“We are beyond thrilled”

Wellman Library, Wellman Fire, Kalona Fire, and M-P Baseball awarded WCRF grants

By Cheryl Allen
Posted 11/22/22

“It is really fun to give away other people’s money,” Shawn Ellingson told the excited group happily munching hors d’oeuvres at Riverside Casino’s Event Center on …

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“We are beyond thrilled”

Wellman Library, Wellman Fire, Kalona Fire, and M-P Baseball awarded WCRF grants


“It is really fun to give away other people’s money,” Shawn Ellingson told the excited group happily munching hors d’oeuvres at Riverside Casino’s Event Center on Wednesday night. 

The president of the Board of Directors of the Washington County Riverboat Foundation kicked off an evening that would see the Wellman-Scofield Public Library awarded $632,860 for their library expansion project; the Kalona Volunteer Fire Department awarded $230,000 for a pumper-tanker fire truck; the Mid-Prairie Community School District awarded $159,040 for their Field of Dreams; and the Wellman Volunteer Fire Department awarded $64,866 for self-contained breathing apparatus units.

Before issuing oversized checks to Spring, Fall, and Municipal grant recipients, Ellingson briefly remarked on the Nov. 12 fire in Washington that saw the WCRF displaced from their office in Greiner Plaza.  Unmoored just days before the Nov. 16 Grant Award Celebration, Executive Director Patty Koller “rallied” to complete last-minute preparations.

“A QSO is what we are, and we’re a 501c nonprofit,” Ellingson said of the WCRF. “We’ve been around for about six years now, and we’re actually governed by the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission.  And we receive our money from all the gambling that happens here at the casino.” 

“Riverside Casino and Golf Resort, they’re the ones that make this happen,” he explained. “You guys going in there and enjoying yourself, having a good time, is what’s created all of this.  All these things that we’re doing tonight, all these 501c 3’s that are receiving money, this wouldn’t happen without you guys enjoying this establishment.”

The WCRF conducts spring and fall grant cycles for special projects.  Earlier this year, spring grants totaling $3,435,693 were awarded; for the fall grant cycle, $1,491,377 was awarded.  Municipalities within Washington County also receive regular quarterly grants from the foundation.

The largest grant recipient of the fall cycle was the Wellman-Scofield Public Library. 

“We are beyond thrilled,” said Carrie Geno, Assistant Director.  “It was a huge surprise, and we are so very grateful.  This is a project we’ve been hoping to do for several years, and it’s going to have a big impact, not only for our library, but our community.”

The east side of the building the library occupies has been vacant for years; with the grant funds, the library will be able to knock down a wall separating the two sides, which will more than double the space.  This will allow for an expanded collection and programs.

“We’re still in shock,” Geno said.  “We’re excited to call the architect that we’ve been working with on the plans and see what our next step is.”

Another grant recipient in the city of Wellman was the Wellman Volunteer Fire Department, which will use the funds to purchase self-contained breathing apparatus units.  When going into a smoke-filled structure, the breathing apparatus protects the firefighter and is vital to their safety.

“We were [surprised],” said Tracy Owens, Secretary/Treasurer.  “This was something we have to purchase.  Ours are outdated and need replaced.  We’ve saved up money for it, but we also just bought a pumper last year, which was over $300,000 [and] we’re still paying on it.  But $65,000 is a big deal because we’re looking to buy ten new packs, and it is amazing the amount of money it takes to keep a fire department in check, just in gear and equipment, let alone just day-to-day bills.  So, this was a very big thing.”

The Kalona Volunteer Fire Department was also awarded grant funds; they will use theirs to purchase a pumper-tanker truck.  The WCRF invited Fire Chief Jerry Zahradnek to address the celebrants upon receipt of the department’s award.

“It’s difficult to measure the overall importance of purchasing a new fire truck at this time, since it directly serves Kalona’s 28 firefighters, the best team of firefighters you could ever ask to work with, giving them the maximum ability to respond quickly, effectively, and safely.  And that competence translates into every mutual-aid fire call Kalona receives,” he said.

“There aren’t enough ways to describe how proud I am as a fire chief each time we go into battle with other firefighters in our nearby departments, knowing we can depend on each other and work side by side as a cohesive team,” he continued.  “This new pumper tanker firetruck is much needed to update our fleet.  And we are very thankful for the chance to finalize the purchase of this new truck for delivery in the summer of 2023.”

The Mid-Prairie Community School District sought a WCRF grant to renovate its baseball field, and their request was also granted on Wednesday night. 

The baseball field playing surface has become uneven and potentially unsafe, and the field and viewing areas also struggle with improper water drainage.  Potholes dot the outfield, and the press box lacks air conditioning.  Many of these issues will be addressed by money raised from previous fundraisers; however, as senior baseball player Camron Pickard told the room, the WCRF grant will be a big help.

“With the money that the Washington County Riverboat Foundation gave to us, we will make new seating terraces behind the backstop, and we will make a new and bigger press box,” he said.  “We are also putting in a clubhouse so players will be able to change and store their personal items between games.  And we also are adding more storage to keep our tools in there, to keep the field nice and good.”

“This project should increase the economic status of Kalona and Wellman because it should reel in more people to watch the games, and I invite all of you to come by this summer and watch us boys do what we love to do, and that’s play baseball,” Pickard said.

A total of 14 grants were awarded in the fall cycle.  Others of note include:

Cub Scout Troop 234, which serves the Mid-Prairie district, received $1575 for firewood equipment and $1475 for Pinewood Derby supplies and equipment. 

The City of West Chester received $20,000 to re-roof the former middle school building, which has become an important, multi-use building for the community.

The Keota Community School District received $41,405 for Phase 1 Baseball and Softball Field Renovations.

For more information about the Washington County Riverboat Foundation visit washingtoncountyriverboatfoundation.org.