Eight years of hard work from YMCA Project volunteers, along with the combined efforts of city and county officials and organizations, hit a milestone last Thursday when a groundbreaking ceremony was held at the site of the future home of the Eastern Missouri Family YMCA.
“As a member of the Vandalia Recreation Corporation, our job was to get this building going, get it started,” said emcee of the ceremony, former Vandalia city administrator, and current Audrain County Eastern District Commissioner Alan Winders. “Now it’s going to be up to this community and surrounding communities to truly embrace this effort. We’re going to get this building built. And now we’re going to be asked to volunteer our time, we’re going to be asked to join the YMCA, and we’re going to be asked to contribute. And it’s going to be up to this community and surrounding communities, this part of the world to make this thing a success. The future of this facilty depends on us doing those things. I believe, I know that we will be successful in that endeavor.”
Winders went on to note the significance of the recent opening of the library and the current
groundbreaking for the YMCA.
“It’s evidence that this community can and will do what is necessary to protect its future and to make a good future for itself,” he added.
He encouraged those in attendance to give applause for the town of Vandalia, for those living in the eastern part of the county, and for the people who have worked hard on the project.
The vision for an 18,000 sq. ft. facility costing $1.6 million started in 2009 after the Vandalia Recreation Corporation was looking to replace the former library building. Winders said previous projects for the VRC were the previous library, old swimming pool, and work done at the old Vandalia Lake.
The YMCA Project was to include a library before the county’s library district chose a different route that led to it’s new facility being constructed just across Main St. from the YMCA.
During the ceremony, Winders noted that through private donations, Neighborhood Assistance Program (NAP) tax credits, the USDA/REDLG construction loan, and the incredible support of the Rual Morris Trust, money was able to be raised for the undertaking.
The Rual Morris Trust has pledged $650,000 to the project. They donated a check for $25,000 at the end of the ceremony as part of their pledge.
“When I go and I ask, I need you to help me with this, one thing about it, they have a hard time telling me no,” said Felicity Goodpasture-Culwell, the YMCA Project Chairperson. “Thank you everybody who I’ve asked to join a committee, help with something, donate, be a part of this. So thank you; it’s not just me. This is huge for the community, it’s huge for area farmers, for area kids who want to come back…”
She also publicly thanked architect Bill Howell and Tony Grove of Grove Construction, the Rual Morris Foundation, the Consolidated Electric board, the Vandalia Recreation Corporation, the City of Vandalia, Vandalia Chamber of Commerce, among others. She reminded a large crowd in attendance at the ceremony that it’s never too late to give to the project.
“We just want to make sure when the building is open we have a recognition wall and everybody’s name is somewhere,” she said.
She also recognized YMCA Project board members that include Van-Far Superintendent Dr. Stephen Hunter, Lori Brandow, Debbie Hopke, Chris Buie, Angela Mesmer, Dana Keller, Joyce Holt, and Tracy Wilburn.
The Vandalia Recreation Corporation members included Alan Winders, Debbie Hopke, Kim Trainor, Rusty Strother, and Frank Wallace.
Special recognition was also given to YMCA Project Manager Terri Jungers and Cami Blackman.
New City Administrator Darren Berry was recognized along with aldermen who were in attendance. Those City Council members included Debbie Hopke, Teresa Wenzel, and John Weiser.
The Student Councils from both the Van-Far and Community R-VI School Districts were also in attendance for the event.
Audrain County Presiding Commissioner Steve Hobbs said it was a great day to be in Vandalia.
“There are communities around this area that are saying wow I wish we could do that,” Hobbs said.
He noted that many newspaper stories around the country talk about all the problems going on in the country. But in Audrain County, he noted that the communities are working together to create a better lifestyle for those who are living here.
“Yes this facility is important for the young people in this community but it’s even more important for people my age,” he said. “It’s really important for all of us, not only for the health of our communities, but also for the health of our social lives, because that’s what these facilities become. It becomes a focal point for the community.”
Mayor Ralph Kuda noted the importance of community support as the building is constructed.
“We hope that when this gets going, that everybody in the community will come in and help us, will join the Y, and participate,” he said.
Former Eastern District Commissioner and current Rual Morris Foundation President Roger Young said the foundation is very proud of Vandalia.
“Today’s groundbreaking is a tribute to the renewed strength of Vandalia,” Young said. “On behalf of the Rual Morris Foundation, we want to congratulate the Y±MCA Board, the Vandalia Recreation Corporation, all of the fundraisers and contributors, and everyone that got involved to get us to this day.”
He noted that the foundation started with the project in 2009 in looking for a new home for the library and the idea of a YMCA came soon after that. Young acknowledge the efforts of Felicity Goodpasture-Culwell and all of the volunteers for thousands of hours of hard work, frustration, and finally elation and celebration that their efforts have paid off.
“Now, because of their hard work, it will begin to show dividends to this community for years to come,” Young noted.
He also thanked the many people of all ages that included elementary students, businesses, corporate agribusinesses, and more for their donations and pledges.
He gave special recognition to Rual Morris Charitable Foundation board members Paul Seigfried, Jim Hickman, Mary Steiner, Jack Creason, and Sherry Medley. He also publicly recognized board member L.E. Kohl.
Dale Hopke, Board President for Consolidated Electric, was also publicly recognized for the company being a conduit for the USDA loan.
YMCA Executive Director Lori Brandow addressed those in attendance. She first gave a lot of credit to the hard work of her predecessor Sherry Medley. Brandow said she was impressed with all of the compassion of those who have helped to make this project become a reality. Brandow noted the importance of activities in Mexico for the older community, which will now benefit the older residents living near the Vandalia facility.
“I’m excited to get the program started and get the membership going,” Brandow said.
She also gave a special recognition to YMCA Project Chairperson Felicity Goodpasture-Culwell for her efforts.
YMCA Board Chairman Pat Ryan said he’s excited for Vandalia to have this facility in their hometown.
“We view our YMCA as kind of like the lifeline of everything that goes through the town,” Ryan said of the Mexico location. “And so you guys are going to have a great opportunity here.”
Commissioner Winders also noted Western District Commissioner Tracy Graham for being in attendance.
Several representatives from federal politicians were on-hand for the event. Sarah Graff, District Office Director for U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, noted that Sen. Blunt was in Washington, D.C. but he asked for her to send his congratulations to the community and all the citizens who put in their hard work for this to happen.
She also said that YMCA’s are great for communities and families.
Grace Wildenhaus, from U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill’s office, talked about how the YMCA is an amazing and unique nonprofit that focuses on youth development, healthy living, and social responsibility.
She added that McCaskill’s office is excited to see how the YMCA will impact Vandalia.
Bryan Nichols, from U.S. Rep. Sam Graves’ office, noted the significance for small rural communities to have facilities like the YMCA. He said that many small communities are not so fortunate.
Winders ended the ceremony talking about the late Fred Kohl coming to a city council meeting in the early 2000s asking about the city considering to construct a facility to help someone do rehabilitation indoors. He noted that Kohl’s request was just one of the small seeds planted as an idea to what has led to the groundbreaking ceremony on Thursday.
“This facility is only here because this community saw a vision and was willing to act on it,” he said. “it is incumbent upon all of us to continue to act on that and support this facility.”
The project is expected to take eight to nine months.