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The Backyard entertains kids for hours. It is one of the largest indoor playgrounds in the state. Photo by Brian Basham

Plenty to do at gym, plenty to see at theatre

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It’s been a little over 11 years since the Detroit Lakes Community & Cultural Center opened its doors to the public for the first time on Dec. 14, 2001.

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The first person to check into the fitness center on that day, Julia Okeson.

The first person to swim a lap in the pool at the BTD Aquatics Center was Art Bakker, according to Kim Bettcher, DLCCC aquatics director.

Bettcher and CEO Stu Omberg are the two remaining original staff members still working at the DLCCC; in fact, they were both on board while the center was still under construction.

Bettcher recalls when their office space was confined to a couple of cubicles in the back corner of the DL Senior Nutrition Center (now located in the basement of the DLCCC).

“I have a picture of my son when he was crawling under a folding chair in my office space at the senior nutrition center,” Bettcher said.

In fact, the DLCCC first began offering fitness classes at the nutrition center free of charge to prospective members, a couple of nights a week, she added.

Since those early days, she added, it’s been fun to watch the community embrace the DLCCC.

“Our members really breathe life into this building,” she said. “It’s been fun to watch.

“Our role in the community has expanded, and we’re a real draw for people coming from out of town as well.”

Bettcher also said that it’s fun to realize her children have never known what it was like to live in a town without a community center.

Since the DLCCC first opened, said Omberg, its usage in the community has grown significantly.

“On average, we have about 37,000 impressions a month,” Omberg said. “That means 37,000 times during any given month, someone comes into our fitness center or theater, or takes part in our one of our programs and activities.

“It’s been absolutely fantastic,” he added. “We’ve maybe seen about a 10 percent growth this past year, based on increased memberships and day passes used.”

Together, the fitness center and the adjacent Historic Holmes Theatre — which opened in May 2002 — bring in over 300,000 visitors annually, Omberg added.

And that’s not including the various outreach programs operated by the DLCCC in other parts of the community, from the summer recreation and youth baseball programs at Washington Park to the Freeze Your Buns Run and Ice Tee Golf Tournament, both held during the annual Polar Fest winter celebration in February.

The popular Dick Beardsley Run in September is also managed by DLCCC staff, and each year, the Historic Holmes Theatre offers two summer arts programs, the Tuesdays in the Park concert series and Shakespeare in the Park, both held at the Detroit Lakes City Park.

The theater also hosts several weeklong artist residencies during the year, in which visiting artists go out into the community and do workshops, impromptu performances and speaking engagements, as well as the annual Mosaic Mania arts outreach project at schools throughout the county.

“It’s not just about what we do inside these four walls, it’s about everything we do outside of them,” Omberg said. “We’ve added programming at a tremendous rate this year.

“The community center is doing great,” he added. “We’ve tried to identify those areas where the community might need us or want us to help out. We’ve taken on a lot of activities and services that weren’t a part of the DLCCC even five years ago.”

One of the biggest changes is the new Backyard addition, which opened in summer 2011, adding about 8,000 square feet of new space, and another 2,500 square feet of remodeled space in the existing center.

With three spaces now available for birthday parties and special events, where before there was only one, the number of such events held at the DLCCC each week has also significantly increased, he added.

“Years ago, we would have maybe one or two birthday parties per weekend,” Omberg said, adding that on one March weekend, there were 17 birthday parties held there — one of the busiest weekends we’ve had since it opened.

Local daycare provider Monessa Hegg said, “I bring my daycare group there (to the Backyard) every Wednesday. All of them have family memberships, so it works out really well for us.

“I’ve become so accustomed to having the community center as part of our lives I just can’t imagine living in this town without it,” Hegg added. “It’s a huge asset. I don’t think people realize what it’s meant to the community.”

“I’ve always liked to say we’re the most utilized public building in Detroit Lakes,” Omberg said, “but we’re redefining that. I would now say we’re one of the most utilized public organizations in Detroit Lakes.

“We’ve also seen an increase in programming — swim lessons, youth basketball, summer rec, adult softball and volleyball, summer camp, the Sunfish swimming program, Dick Beardsley Run and more, Omberg said.

“They’re always updating, always bringing in something new,” Hegg said. “They’re growing constantly.”

“One big change in the past few years was the addition of the Silver Sneakers program for seniors,” Omberg said.

Judie Cherry, a DLCCC regular since it opened, has taken full advantage of the Silver Sneakers program since she became eligible (the program is for those age 65 and up).

“The Silver Sneakers program has saved me money, because my insurance company recognizes it,” Cherry said. “I don’t have to pay (membership dues).

“I think the insurance companies are very smart, and the DLCCC is very smart to use this program, because everybody is getting healthier and the insurance companies are saving a big bundle.”

Cherry has taken part in a variety of classes at the DLCCC, from water aerobics to tai chi to spinning to Muscleworks, a class that helps participants focus on working different muscle groups.

“There’s something for everyone,” she said. “It’s full of opportunities.”

Another Silver Sneakers participant, Norma Haack, said she has seen a lot of benefit from her water aerobics and yoga stretch classes at the DLCCC.

“When I first joined, they called it (the water aerobics class) the Rusty Hinges,” she laughed. “I was kind of sorry they let that (name) go — I thought it fit me to a T.”

“The instructors always tell you to do everything at your own pace, and if it hurts you, stop. There’s no pressure keeping up with anybody — even the instructor. You learn the routine and do it at a pace that’s comfortable for you.

“I think they’re wonderful,” Haack said of the Silver Sneakers instructors.

In addition to the physical benefits of regular exercise, Haack added, there is a second important element to Silver Sneakers participation — the social interaction.

“Once you get yourself up and out the door, odds are you’re going to know somebody there, and even if you don’t, you soon will. Everybody is friendly and open and nice — and that includes the staff. They make you feel welcome.”

Cherry said that she had talked to a new, young community center member in the locker room one day, and the woman mentioned that the main reason why her family had chosen to make Detroit Lakes their home was the DLCCC.

“It’s just a real plus to this community,” she said.

“The community center has been extremely successful, and I would like to think we’ve become part of the fabric of Detroit Lakes,” said Omberg.

“We’re also trying to be a good partner with other organizations in the community, like the Boys & Girls Club, Lakes Crisis & Resource Center, the library, the museum and school district,” he added.

Through those partnerships the DLCCC is able to offer even more programs and activities, many of them specifically geared toward area young people.

The number of employees at the DLCCC has also expanded, from about 25 in December 2001 to a current year-round roster of 100 — which expands to 120-plus in the summer with the addition of the summer recreation and summer camp programs.

“The success of the DLCCC over the past 11 years started with the vision, commitment and the courage of a group of people to see the community center become a reality,” said Omberg.

“I am always amazed at the ownership the community takes in the center, from the volunteers to the ongoing financial support, without them and the dedicated board of directors and staff the center wouldn’t be the success that it is,” he added.

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Vicki Gerdes
Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers and editor of MN Boomers magazine for the past 13 years. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.
(218) 847-3151
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