he lost strength, but his passion for the building and what it represented stayed put, until the end.

“He put up such a good fight,” said Nicki Clarke, the CCA’s executive director. “Right into summer he was signing up for a few shows, even though he was getting sicker and sicker. He so wanted to be part of the community.”

He last appeared at the CCA in September and died on Halloween. Arnie dressed him in a tuxedo, the one he wore while volunteering at the CCA. She had him cremated in it.

Arnie then spread his ashes into 500 little packets. That’s what Marty wanted.

“He wanted me to hand them out to family and friends,” Arnie said. “I’m going to hand them out to family and friends on Sunday.”

Each packet will say this, at Marty’s request: “Take me to a party, a play, a hike, anything wonderful.”

“He had faith,” Arnie said. “He had faith in beauty, he had faith in music, and he had faith in people.”

Amen.

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or rduckler@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @rayduckler.)

From Steffen Schmidt "There are few people as warms, kind, smart, and positive in life as Marty. If we could only have a little bit of it rub off on us our towns, states and the world would be a much better place."

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