“A gift that will give and give”

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Salem Kroc opens to crowds, fanfare.

by Sue Schumann Warner –

“This will change our community,” said Salem Mayor Janet Taylor as she addressed the crowd gathered under a huge white tent for the Kroc Center’s dedication ceremony. “Young people will have the opportunity to do things they’ve never done. This is a gift that will give and give, long after we’re all gone.”

The ceremony was one the events held during four days of celebrations officially opening The Salvation Army Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center. And the community could not have been happier—more than 3,600 became members in the first few days, 400 of whom are low-income families receiving scholarships.

Western Territorial Leaders Commissioners Philip and Patricia Swyers and Cascade Divisional Leaders Majors Donald and Arvilla Hostetler joined Executive Director Major Donna Ames and Marion/Polk County Coordinator Major Jerry Ames in the weekend’s events.

Major Brian Saunders, with son Holden, participated as well. Saunders and his wife, Major Leticia Saunders, were Salem Citadel Corps officers when the application for a Kroc Center was submitted. Commissioners Kenneth and Jolene Hodder (then majors) were divisional leaders.

The territorial youth band, under the leadership of Territorial Bandmaster Neil Smith, provided music throughout the weekend.

A star celebration
Over 200 major donors—those giving $10,000 or more—and VIPs enjoyed a festive “kick-off” evening with dinner and tours on Thursday. Master of Ceremonies Dick Withnell, who led the Kroc fundraising campaign, thanked those who contributed so generously. “The effort here is the gold standard,” he stated. In all, the community raised $10.2 million.

A video presentation chronicling the center’s growth included comments from community representatives. Mayor Lore Christopher, City of Keizer, stated, “This is where we’ll make a place for our kids to envision and imagine what will happen here in the years to come; over 1,000 Keizer kids live within one mile of the center.”

Needs are great in this area: 63 percent of Salem/Keizer children live below the poverty line and Salem’s Northgate neighborhood, where the center is located, contains the highest density of low-income population in Oregon.

It’s about the people
Majors Donna and Jerry Ames welcomed guests—over 800 donors, volunteers, and Salvationists— at Friday’s dedication ceremony, generating laughter as they went through a humorous “to do” list for the center’s opening, and concluding on a somber note: “this place is about the people who will come day in and day out…who will know this is a place for them, and will be welcomed here…who will have their lives changed for the better.”

Joan Kroc’s daughter, Linda Wendfeldt, spoke of her mother’s childhood in Minnesota during the Depression; she recalled that Joan’s father donated to The Salvation Army even in those difficult times.

“My mother had a vision that children would learn, play, grow in self-esteem and gain hope [at the Kroc Centers]—and also have fun! Hope was key for her,” she stated. “You have collaborated with my Mom and with God so this place could exist,” she said, with tears in her eyes.

Calling the center “a great gift to serve people,” Swyers dedicated the facility to the glory of God. Commissioner Pat Swyers gave a prayer of dedication.

Let’s Krock ’n Roll
Saturday’s “Krock ’n Roll” grand opening was a day like no other—school busses shuttled people back and forth from parking at the nearby fair grounds, and over 200 volunteers and employees smiled unfailingly as they answered questions, directed visitors, signed-up members, and explained the Kroc Center’s programs and spiritual opportunities to many of the 7,000 who came.

Starting with the ribbon cutting—in this case a volleyball net—and ending with the territorial youth band’s evening concert, it was a grand beginning for the Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center.

Guests explored the entire facility, from the two pools—where Olympic swimmer Mike Mintenko and Olympic swimmer gold medalist Lindsay Benko spoke and performed an exhibition, the gym, exercise equipment and rock-climbing wall to the chapel/theater, library and game room. Outdoors, a dunking booth, bowling alley, trackless train, face painting and more kept young and old entertained. Musical groups performed in the amphitheater; free hot dogs, snow cones, cotton candy, fruit salad and water ensured no one went hungry.

A morning of worship
Highlighting the Army’s spiritual mission, Sunday morning’s worship service was filled with “firsts” for the Salem Kroc Corps: four junior soldiers, four senior soldiers, and one adherent were enrolled, and little Jamil Shadrick was dedicated.

Swyers gave the message, speaking on God’s holiness. “What do we want to see out of this place?” he asked. “God would say, people who are chosen, purchased, and redeemed, so their life is clean in God’s sight.”

Over 350 attended the service; 80 were first-time visitors. In his benediction, Envoy Dan Reichman called the Kroc Center “A little community with big dreams” and prayed for the building, the corps, and those who were present for the first time.

New beginnings
Monday morning, as the center opened its doors for business, changes were underway for Majors Jerry and Donna Ames. A noontime retirement service marked their transition from active Salvation Army officers to retired officers; after the service, they resumed their duties at the Kroc—now as employees—not skipping a beat.

Laughter and splashing echoed from the swimming pools, basketballs swished through hoops, and newcomers signed up for membership, just as if the center had been open for days.

“One parent told me their child went down the slide 14 times and it was hard to leave the pool because they were having so much fun,” said Development Director Patricia Cuff-Smith. “This is truly a place that welcomes everyone and everyone feels welcome!”

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