NORFOLK, Neb.—The John W. Carson Foundation has awarded a $425,000 grant to Norfolk High School so it can upgrade its theater, which is also named after the longtime host of NBC's "The Tonight Show."

The money will help buy new stage curtains and rigging, and improving sound and lighting in the Johnny Carson Theatre, the Norfolk Daily News said ( Carson, who died in California in 2005, grew up in Norfolk.

"This generous gift will not only enhance this outstanding facility, but will also enhance the fine arts programs offered within Norfolk Public Schools and the Norfolk community," said district superintendent Jami Jo Thompson.

The theater was built as part of a bond issue passed by Norfolk voters, but Carson donated $600,000 in 1991 for a variety of theater amenities.

Carson was born in Corning, Iowa, but grew up in Norfolk, Neb., and attended the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. He graduated in 1949, majoring in radio and speech with a minor in physics.

Carson and his foundation have donated millions to Nebraska institutions. His estate gave $5 million to Faith Regional Health Services in Norfolk to fund an endowment for the Carson Cancer Center in June 2005. That same year, the university received $5 million from his estate for an endowment to support theater, film and broadcasting programs. The theater arts department was renamed the Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film.

The Norfolk school district's associate superintendent of student services, Doug Witte, said the theater project will begin after the holidays and that "it would be nice to have everything done by next fall." That timetable largely depends on the availability vendors, Witte said.

The district worked with representatives of the Lied Center for the Performing Arts in Lincoln to gain ideas for making improvements to the Norfolk school's theater. The grant covers all of the costs of the improvements and provides money for an architect's fee.


Information from: Norfolk Daily News,