Remaining Restore McGregor funds will go toward endowment, pocket park

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The lot next to the McGregor Public Library will be turned into a memorial pocket park in honor of Roger Witter. Since the lot could someday become a community center, the potential structures, like benches, picnic tables and a stage, will not be permanent. (Photo by Audrey Posten)

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

In the wake of the July 19, 2017 tornado, over $50,000 in donations from businesses, organizations and individuals flowed into the Restore McGregor fund established by the Clayton County Foundation for the Future. Last fall, a five-member committee awarded $36,376.50 in small grants to 42 applicants for storm-related losses.

“There’s been $20,000 sitting in that fund for the past year,” said McGregor Deputy Clerk Duane Boelman at the Nov. 21 city council meeting. The committee would like to see it utilized, and has proposed putting half toward establishing an endowment fund and the other half toward creating a memorial pocket park.

The endowment, which will be overseen by the Clayton County Foundation for the Future, will be called the Alexander MacGregor Fund, in honor of the community’s founder. $10,000 from the Restore McGregor fund will get it started, then it should generate a 7 to 8 percent annual return, Boelman explained. 

Funds from the endowment can then be distributed each year to McGregor non-profits or to the city for community projects. 

“The grants will have to be for a public purpose in McGregor,” Boelman stated.

He added that non-profits will have to apply with a letter of intent, then it’s likely the same advisory committee that oversaw the dispersal of the Restore McGregor funds will determine who receives the grants.

People can also continue to contribute to the endowment over time and will receive a tax credit for their donation.

“It’s going to be here basically forever,” Boelman said, “so I think that’s exciting for the city. It’s great a community of our size can do this.”

Even though the funds aren’t going directly toward tornado relief, it’s still for a good cause, Boelman assured.

“People can feel good that the money is going back to McGregor,” he said.

With the other $10,000, Boelman proposed creating a memorial pocket park for Roger Witter on the donated lot next to the McGregor Public Library. Witter, a rural McGregor resident, passed away just days after the tornado, while cleaning up debris. A large portion of the Restore McGregor funds came from memorials made in his name.

Often found in larger cities, pocket parks are small parks created on single lots or small, irregular pieces of land. The lot next to the library was donated to the city last summer by Fred Petrie and Melanie SanFillippo, after their building, which held INKspiration Tattoo, was destroyed by the tornado and had to be torn down. 

“We’ve talked about building a community center there at some point,” said Boelman, but no plans are imminent. “It was an empty lot the tornado caused, and we were looking for something we could do as a memorial to Mr. Witter.”

Since a community center could someday happen, Boelman said the park’s structures—benches, picnic tables, a stage—could be easily moved to another location. 

“There will be nothing permanent,” he stated.

Boelman said one suggested use for the pocket park would be to host outdoor movies during the summer. A projector and screen could be purchased for the events, then used for other activities in town. The library could also use the space for programming.

Many of McGregor’s events are centered downtown, he noted, so “this brings more activity to this part of town.”

Readying the lot will require little financial commitment from the city, said Boelman. Some gravel will be needed to level off the site and prevent water from pooling, but, with gravel, no mowing will be necessary.

The city will also help construct stairs and fencing that will give people access to nearby Artesian Park, across the covered storm sewer.

The council and mayor Lyle Troester were excited about the idea.

“I think it’s a great idea,” Troester stated. “It’s something more for the young and old to do.”

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