Harriet Henry would want a place for us to play



When Siebens Fieldhouse opened in 1969 we regularly cased the joint looking for ways to infiltrate the gym. We would find an open back door and sneak into the gym whose Tartan floor was lit only by the morning sunshine.

A quick shoot-around, then a game of 2-on-2 to 21, long enough to work up a sweat and Harriet Henry, the women’s coach of everything plus phys ed, would stride in and blast on the lights to illuminate her Beaver sweatsuit and red hair.

The gig was up.

So it went every Saturday. Rules was rules. The enforcer had a heart and would let us get in a few free throws before she shooed us out. We would leave and prop open the back door, and she would come along and ask if we left a shoe.

We have been searching for a recreation center ever since.

In fact, we had a YMCA in Edson Hall, the old Beaver gym many decades ago. It didn’t last long.

We had a youth center in the old Legion building, where Walgreens is now. It didn’t last long.

Carroll has a rec center. Spencer, too. Algona’s is fine.

A group has formed trying to generate support for some sort of rec center. I am cheering them on. It’s just that Storm Lake, for whatever reason, has a had a hard time with building a rec center.

It was tried with Project Awaysis, but the Vision Iowa board did not want to do a rec center in Storm Lake.

We talked up South School for a rec/community center. The school board didn’t want any part of that. It will be apartments.

It could not get tied to the high school renovation. A performing arts center was added.

That’s a lot of hard swings and strikes.

Here’s the hardest pitch to hit: raising funds.

It wasn’t easy for a tremendous salesman by any account, Gary Lalone, to sell lake dredging to people who lived on the lake. He was able to raise about $1 million with the help of Margaret Redenbaugh. And they worked it hard. Every one of us should be proud of it. But it took a lot of arm twisting and hard work.

The task force has plenty of commitment and courage to go out with hat in hand. But it is not an easy job in a town where a lot of people can’t find decent housing.

So we need a sugar daddy, as it were. That’s what it took in Algona, where the John Deere dealer and his wife had no children. They gave it all to the community. Algona, half the size of Storm Lake, has a school and community foundation that put ours to shame. Algona has locally owned manufacturers and farmland owners who pour money into those foundations.

And, we need the institutional support of the Storm Lake School Board, which has a great plenty on its plate with plans for a $20 million early childhood education center hanging fire. Yet we maintain that any rec center project must represent the greater Storm Lake community (Lakeside, Bel Air, Casino Beach, etc.) that is only truly represented by the school board.

There is also the issue of private fitness clubs that must be considered with care and respect.

I am not sure that facilities are the question. We have gyms. We have an indoor pool. We have other indoor recreational facilities hosted by private businesses that offer reasonable memberships. How can we factor those resources into the equation?

Buena Vista University is reaching out with a new president, Josh Merchant, and a new Community Compact drive to make better, lasting connections in Storm Lake. The conversation needs to start there: How can the community and BVU support each other with resources from each other? Colleges across the country are looking at their communities in new ways, because the academy’s vitality depends on the town’s vitality. Merchant fully appreciates this.

In the Briscoe and Moore eras Buena Vista properly protected its franchise for its students. This is a different era, when students want to be challenged by and engaged with the community.

Community Education, administered by the school district, is the mechanism to coordinate the resources. But it never has had the resources to do the job as the community always intended.

Perhaps our capital efforts should be directed towards Community Education, or endowing services through BVU, rather than investing in new brick and mortar. The brick and mortar were there for the taking with South School but nobody could conceive of how to find the money to refit it for a new day or operate it in perpetuity.

We have other facilities with St. Mary’s and the elementary school and middle school. I cannot recall how many times we were chased out of St. Mary’s gym on a Sunday after having burgled the place with a stolen key. Our purpose was to get the Panthers to State, but Msgr. Sweeney apparently preferred us in church.

First, we have to prove to ourselves that we are managing what we have efficiently. We are not because Storm Lake has been too strapped for funds to gear up Community Education the way it should be — running elementary basketball or soccer leagues every weekend, opening gyms at night and the early mornings, staffing the Finkbine pool for community use, and so on.

Once we know for sure that are facilities are maxed out, and are being coordinated as efficiently as they can without upsetting anyone’s interests, we should immediately embark on a community campaign to get that thing built and endowed once and for all.

If we had that place and I had not been chased out, I could have played for the Boston Celtics. If only I could have made my free throws.