A community center success story

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The Pender population sign says 1,002. Although it may be a small town in northeast Nebraska, area residents recently pulled together to build a massive new community center. "The facility is 38,500 square feet," center manager Kristin Walsh said.

The center opened in December of 2017, and it cost $7.1 Million to construct. Walsh says the building is used in a number of ways. “We have tenants. We currently have the village of Pender. We have “Little Sprouts Child Development Center”, and they deal with the day to day needs of the kids in town, with a preschool approach. And, we also have Anytime Fitness,” Walsh said.

Along with the Fitness Center and the childcare offerings, the center is home to the local veterans organization. “They actually originally owned the Legion Hall where this building sits,” Walsh said. “They donated their ground for this facility to be built, so they are forever tenants of the community center.”

The Pender Community Center also has a gymnasium and when the center was first being talked about, some people felt like the gym might not be used and maybe wouldn’t be needed. As it turns out, it’s used everyday. “We have multiple youth sports in our gym,” Walsh said. “We have two batting cages, we have six basketball hoops that can be lowered to 8 feet. In addition, people are known to use the walking track each morning. Our event hall is kind of neat because it has a collapsible wall that extends out into our gym. So, the maximum capacity of the hall and gym together is 1,200 people.”

As you might imagine, building a facility like this took teamwork from the community. “I think history drove us to believe that we could do it,” Pender Community Center operating board member Bruce Wichman said. This community has a strong history of coming up with ideas, of ways to support the area, whether it’s the golf course north of town that was an idea that became a reality, or whether it’s helping the hospital.”

Members of the Pender-Thurston Education and Community Foundation, which is an affiliated fund of the Nebraska Community Foundation, say there were some people who raised concerns about the project. “The people who raised legitimate concerns or doubts, we really worked hard to listen to those, and make sure that they were thought out and brought to the table,” fund advisory committee member Ray Welsh said. “I think the project ended up being much better because of that.” And, eventually the project sold itself. “There are a lot of people who gave to this, and there are a lot of people who gave of their time,” Welsh said. “And while we certainly had some big donors, we had a lot of donors.”

Donors, along with guidance and support from the Nebraska Community Foundation made this building a reality. It all started with a question. “If money were no object, what would the community of Pender want to see in this facility? And this is essentially what we came up with,” Welsh said.

You could certainly say the community of Pender has built a place where future generations can gather. “The really cool thing about the community center is you have everyone from a brand new baby to my grandmother coming in and using this facility. There’s something for everyone here,” Walsh said.