On Thursday of last week, the Crawford County Recreation and Wellness Center project received a $4.5 million Destination Iowa grant from the State of Iowa.
A press release from Gov. Kim Reynolds’s office states that the amount represents 24% of the total project investment for the facility.
Funding for the Destination Iowa program comes from the federal American Rescue Plan Act, according to the press release.
“It (the grant) was a big boost, a big shot in the arm, and we’re really pleased with the announcement by the governor and the state,” said Tim Stuart, chairman of the Crawford County Recreation and Wellness Center Committee.
He singled out a few people who were key to landing the grant.
“It’s a committee effort, but in particular the two individuals that have helped so much with grant writing are Jennifer Zupp and Jessica Garcia; they were the ones that got all the information together and submitted the application to the state in December,” Stuart said. “As it relates to the ongoing meetings with our state representatives, Derek Lambert, Steve Brownmiller and Paul Assman in particular were very much a part of making this happen with the state.”
The grant will go a long way toward helping the committee meet the fundraising goals of the project.
HGM Associates, an architectural firm based in Council Bluffs, estimated in December 2022 that the project cost would exceed $26 million.
The committee decided to ask the firm to reduce the scope and cost of the project.
“It took the 80,000 square foot facility down to roughly 68,000 square feet,” Stuart said. “The big thing that has been eliminated from the project, versus what we had seen in December, was the senior center; that is no longer a part of this wellness facility fieldhouse concept that we’ve put together.”
The facility will still include a second-level walking track, but most of the remaining amenities will be on the first level.
The latest cost estimate for the project is $18.35 million, Stuart said.
He said the state grant would not have been received without significant fundraising progress in the last six weeks.
“We still have a ways to go, but the state wanted to be confident that we had a project that was going to happen,” Stuart said.
“The state is convinced, based on our fundraising effort to-date and the plans we have in place, that we will have a project. We appreciate their confidence in us.”
Stuart said the current plan is for the project to be shovel-ready in the latter part of this year.
The bulk of the construction will take place in 2024 and 2025, with the facility becoming operational toward the end of 2025.
He said the committee believes 80% of the needed funds will have been raised by the end of June so an application may be submitted for a Commercial and Tourism (CAT) grant from the State of Iowa.
“That should help us finish up the funding of the project, if we can get that award, as well,” he said.
Stuart noted that one question about the project was settled last week when the Denison City Council took the first steps to adopt a resolution to formalize ownership of the facility by the city.
He said he believes the resolution will be adopted at the next city council meeting.
The committee has also been working to collect business information for the YMCA, which is under consideration as a possible operator of the facility.
“It will be done by the end of the month; we are finishing up our last wall in the event room,” said Todd Waite of the remodeling project that has been taking place at the Woodbine Golf Course clubhouse.
“We’ve been working on it in phases since March 2nd of last year when we started on the clubhouse proper, and since November we’ve been working on updating the Event Room.”
A new dance floor has been laid, wainscoting has been added to the walls, the whole space received a fresh coat of paint, ceiling fans were replaced, a new bar was built and a second bar was added.
“We’re close to wrapping it up, which is a good feeling,” Waite said.
The Woodbine Golf Course Board took over the former Shadow Valley Golf Course on March 1, 2022; the nine-hole course had been under private ownership since 1998.
“It was restructured as a nonprofit, and it is intended as a community-owned enterprise,” Waite said.
Waite is the owner of Good Fellows Restaurant in Woodbine.
He said all the work on the clubhouse has been done on a budget; golf club members have donated funds, the board has used funds from an operating loan, and Good Fellows Restaurant has also contributed.
“We’ve done our fair share as far as financing and also labor for all the projects; we’ve pretty much done all of those in-house,” Waite said. “The restaurant stands to gain as much as anyone.”
Good Fellows has collaborated with the golf course board to oversee the sales of concessions, and is the exclusive provider of catering for rentals of the Event Room.
He believes the improvements will lead to more bookings of the facility.
“The Event Room seats 400; it’s a great space for business meetings, fundraisers, weddings. From the restaurant point of view, we’re looking to grow our business by offering catered events and the bar for those events,” Waite said.
“We partner with local businesses, florists, vehicle rental for party buses and limousines, photographers, and DJs to make the talent we have here available for a prospective bride or groom or business that wants to book it for an event.”
During the summer of 2022, the Event Room was rented for weddings, funerals, graduation parties, and baby showers.
“It’s a community space for all phases of life,” Waite said.
He noted that the Woodbine Golf Course Board members have a variety of areas of expertise and backgrounds.
“They’re mostly people from the community who care about the course, love golf and they are volunteering their time to help get it back to a level where, through a combination of memberships and events, it can be sustainable enterprise,” he said. “It’s really important for the community.”
The board wants to bring more live entertainment to the Event Room.
“This winter, we’ve had a couple live bands and comedians,” Waite said. “On Saturday the 18th (of March), we’re hosting an indoor corn hole tournament as a fundraiser for the golf course.”
More information about the tournament is available on the Woodbine Golf Course and Good Fellows Facebook pages.
“As small towns go, it’s good to have entertainment options locally, and that’s something else we’re really trying to establish at the golf course,” Waite said.
Golf club members and members of the public have responded positively to the changes.
“We’ve increased bookings in the off season; we hosted four business parties in December,” he said. “The great thing about that is it’s revenue for the golf course because the course gets all the rental fees in off-season months. Any additional revenue streams for a nonprofit, nine-hole public course in rural western Iowa are important because it’s tough to make a go of it with just the golf course fees.”
The course is now part of the Iowa Golf Reciprocal.
“It allows golfers to use their membership at their home course to get access to any of the other participating courses – that’s new to Woodbine,” Waite said.
Waite said the course is unique for the area.
“A lot of the courses in the area have fairways that are side by side, and this has water in play on six of the nine holes,” he said. “It’s very hilly, so the terrain varies from each hole. You go around instead of up one fairway, back the other, up one fairway, back the other.”
Waite said the greenskeeper, Sam Amato, who started last year, has done a great job.
“We know from operating the clubhouse that when golfers come in with overwhelmingly positive comments throughout the season, they were impressed with the way the course improved and how quickly it did,” he said.
Beginning on April 29 and running until the end of September, at least two golf tournaments are scheduled at the course every month.
Waite extended his thanks to all the volunteers who pitched in to help with the remodeling project.
He noted that the annual Woodbine Golf Club membership signup dinner is from 5 to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, March 15.
“Memberships are extremely important for courses to be sustainable,” he said. “We’re really hoping that people turn out, and this spring we continue the positive momentum going into the season.”
Course and clubhouse information can be found at woodbine.golf; the clubhouse phone number is 712-647-3442.
“Cart rentals are available and tee times are encouraged – just call ahead,” Waite said.
Pat Fleshner has volunteered for and worked at the Donna Reed Foundation in a variety of capacities since 1990.
In January, she retired from the Donna Reed Foundation Board of Directors after more than 16 years as a member.
She recently spoke with the Bulletin-Review about her years with the organization.
Fleshner grew up in Denison; she said she has fond memories of seeing movies as a child in the early 1960s at the Ritz Theater, which became the Donna Reed Center for the Performing Arts in 1989.
Fleshner started volunteering with the Donna Reed Festival just after she and her husband, Lyle, moved back to Denison.
“I started volunteering in 1990 for one of the festival committees,” she said.
The Donna Reed Festival was a long weekend at the time, but before long it had grown into a whole week of events and workshops for students interested in the performing arts.
A memorable event she worked on in her first year was the Esther Williams Swimsuit Style show at the then-new Denison Aquatic Fun Center.
Williams, the famous swimmer/actress, was a friend of Donna Reed and had hoped to attend the fashion show of her swimsuit line, but was unable to come.
“We found women who wanted to model and we got a lot of different swimsuits,” Fleshner said. “That was one of the fun events that year.”
For the next several years, she continued to help coordinate classroom settings for the workshops featuring Jimmy Hawkins, Eddie Foy, Paul Petersen and other Hollywood professionals.
At the time, the festival was organized by a pair of volunteers; she and Steve Brownmiller were scheduled to work as co-coordinators for the 1994 festival, but the foundation board decided a permanent director was needed for the festival.
Fleshner was hired that year as the first executive director of the Donna Reed Foundation.
She had a desk and a computer at the Denison Chamber of Commerce office because the foundation didn’t yet have a space in the theater building.
Fleshner had the job for three years until she had to step away for health and other reasons.
She continued to help with workshops, and Lyle volunteered as a driver for the workshop presenters.
Fleshner said 9/11 was something of a turning point for the festival.
“Prior to that, we had kids from New Jersey and California and all four corners of the United States come to little Denison, Iowa,” she said. “Parents put their 14-, 15-, 16- year-old kid on a plane because of who was going to be doing workshops in Denison.”
Students continued to go to the festival after 9/11, but the event was one of the first things to slow it down, she said.
When the executive director at the time left in 2006, the foundation board decided someone knowledgeable was needed to handle the festival.
The late Roy Voggesser, a long-time Donna Reed Foundation volunteer, asked her if she would return to run the festival that year; she did, and she was asked to join the foundation board that fall.
“It was fun to be a larger part of what was happening with the theater building and the festival,” Fleshner said.
She joined the board at a time when the Donna Reed Festival was winding down.
“A lot of the presenters were friends of Donna, and a lot of them were getting older and couldn’t attend; numbers on both sides (presenters and students) were going down,” she said.
Fleshner said the Hollywood personalities saw themselves as ordinary people.
“They loved meeting people in Donna Reed’s hometown, and they came back for many, many years,” she said. “It was a bit sad when that part was going away because it was such a fantastic time – fantastic in bringing so many people to Denison. There has never been anything else that lasted that long that brought so many people to Denison for an entire week.”
In 2009, the decision was made to end the festival.
Focus turned to use of the Donna Reed Theater as a performing arts center.
She said the community had come together to save the building by providing funds for the foundation to purchase it and again when the foundation performed remodeling/restoration work in the early 1990s.
“We needed to change our focus because it wasn’t something that was contributing much to the foundation but also not contributing much to the community, either,” Fleshner said.
Voggesser was the catalyst for the first showing of “It’s a Wonderful Life” on the screen at the Donna Reed Theater, which has become a yearly event, she said.
He also opened up the building for weddings, class reunions and lots of tours.
Fleshner said she and Voggesser shared duties giving tours.
“It was always so much fun telling people about the history of the theater and who has been there as well as telling them about Donna,” she said. “I thoroughly enjoy giving tours.”
A favorite memory is from 2014, when she produced a play on the stage as part of a celebration of the theater’s centennial year.
Fleshner was a long-time member of Midwestern Players Community Theater.
She was able to find a play that was produced on the Donna Reed Theater stage in 1917 when the building was still the Germania Opera House.
“Some people came who were not so much into stage productions but came because it was on that stage almost 100 years after it was there the first time,” she said.
Fleshner said “Within the Law” was a play that dealt with women’s issues in a way she found surprising for the early 1900s.
“We had a great cast, and it was one of my most memorable events to be able to be involved with through the foundation and the theater,” she said.
Fleshner plans to stay involved at the theater as a volunteer.
The Donna Reed Foundation is a school-business partner with Lisa Blum’s second grade class from Denison Elementary School; Fleshner has been working with the class this school year and plans to see it through to a reader’s theater production with the students at the end of March.
“I’m retiring from the board but that doesn’t mean I can’t still be a volunteer,” she said. “That’s what I’m planning to do, as much as I can.”
When Mike Gunia owned the Cheyenne Saloon in Dunlap, he organized the first Dunlap St. Patrick’s Day Parade in 2006.
That event had about 30 entries, he said.
“The second year we had 20 floats, and there were 70 entries because everybody really wanted to get into it,” Gunia said. “There were quite a few fancy floats with everybody all dressed up in green. I think it was the second year, a bagpiper showed up. I didn’t invite him, but he somehow heard about it and he walked the whole parade playing his bagpipes.”
Gunia organized the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Dunlap for five years, until he got out of the bar.
The parade had strong participation for a while after that, but in the last few years it has dwindled to just a handful of entries.
“So this year, I talked Knights of Columbus into doing it, and we’re trying to promote it all we can and get it back to where it’s a strong parade,” he said.
Gunia is a member of the Dunlap Knights of Columbus.
Father Joel McNeil, of St. Patrick’s Church in Dunlap, will be the parade grand marshal.
Gunia hopes the parade will have at least 30 entries — to match the first parade in 2006.
“I’ve talked to people and there’s quite a bit of interest in it,” he said. “There has been a lot of talk about it and everybody’s excited.”
Parade lineup is at the St. Patrick Parish Center starting at 3 p.m. on Friday, March 17; the parade begins at 3:40 p.m.
Gunia said the start time of the parade will allow kids to join in the fun after school gets out.
The parade will end at the parish center where another event will take place.
“We (the Knights of Columbus) will have corned beef and cabbage there served for free, and the bar will be open in the facility,” he said.
Irish music will be played over the sound system at the center.
Part of the purpose of the parade and the parish center gathering is to help revitalize the Knights of Columbus in Dunlap.
“We’re trying to get life back into that, too,” Gunia said.
He said it shouldn’t be too difficult for people to put on some green and show up.
“Just come out and enjoy yourself on St. Patrick’s Day,” he said. “Even if you’re not Irish, you’re Irish that day.”
Gunia noted that he is not Irish.
He’s Polish, but St. Patrick’s Day is his birthday.