Steve Robertson, president and CEO of Keller Manufacturing Co. in Corydon, made the announcement Saturday morning and 218 people got on the Corydon Scenic Railroad train for a “Groundbreaking Express” ride to the future sites of the Keller Sports Park and the YMCA of Harrison County.
Robertson’s call to board the train came at the end of a brief ceremony at the depot that included a major fund-raising announcement by Tyson Foods Corydon Complex Manager David Whittington.
Jerry Reinhardt, president of the YMCA of Harrison County, welcomed everyone to the event, whose theme was “The Little Engine of Harrison County That Could,” from the children’s book with the similar title.
“We are truly grateful for the many things that have happened in a short period of time,” Reinhardt said.
The vision for the complex started in August 2000 when a small group of people thought they could build a recreational facility that included an indoor pool. At that time, Harrison County was one of just a few of the state’s 92 counties that lacked a public indoor pool.
Fund-raising efforts began and the group decided to become a YMCA affiliate.
An additional fund-raising campaign — the Caboose Campaign — recently began, with a goal of $500,000. That will continue through Dec. 31.
Pam Bennett Martin, the campaign chair, said $55,000 has already been raised. She introduced Whittington, who shared more good news: Tyson has raised an additional $30,000 for the Caboose Campaign ($15,000 from the corporate office in Arkansas and the other half from the Corydon plant).
“We’re excited to be part of the campaign and what it means for Harrison County,” Whittington said. “We got caught up in the idea” of the YMCA and the sports complex.
(Tyson contributed $20,000 to the YMCA during an earlier campaign.)
Martin said the Caboose Campaign was now at 17 percent of its goal.
The Harrison County Community Foundation helped make funding available for the Y.
Foundation president Carl Uesseler called the YMCA board “a determined group” who presented a worthwhile project.
“We were glad to give a little boost to the Little Engine That Could to reach its destination,” Uesseler said.
As passengers boarded the three Corydon Scenic Railroad passenger cars, they were given a copy of “The Little Engine of Harrison County That Could.” The cars were decorated with tiny white lights, as the Scenic Railroad was already decked out for its “The Polar Express” train rides for the holidays. YMCA board members were dressed in sports attire, such as soccer players and swimmers.
During the ride, John Hodges and Emily Van Gaasbeek read the book over the train’s public address system, concluding about the same time that the train reached the 44 acres where the Friends of Harrison County will have its new baseball/softball diamonds and the Y will have eight soccer fields.
“There’ll be lots of parking in the center,” Reinhardt said. “The Friends are also planning on two pavilions, a concession stand and restroom, and a playground.
“This is going to be a top-notch facility that we expect to attract both soccer- and baseball-sanctioned events,” he said. “This will be good for tourism and economic development … and will also be lots of fun for our kids as we host tournaments.”
The soccer fields should be ready to use for the Fall 2003 season, said Reinhardt.
He said some baseball practices might take place at the Keller Sports Park next summer but the new diamonds wouldn’t be ready until Spring 2004.
Keller Manufacturing Co. donated the land for the sports complex through a 35-year, $1 lease to the Friends and YMCA.
“This has been a tremendous collaborative effort of the Friends, who provide youth baseball and softball to more than 500 kids in the spring and summer, and the YMCA soccer program, which serves about 300 kids in the spring and 400 in the fall,” Reinhardt said.
The sports complex will benefit other non-profit groups, such as the Harrison County Ministerial Association softball program, Corydon Central High School, which uses the soccer fields for practice, and walkers, runners and cyclists on Indian Creek Trail, which is to extend from Corydon’s West bridge, past the sports park to the YMCA.
“It’s amazing how much land is out there,” Robertson said of the area where the Keller Sports Park will be located.
Train riders could see the rough grading work by T&C and Coffman.
A little farther along the track, a large crane on the hillside held up a YMCA sign, indicating the 15 acres where the Y facility will be constructed. That property was donated by the Dennis and Kathy Jenkins’ family.
“It’s high on that bluff,” Reinhardt said. “So until the steel starts going up, which will be in a month or two, you will have a hard time seeing it.”
Reinhardt said one of the most-asked questions is: When will the YMCA open?
“Well, the building will be underway soon … and Shireman (Construction of Corydon) tells us to anticipate a 12- to 15-month construction schedule,” he said. “So we’re planning the opening ceremonies of the YMCA for January of 2004.”
Reinhardt said Limeberry Lumber is “another corporate friend” who helped make everything possible.
“Limeberry Lumber owned the land between Shanghai Restaurant and Michele Reichel’s State Farm and Schuler Bauer,” he said. “We needed this land for the entry road to the YMCA and Keller Sports Park. So, Limeberry Lumber and Keller swapped a few acres.”
As the train made its way back to the station, passengers were encouraged to check their brown paper sack, which contained a granola bar, apple or banana and a bottle of water, for three special cards to claim prizes. They were also encouraged to use the envelope that was in the sack to make a donation to the “Caboose Campaign.”
Brian Keinsley, president of Friends of Harrison County Youth, said he couldn’t remember when he had been as excited about a project as he is about the Keller Sports Park and the YMCA.
He compared the “teamwork and great leadership” that’s gone into making the complex a reality to the now-famous story that explains why geese fly in a “V” formation.
Michael Hodges, 13, who’s played ball at Rice Island through the Friends’ program the past five years, was also excited about the sports complex.
“It will be lots more fun,” he said. “There’ll be more running area.”
As the train approached the station, final announcements were made over the PA system.
“First, thank you for supporting our projects. Thank you for coming out this morning to celebrate our progress.
“You are now officially a part of our team. We are aboard the train together, from here on out. We want to see all of you at our grand opening! We invite your ideas, your energy, and any type of support you can give …
“Finally, and most importantly, thank you to all of you for sharing our dream. To date, we have had more than 350 donors to the YMCA building campaign. We thank you for being the ones who told this little engine, ‘I think YOU can.’ ”