Aging center remains vital to Elsmore

By SUSAN LYNN
Register Editor

Photos by Brian Wolfe
Above at left, Don Burns of Gas looks over the playground equipment relocated to Elsmore from Johnson County. The play structure gives Elsmore children their first public recreation equipment since the Elsmore elementary school closed in the 1990s. Above at right, Dick Fewins and Vera Isaacs stand in the Elsmore Community Center as part of a Thrive Allen County meeting Monday night. The 77-year-old building is the town’s only meeting place and is in need of major repairs.

ELSMORE — Twelve laps around the Elsmore Community Center equals about one mile, said resident Vera Isaacs, who uses the spacious building for exercise during the winter months.
The community center is a multi-purpose building for the small, southeastern Allen County town.
It serves as the meeting place for the city council, local Ruritan club, Elsmore Day activities, alumni banquets and weddings. And its L-shaped bar is perfect for Shriners.
All these functions are in jeopardy, Isaacs said, if the community center does not receive major renovations, the first being a new roof. Sections of the massive wood floor have buckled from leaks above, and there is other damage, she said.
Isaacs and a dozen other Elsmore residents vented their hopes and fears for their community at a meeting Monday night of Thrive Allen County. Thrive works to improve recreation, education and health services throughout the county.
Thrive and Elsmore hit it off from the get-go this spring, when they arranged for playground equipment from Johnson County to be relocated to Elsmore.
The play area is now directly across from the community center, giving the town’s dozen children their first swings and climbing apparatus since the elementary school closed about 15 years ago.
Elsmore dug deep in its pockets to pay $5,011 for the playground equipment. Subsequent fund raisers are securing money to help complete the area. Elsmore’s Somewhere Tavern recently helped raise more than $500. Still needed are a table or two, benches and shredded bark or other material for the ground around the equipment. Residents also would like a tree or two planted in the area.
Despite the improvements, Elsmore, like many small towns in Southeast Kansas, has seen better days. It registers 67 citizens. Gone are its schools and its post office. The tavern is its only commercial establishment. All this points to the vital role the community center plays for its citizens.
Estimates for repairs to the roof are daunting, said Isaacs, who serves as Elsmore city clerk. Minimal maintenance, $9,000; better maintenance, $13,000; an entire new roof, $20,000. If the roof were repaired, residents envision other updates, including a repaired floor, new kitchen appliances and a climate control system. The most recent repairs to the building were 10 years ago when wood paneling and new light fixtures were installed.
The massive building is a 1932 Works Progress Administration project; for years it served as the town’s roller skating rink. For the most part, its wood floor remains in pristine condition.
Residents picture the building being used as an exercise center, especially since several caught the fitness bug after participating in Thrive’s Allen County Meltdown.
They envision stationary bicycles, weights, exercise mats and the like up on stage. Or, they said, remove the stage so the steep steps leading up to it are not a barrier. The stage is no longer used for entertainment purposes, Isaacs said.
Thrive member Karen Works suggested that Elsmore hold a fitness drive where people donate exercise equipment that perhaps they don’t use anymore. A simple display of hands of the 30 people at the meeting showed that almost everyone had equipment that was purchased with good intentions, but never really used.
If the community center were classified as a wellness center, its chances of attracting a grant to fund renovations would improve, said Thrive member Barbara Chalker, who works for the Kansas Department of Commerce in its office of rural development.
She said the communities of St. Paul and Uniontown each received grants of $125,000 to develop their city parks. The grants, called SCIP grants, are awarded to six to eight communities a year, Chalker said. SCIP stands for small community improvement programs. Eligible communities must have 5,000 or fewer residents.
“Elsmore is on my radar,” Chalker said.
The town’s work with Thrive to secure the playground equipment has established a working relationship that will help it attract other grants, she added.
Other needs for the city include sidewalks or some type of walking trail. Isaacs said eight blocks of sidewalks are buried beneath the ground.

AN AVERAGE of 30 children from Savonburg, Elsmore, Moran and LaHarpe take advantage of a free, twice-a-week bus to the pool in Iola’s Riverside Park, said Larry Manes, who volunteered his services to drive the bus for all of July. Elsmore youth are picked up at noon and returned at 4 p.m. Transportation to and from Iola takes about an hour, Manes said.
Of Elsmore’s dozen children, an average of four participate twice each week. One hurdle to increased participation is that most of Elsmore’s children live in the country and lack transportation to the pickup spot in downtown Elsmore.
Works suggested coupling the outing with a free lunch provided at Iola High School to entice more families to make an effort to participate.
Finding a better way to serve all of Elsmore’s children is the goal for next year, said David Toland, Thrive executive director. Elsmore resident Helen Welch volunteered to work on that.
Thrive’s next meeting will be Aug. 17 at the community center in Savonburg.