Rialto ‘the’ place for first dates

by Sonja J. Keith

Mike and Dianne Hutsell of Searcy have fond memories of the Rialto Theater. As children, it’s where they enjoyed a Saturday matinee with family and friends. As high students, like so many others in White County, it’s also where they went on their first date. Nearly 45 years later, they now enjoy taking their grandchildren to the Rialto.

Dianne was born in Searcy. Mike’s family moved to Searcy from Jacksonville when he was 5. “We came to Searcy and stayed.”


Mike recalls that as children, he and his brother, Dwaine, would go to the Saturday afternoon matinee at the Rialto. Admission was 25 cents for ages 12 and younger, according to Mike, adding that he could get a Coke and a bag of popcorn for a nickel each. “For 35 cents I could go to the movie,” he said, adding that the price went up to 35 cents for those over 12. 

Mike and Dianne fondly remember the staff who worked at the theater and said it was a safe place for young people. Parents would oftentimes drop off their children at the theater, which had a house phone that was used to call home when the movie ended. “It represents that day that’s gone,” Dianne said.

Mike said the Rialto was particularly popular on New Year’s Eve, with movies shown throughout the evening. “You could stay out to midnight,” he said. “There were always a lot of kids there.”

Describing Searcy as a small town back in the day, the two had some of the same friends and their paths probably crossed, but they didn’t take note of one another until high school. Mike was a senior and Dianne a junior when he asked her out on a date. “I noticed her first,” Mike said with a smile.

“There was really one thing to do,” he said of the couple’s first date at the Rialto. “I think 99 percent of first dates were at the Rialto.”

“The movie theater was the main place,” Dianne added. “It was the place to be seen and to see people.”

On their first date, the couple saw the Walt Disney production of “The Horse in the Gray Flannel Suit.” After the movie, the couple drove on the rainy night to the Burger Barn on East Race Street, which was almost out of town back then. Dianne said the restaurant served delicious food and the owner knew nearly everyone. She remembers that Mike told her he loved “rainy dates,” which stuck with her.

The couple had other dates at the Rialto and enjoying going to school activities and sporting events. They also hung out with their friends and their dates. “Those were a lot simpler times,” Dianne said.

After three or four months, the couple broke up but got back together in December 1969. After high school graduation, Mike attended Arkansas State University at Beebe for two years before transferring to ASU in Jonesboro and completing his accounting degree. 

On Aug. 12, 1972, the two married at Park Avenue Baptist Church in Searcy. The couple lived in Little Rock for a time but returned to Searcy in July 1976. Mike joined First Security Bank in 1989, first as a trust officer and then over operations. He has served as president of First Security and on the board of directors for about 10 years.

Dianne, who was third in her class, also attended at ASU-Beebe and worked in banking. “It was a great community college and you could live at home and commute,” she said. After staying at home when her children were younger, she went to work in 1985 for the Searcy School District. She retired in 2007.

The couple has a son, Matthew, who lives in Little Rock. He and his wife, Angela, have three children – Kate, Will and Hannah. Mike and Dianne also have a daughter, Allison, who is married to Steven King. They live in Memphis and have two children, Hazel and John.

Dianne said the couple still enjoys going out to the movie and especially like to take their grandchildren to the Rialto when they come for a visit, adding that they have a sentimental attachment for the place. Dianne said the family still sits in the area where she and Mike sat on that first date. “We enjoy going there,” she said. “It’s part of our childhood. It’s so neat to preserve some things from our past.”

The Hutsells are happy to see the improvements that have been made at the Rialto and are pleased with the community’s support of the efforts. “We’re thrilled about it,” Mike said. “It really adds a lot to downtown after dark.”