Archive for Wednesday, March 7, 2001

Rec commission then and now

March 7, 2001

The benefits of Tonganoxie recreation programs are timeless. Enjoyed by all ages, participated in since 1967, the programs offer lasting rewards.

Tonganoxie residents recently received this year's schedule of events sponsored by the Tonganoxie Recreation Commission.

In recent years, the rec commission's programs and other facilities have pushed up the level of activities available in Tonganoxie.

Mark Zerrer, director of the recreation commission since August 1994, said that in 2000, there were 2,800 participants in planned events.

Zerrer said the number may be higher than the individuals involved, as people can participate in more than one activity.

Planned events are well-rounded, he said, and include events for children as well as adults.

"A lot of what I do is dealing with youth sports and adult sports programs," Zerrer said. "But we do try to do a few other things, such as the tots tumbling for three-year olds."

And age levels stretch toward the century mark, he added.

"We had a 91-year old lady go on a day trip," he said.

Tonganoxie's Recreation Commission started in 1967 with Don Huebner at the helm.

Huebner recalls the beginnings. He'd been on a business trip to St. Francis, and had noticed the recreation programs and utilities.

He asked around and learned that the city had a recreation program funded by a tax levy.

Huebner obtained more information and brought his idea to the Tonganoxie Board of Education, which gave its approved.

Next, signatures were needed to put the idea on the ballot.

"Ray Sutton, president of the Sertoma Club, got people to sign it," Huebner said. "It was voted in and we got a one-mill tax levy."

At that time, Tonganoxie baseball teams used a field located just west of the present high school football field. More space was needed.

So, the recreation commission started talking to the county fair board.

The result was a 99-year lease with the fairgrounds.

In exchange for providing space where rec commission members could put in a baseball field, the rec commission would be in charge of mowing the fairgrounds during the summer.

The field was built, using concrete above-ground dugouts and lights on 80-foot poles. Today, that field has been converted to an arena, lit at night by the original overhead lights.

When the recreation commission grew, the organization eventually purchased land to the north and west where the city's existing baseball fields are. The no-pay lease with the county fair board was halted.

Huebner's son and daughter-in-law, David and Vickie Huebner, served as the first recreation directors, manning the show for three years.

While in the past, the city had only had boys baseball teams, the pair started a girls team, with Vickie running that. Later, Don Huebner ran the program for seven years.

Today, as he's watched the program grow from a one-sport show to a major operation packed with year-round activities and diverse facilities, including a playground area, soccer fields, tennis courts, sand volleyball courts, basketball courts and a walking trail, Huebner is impressed.

"It's just gone great," he said, "Absolutely great."

Huebner credits part of the success to the ongoing spirit of volunteerism in Tonganoxie.

From the beginning, Tonganoxie has had volunteer labor to construct the facilities, to maintain the facilities and to oversee programs, he said.

Zerrer said he appreciates the work of Huebner and others who have helped since 1967.

"I credit Don Huebner and his peers who supported public support for recreation," Zerrer said.

Activities included in the year's rec commission schedule, because of their athletic nature, include competition, but Zerrer says there's more to it than winning or losing.

"It's human nature to be competitive," Zerrer said. "But we try to stress recreation programs in nature, things like having and good time and being with people. As our slogan says, 'the benefits are endless.'"

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