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Osceola County nonprofits reap rewards of grants

Bill Imhoff (from left, Andy Gacke, Howard Johnson and Larry Verdoorn, members of the Ashton Betterment Foundation, pose with their $3,500 grant check from the Community Foundation of Osceola County Thursday night in Sibley, Iowa.1 / 2
Community Foundation of Osceola County representative Kirk Grau (left) presents a $3,500 check to Melvin Area Economic Development representative Jack Benz Thursday night in Sibley.2 / 2

SIBLEY, Iowa -- In an early evening ceremony Thursday, 26 nonprofit groups accepted more than $80,300 in grant dollars from the Community Foundation of Osceola County. It is the seventh year the foundation has awarded grants, and Thursday's distribution brings the total amount of grants awarded to more than $500,000.

Kirk Grau, executive director of the Osceola County Economic Development Corp., said while there haven't been as many dollars available to award in recent years, the foundation did its best in awarding the funds it had.

"These are gambling resource dollars that the state provides to counties who don't have a casino -- it's their way of spreading the impact across the whole state," said Grau.

The Iowa General Assembly passed the legislation, which provides one-half of one percent of the state's gross gambling receipts to the 30 counties who don't have a casino.

Each county must award 75 percent of the funds to charitable organizations for educational, civic and public purposes, with the remaining 25 percent placed into a permanent county endowment fund to be invested.

This year, Osceola County's share of the money was $118,130. After placing 25 percent in the endowment fund kept in Des Moines, Iowa, Grau said they had nearly $88,600 left. Of that, some was used for administration and marketing, as well as to pay federal filing fees.

Of the 37 requests received for grant dollars, 26 entities were presented checks Thursday. The monetary awards ranged from $872 to $3,500, and included entities in five communities within Osceola County.

"I really don't have a favorite," said Grau of the projects awarded funding. "They're all excellent projects.

"I'm very proud of the volunteer nonprofit groups and entities that have made requests and the types of projects they have to fund," he added. "It makes me feel pretty good that we're funding things that would probably go for want of funding if we're not here. We're filling a need."

Nick Schmalen, director of the Osceola County Conservation Board, applied for funding to install a new Rainbow play set at Willow Creek County Park, located about a mile east of the Iowa 9 and U.S. 59 junction. Without the Community Foundation grant program, he said it would be difficult for them to do some of their projects.

"We'd have to take funds away from existing projects that we have going on," said Schmalen. The conservation board maintains all of the county-owned parks and wildlife areas in Osceola County.

Some of the larger parks in the county have play equipment, but Willow Creek is without. The park gets used quite a bit, and that is only expected to grow with a new campground on site and plans by the conservation board to construct a modern restroom facility there this summer.

In Ashton, the Ashton Betterment Committee will use its $3,500 grant to develop a welcome area along Iowa 60. The city recently installed a Welcome to Ashton sign, and the committee wants to expand on it by installing a pair of flag poles, doing some landscaping and creating a picnic area.

Andrew Gacke, committee representative, said the foundation grant will cover about half of the total project cost.

"It would have been really hard to get donations of that kind of money without this grant -- it's a great asset," Gacke said.

The Melvin Area Economic Development Corp. was also a $3,500 grant recipient. Nancy Travaille said its funds will be used to hire artist Curt Nelson of Rock Valley, Iowa, to paint a mural on the front of the former First National Bank building on Melvin's Main Street.

The building, constructed in 1905, is in good shape, but deemed an eyesore. Plans are to close up the broken windows on the front of the building and paint a scene that will replicate the bank in the early 1900s. It will include the image of a bank president walking into the bank, with old teller windows painted in the mural and the reflection of a 1914 telephone truck.

"We've bought banners in the past with the grant money, and made a nice little patio park next to our post office," said Travaille. "Without this grant money, we wouldn't be able to do any of this. We're trying to get people to see that there is some beauty in Melvin."

While Grau said it is wonderful that so many nonprofit organizations can benefit from the funds, he also wants to promote the endowment established in Osceola County, and encourage people to consider a gift to the program.

"The concept is not just to fund these worthy groups that are nonprofits, but to encourage individuals who would like to provide donations to a particular foundation that's doing good and worthwhile projects," said Grau. "What a good way to give funds, knowing they will be used in an effective and far-reaching manner."

Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer can be reached at 376-7330.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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