The Ottumwa Courier

April 16, 2014

Hedrick building has friends

By MARK NEWMAN
Courier staff writer

---- — HEDRICK — The community wants a civic center, and they've been willing to work for it.

"I'd say we have 15 to 25 volunteers each time," Tommy Smith of Hedrick said. "These are all good people."

Smith was volunteering his services at the Easter Brunch held at, and for, the Carl Craft Civic Center in Hedrick. Easter and Mother's Day are the two biggest fundraisers, but Hedrick has one of its brunches the second Sunday of nearly every month.

For the Easter holiday, they served roast lamb, smoked ham, scrambled eggs, biscuits and sausage gravy, the beloved sauerkraut soup with the potatoes and chunks of sausage, mashed potatoes (real mashed potatoes, pointed out a volunteer) and salads.

It makes sense they'd bring in donations, on a freewill basis, because a big chunk of the $240,000 they brought in through their fundraising went to build a brand new kitchen. It's been helping fund the civic center ever since.

The goal is to completely renovate the old high school gym. But rather than doing that as one big project for half a million dollars, like some towns might do, they've taken a different route.

"We're making progress," said Laverne Cavin, "steady progress. We're real lucky with the volunteers we have."

Smith said they've made improvements like adding air conditioning, new furnaces and insulation.

Cavin, former mayor of Hedrick, estimated that over and above money from fundraising, the hours community members have volunteered knocking down walls, tearing up old boards and lugging debris have been worth tens of thousands of dollars, if not hundreds of thousands. Up to 25 show up to help each month.

Smith, who was not born in Hedrick, said the story goes that there's fond memories of that gym, including some proud basketball moments and nostalgia. "When the school district consolidated with Pekin, Pekin tore the high school down. People asked them to leave the gym standing."

Another volunteer who was glad they did was Earl Mefford. In the 1950s, he helped install the floors as the building was erected. Until the 800-plus citizens of Hedrick took over, he worried the building would just end up falling down.

The civic center hosts weddings, birthday parties and community basketball games, at least one of which was played on the backs of sneaker-wearing donkeys. It's name comes from the former custodian at Hedrick's high school buildings: Carl Craff was liked by adults and children alike, Cavin said, and he was well respected.

"He was custodian here for 50 years," Cavin said.

Carl Craff's photo has a place of honor at the entryway, right across from a picture of the town's namesake, Civil War General John Morrow Hedrick.

News reporter Mark Newman is on Twitter @couriermark