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Thursday, October 23rd, 2014
Volume ∞ Issue ∞

Whalan Community Center given new life

By Kirsten Zoellner

Fri, Jan 24th, 2014
Posted in Whalan Progress Edition

After extensive fundraising efforts and renovating, the Whalan Community Center is being enjoyed for a variety of events. Photo submitted

It happens almost daily. Old buildings are torn down, leveled to the ground, to make room for modern progress. In the heart of Fillmore County, in our small communities, more and more are laying claim to these historical remnants, reclaiming them not only for the past, but for the future.

Last year, we told the story of how one town of 63 people, Whalan, Minn. saw residents, former residents, and other area folk came together in effort to save the town’s early 20th-century city hall. The massive effort was strictly volunteer and amassed nearly $50,000 and countless hours, resulting in an open house celebration this past September. Not surprisingly, the ball didn’t stop rolling there.

“Something needed to be done,” said city mayor Larry Johnson. “It was either tear it down or renovate it. A group of community-minded citizens came forward to take it on and raise funds. It all started from there.”

The group was spearheaded by Whalan-native Donna Novotny, of Chatfield, Minn., who initially approached the city about the town hall and community center five years ago. A member of the Ladies Auxiliary, who had long used the facility as their post home, Novotny and the spirited ladies group began saving their money from local fundraisers. “It seemed so hopeless,” she notes in retrospect. “It took us a while, but we eventually got up to $5,000 and went to the council with seed money for it. It really seemed like, ‘We are never going to be able to do this.’” Still, the group persisted.

The city contributed $20,000 towards the project and it seemed like it was underway. “We started and went as far as we could. They looked at me like, ‘Huh? Are we going to be able to do this?’” adds Novotny. “But you never know what you can do until you start,” she enthuses.

Getting a little help from their friends, the group continued on and sometime after, Novotny received surprising news. “I was told about a quarter of the way in that we were the recipients of funds from an estate. I was told a portion was to be given to Ladies Auxiliary through the VFW and American Legion. It was very generous. The kicker of the whole thing was that I had to sit on it for a while. It was so hard to do, but you can’t count something until you have it in your hand!”

That funding breathed life into the project again and the collaboration continued as private donations and small grant .....
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