By Anna Jauhola
A committee created to organize the massive centennial celebration of Lancaster has evolved over the years, but maintains a singular purpose – raise funds to support community events.
Gary Rice, one of the group’s long-time members, said the group also organized the all-school reunion several years ago and then morphed into the community center committee.
After the Lancaster American Legion disbanded, the organization’s building was sold, which left the Lancaster community without an available celebration venue.
“We basically borrowed all the money to build the community center,” Rice said. “It was costly because we had to build it to specifications, code and so on. So we raised maybe $100,000 in donations during that time.”
Many were initially opposed to building the center and concerned about hanging that debt on the city.
So, with a $1 million building to maintain and pay off, the committee decided it needed to initiate a fundraising effort to help pay down the loan.
“We could save thousands just by paying extra on the principal,” Rice said. “And we put on a fund drive here basically asking for donations to make a full annual payment, which is $10,000.”
So the committee went to work. They drafted a letter, gathered names and addresses, and sent it to all Lancaster School alumni, current residents and other possible benefactors about a year ago.
Through that drive, the committee was able to raise over $10,000, all of which went to the city clerk to make that payment.
Now, not only has the community embraced the new center and found it as a great asset, residents past and present also found value in helping pay for the facility.
Carol Johnson, city clerk, said the center was built in 2013 and since that time the total remaining balance on the building has dwindled to $378,135.
When the city’s centennial celebration was over in 2004, the committee had $25,000 left. In deciding what to do with the money, the committee settled on creating a revolving loan fund for future community celebrations.
If a group is working on a community celebration and needs money to get started, they meet with the committee, make their request and the committee decides yay or nay.
“We don’t have any bylaws or regulations, other than, if you borrow it you’ve got to give it back,” Rice said. “Because eventually there’s going to be another event in need of that money. It’s not our money. It’s the community’s money.”
The entire effort has been community-based and inspired. The centennial committee lives on in its popular cookbooks and history books, each of which sold thousands of copies to raise a good chunk of the funds between 2002 and 2004. The current committee still has these books available.
Occasionally, the committee will designate some of its funds for helping beautify the community. The Lancaster Lions Club solicited the centennial committee for money to help pay for the clock that stands in the gazebo park downtown. And last year, the community center committee wanted to add some flare to the community center. They settled on rounding up vintage photographs of Lancaster and having them made into canvas prints to hang on the walls.
“We were able to buy 11 pictures which were about $300 each,” Rice said. “They’re old pictures of the community from the start up until about the 50s. They’re unique pictures, historic and a nice addition to the community center, I think.”
The venue, although met initially with some skepticism, has panned out to be a popular place for weddings, wedding dances, regular dances, craft shows, community dinners and fundraisers, hosting facility for politicians, among many other events. It was never meant to be a money-making machine for the city. In fact, it does not make a profit, Rice said. The city pays for maintenance and utilities, but over the last couple of years, the profits from the attached municipal liquor store have helped make the payments.
“We worked on whatever the needs were for the community to keep the place from being on the tax rolls,” Rice said. “So far, there hasn’t been any levy to pay for it. All the funds have either come from donations or work we’ve done or from the liquor store profits.”
For now, the community center committee meets as necessary.
“We just happen to exist,” Rice said, laughing.
They don’t have any fundraisers currently planned. The Lancaster School is heading up a 100-year School Celebration next year and has asked fundraising advice of the committee. But, the group always welcomes people who have a community event in mind who may need a little leg up to get started.
By Anna Jauhola