When Linda Grissom she walked through the doors of the Korte Recreation Center in Highland on Aug. 30, she was just looking to get a little exercise. She did not intend to make history.
“I was going to my SilverSneakers water aerobics,” she said.
But Grissom was met with quite the surprise — balloons, gifts and celebrity treatment.
“I was shocked. I was very surprised. I couldn’t quite figure out what was going on at first. I was like, ‘What the heck?’ ” she said.
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Grissom was a historic guest to the 15-year-old Korte Recreation Center (KRC). She was the 2 millionth paid visitor since it first opened its doors in February 2001.
“Over the 15 ½ years we’ve been open, we are welcoming — on average —133,000 people annually, with almost half of these guests coming from other communities,” said Parks and Recreation Director Mark Rosen for the city of Highland, which has a population just shy of 10,000. “The KRC is well-known throughout the area and has helped to add many other programs to our menu of services.”
Melody McGowan of New Baden was the 1 millionth visitor back in December 2007.
The $6.3 million KRC was paid for through private donations and bonds backed by sales tax receipts. Ralph Korte, chairman the construction firm The Korte Co., and with his wife, Donna, donated $1 million of their personal money to get the ball rolling on the center, which was then named for them. The Highland Jaycees also embarked on a fundraising endeavor that initially raised $870,000 in cash and in-kind donations for the project.
There are so many indirect benefit the Korte Rec Center has added to the city of Highland that it’s too difficult to write them all down.
Mark Rosen, Highland Parks and Recreation Director
The Highland Area Community Foundation, which had been started a few years before the first shovel of dirt was turned, floated the bonds for the project, and the city of Highland backed them with a guarantee of sales tax receipts.
The city had a “rent-to-own” agreement for the building with the foundation. It was supposed to last 20 years. However, in 2005, the city purchased the building outright when it had a chance to refinance bonds for a much lower interest rate. The move saved about $260,000.
At the beginning of this fiscal year, the city still had about $2 million in bond payments left for the facility.
“There are many, many people that deserve credit for the Korte Recreation Center, Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Korte, of course, but the Highland Area Community Foundation was — and continues to be — a huge factor in much of our success,” Rosen said. “Because, had it not been for the dream of the originators of the foundation, the KRC would not be having the success it has today. In addition, a great deal of credit goes to our thousands of members and thousands of guests from other communities that come here.”
29,437 KRC membership passes sold from 2001 through Aug. 31, 2016
3,616 Active KRC membership passes
2,333 KRC passes sold from Jan. 1 to Aug. 31, 2016. I
2,273 passes purchased in 2015 during the same period
$6.3 million Cost in 2001 to build the KRC
$1 million Amount donated by Ralph and Donna Korte to build the KRC
$2 million Debt left on the KRC bonds at the start of this fiscal year
Outside of Highland, the center’s largest demographics come from the Pocahontas/Greenville area, followed by the Troy area, Rosen said, but people from much further also make the trek to Highland to use the KRC.
“We do have people coming here for birthday parties from all over: Okawville, Millstadt, Mount Olive, Bethalto, etc. We have ladies that carpool from the Trenton/Aviston area that come here for aqua-aerobics two to four days per week,” Rosen said.
Grissom said she first started coming to the KRC a couple years ago after her husband passed away. Her doctor told her she needed to get out more, maybe find a hobby. Not being one for arts and crafts, she decided to turn to exercise. She started out just using the KRC’s walking track. She is now a regular — about four days a week — with the SilverSneakers fitness classes, both in and out of the pool. It has been good for both her body and mind.
“It’s great exercise,” she said. “A lot of nice people. They’ll help you if you are new. They will guide you and help get you started, and you meet a lot of nice people and make good friends.”
Amenities of the KRC include an indoor pool and water slide, fitness area with all the latest workout equipment, walking, track, indoor basketball/volleyball courts, and the list goes on.
It has been toured by other communities interested in building their own rec center, Rosen said.
“One of our biggest forms of flattery is when we have someone from a larger city than Highland come in and says, ‘It is so impressive that a community the size of Highland has such a nice facility,’ ” Rosen said.
The center also offers a host of programs, for all age groups. Program offerings have increased over the years, and with more choices, more people have come through the doors.
It’s great exercise. A lot of nice people. They’ll help you if you are new. They will guide you and help get you started, and you meet a lot of nice people and make good friends.
Linda Grissom, KRC’s 2 millionth visitor
“We have increased non-sports opportunities for our seniors and pre-school ages over the last 15 years,” Rosen said. “We have been able to maintain the use of the Weinheimer (the department’s original all-purpose center) with past programs, like basketball and indoor soccer, but also created a Senior Drop-In Center, Pre-school P.E. and Playgroup.
“In addition, because staffing has increased, we have been able to provide ‘Young at Heart’ excursions (trips for people age 55 and over), fun runs, and more family-oriented programs. There has definitely been a ripple effect for a variety of other recreational opportunities,” Rosen said.
Use of the KRC actually goes beyond the 2 million who paid. That number does not include attendance for guests that have used it during the Relay for Life, non-profit group meetings, tours and the few times people biking or walking across the country, who often travel U.S. Highway 40 and have made use of the KRC.
“There are so many indirect benefits the Korte Rec Center has added to the city of Highland that it’s too difficult to write them all down,” Rosen said.