About the Foundation




            The Kewanee Schools Foundation was established by a group of dedicated citizens on July 20, 1990.  Members of the original board were Mr. Robert Petersen, Mr. Donald Billiet, Mrs. Lola Charlet, Mr. Martin Hepner, Rev. David Kniker, Mr. Roland Young, Mr. Gary Combs, and Dr. Rick Cernovich.  Mr. James Golby was Superintendent of Schools for District #229 and also very deeply involved in establishing the Foundation.


The Kewanee Schools Foundation celebrated the Foundation's 20th Anniversary at a recent meeting. (Left to right - Bill Stewart, Chuck Warthen, Doug Currier, Jerry Grebner, Amron Buchanon, Tom Ratliff, Dave Kniker, Craig Gustafson, Dr. Chris Sullens and Jeff Johnson. Missing were Wayne Becker, Lori Christiansen, Todd Reeser and Lisa Lazar)


           The original intent of the foundation remains our purpose today.  The founders wished to strengthen the education and extra curricular opportunities of district students by generating financial support and leadership through its alumni and community.  Their first major goal was to raise funds to establish an all-weather track and field facility at Kewanee High School.

             The capital campaign for the new facility was a major success for the new foundation.  Hundreds of organizations, businesses, and individuals donated amounts ranging from $5.00 to $61,000 to make the new facility a reality.  The campaign raised nearly $162,000 and the new facility was completed in summer, 1994.  It was named the Breedlove-Petersen Track and Field after two of the largest individual donors.

             After the track and field project was completed, the Board of Directors met separately for a number of years but the foundation was in a semi-dormant state for a couple of major reasons.  First, the foundation had just emerged from a very rigorous campaign and did not wish to continue to bombard donors with requests for more funds.  Second, the foundation didn’t have the staff to sustain on-going fundraising activities; and third, no clear-cut goals were established for the foundation to pursue.

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     Finally, in 1998, with the help of a few new board members, the foundation began exploring new possibilities for the future.  They identified the Kewanee High School auditorium as one problem area they needed to address.  When Kewanee High School was constructed in 1956-57, funds ran out before new seating could be provided in the new auditorium.  The only alternatives the district had were to allow the facility to remain empty or bring the old seating from the “old school” over to the new school.  The district opted to use the old seats.  They were used for the next forty-three years.  They also brought the old stage lighting system over from the “old school”.  The facility was not air conditioned, had no carpeting, and very limited space in the adjacent hallway.  Bathrooms were down the hall.  When events occurred in the auditorium, people would bring cushions from home or simply endure the small uncomfortable seats.  Students using the facility for study hall found the facility totally inappropriate, uncomfortable, and distracting.  The need was obvious to nearly everyone who had ever attended events at Kewanee High School that “something should be done about that facility”. 

             In 1999, the Foundation Board employed a professional consultant to conduct a feasibility study relating to a campaign to renovate the auditorium.  The consultant found broad support for such a campaign among both alumni and community residents and businesses.  Based upon a very encouraging report, the board decided to initiate a campaign to raise funds for this important project.  Working independently from the consultant, another group of community citizens including members of the Athletics Boosters Club were seeking support from the foundation to add another project to the campaign plan.  This was the construction of an additional gymnasium at Kewanee High School.

             When Kewanee High School was built in 1956-57 only one gymnasium was constructed.  In those days, gymnasiums were primarily used for physical education classes and boy’s athletics.  Few girls’ sports were included in the athletics program.  With the passage of Title IX legislation in 1972 new federal mandate stated that girls should have equal opportunity to participate in school athletic activities.  Soon many new female sports teams were active in high schools and colleges across the nation.  With them came the need for more facilities where these activities could be carried out.  Kewanee was no exception.  Because students needed time and space to practice, the single gym at Kewanee High was overburdened and teams were forced to hold practice very early in the morning and into the late evening hours.  It was common to see teams in the gym as early as 6 a.m. and as late at 10 p.m.  The need was obvious and the board decided to add construction of a new gym to the campaign goals.

             Because most of the members of the Board of Directors had full time jobs and the school administration also had a full load of work responsibilities, the board decided to establish a Foundation office and staff it with a person capable of conducting the administrative operations of a foundation.

             Dr. Charles Warthen had retired from Black Hawk College in 1999 where he administered both the East Campus and served as Director of the Black Hawk East College Foundation.  In February, 2000, the board approached Dr. Warthen and asked him to become the first director of the foundation.  He agreed to take the job for a “few months” and get things organized, train some volunteers, and help plan the campaign.

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     Warthen started his new duties on March 1, 2000.  A special Steering Committee was appointed by the Board of Directors to plan and execute the campaign.  The members of the committee included Paul Donovan, Tom Ratliff, Jerry Grebner, Dave Kniker, and Charles Warthen.  Mr. Paul Donovan, President of Union Federal Savings and Loan in Kewanee, served as Committee Chairman.  Dr. Charles Warthen served as Project Director and Mr. Martin Hepner and Mr. James Golby served as Honorary Co-Chairman.  The goal established for the campaign was $1,500,000.  District #229 committed $325,000 to the campaign.

        The “Building for the Future” campaign was a huge success.  A total of slightly more than $1,600,000 was raised for the two major projects.  As the campaign progressed, a great deal of enthusiasm was demonstrated by alumni and friends and everyone anxiously awaited the completion of the two projects.  Nearly 140 volunteers were involved in the effort and 622 donations were received.

       In fall 2001, the foundation identified a new project.  For many years the Steinway Grand Piano at Kewanee High School had been in need of restoration.  The goal was to properly restore the piano to be as mechanically fit as it was in 1909 when it was manufactured.  Steinway experts estimated costs would be at least $10,000.  Miss Joan McGrath, whose sister Dorothy wrote the music for the Kewanee High School song in 1923, donated a major portion of the funds to complete the project.  The Steinway celebrated its 100th birthday with a band concert in its honor in February, 2009. 

            During the summer of 2001, the foundation received the largest single gift in its history with a $400,000 gift from the estate of Laurence Horler.  The gift was made available after a visit to Kewanee by his sister Frances.  Laurence learned the auto parts business in Kewanee during the 1930’s.  After WWII he opened an auto parts business in California and developed it into a major auto parts distributorship that supplied parts throughout California.  The gift was his way of thanking the people of Kewanee who had been kind to him and his family.

            Shortly after the dedication of the Petersen Auditorium and the new physical education facilities, which included the Good’s Gym, Greg Moss Wrestling Center, and Pines Strength Training Center, the foundation laid plans for re-landscaping Kewanee High School with what they call the “Memorial Garden” Project.  Old, overgrown evergreens and other plants were systematically removed from the front of the school and replaced with new trees and shrubs artistically designed by Lafayette Nursery for beauty and character.  Many of the stately old trees were allowed to remain and new ones were added.  Most of the new plantings were provided as memorials to loved ones.

            Once the Petersen Auditorium was completed in 2001, it became the venue for a spectacular grand opening featuring Miss Suzy Boggus and her gala country show.  Two performances were held with a grand reception in between where she greeted old friends at RJ Boar’s Restaurant.  Soon other great performances were sponsored by the foundation.  These included “American English”, Knox Galesburg Symphony, and “Butch Wax and the Hollywoods” among others.  Other community organizations also scheduled great performances and the facility has been used for wonderful school musicals like “South Pacific”, “The Music Man”, and “Alice in Wonderland” to name just a few.  Each year for the past two years the foundation has sponsored major band concerts including “Rhapsody in Blue” and the “Sousa Concert”.

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     The long silent Bell Tower at Central School caught the attention of the foundation in 2002.  Fundraising began at that point.  Some of the funds donated by interested alumni were used to remove the clock tower and bell from the tower at Central in 2004.  They are in storage waiting the day when they can be restored or replaced by another mechanism in the tower.  It will take about $20,000 to fully restore the old mechanism and replace it in the tower.

            Each year the foundation hosts returning KHS classes for their annual reunions.  The alumni are treated to receptions put on by the foundation as well as tours of various schools throughout the district.  The foundation office also helps class reunion organizers with mailings, producing directories and arranging accommodations or activities.  Alumni relations has become a key function of the foundation over the years and the alumni appreciate it very much.

            Soon after the foundation was reorganized in 2000, scholarship procurement and distribution were adopted as a major foundation role.  The foundation created a very helpful directory of scholarships available to Kewanee High graduates at the school and local level.  The directory also includes valuable tips on applying for scholarships and necessary forms.  Since the foundation adopted this role, over $500,000 in scholarship principal has been raised with over 20 new scholarships becoming available to KHS graduates. 

            Beginning in 1999, the foundation made a special effort to identify and obtain up to date address and phone numbers of alumni.  To get this job done they worked with Harris Publishing Company to produce an alumni directory.  Since that time, the foundation has been successful in printing three volumes of the directories.  These directories are made available to alumni and friends every five years.  In addition, alumni records are stored in the foundation database and alumni may contact the foundation to find a friend or former classmate.  Another way the foundation keeps communication links open with alumni is through the website that was established in 2001.  To find useful information anyone can simply go to www.kewaneeschoolsfoundation.org

            In 1999, the foundation printed the first copy of Alumni Update.  After skipping a year in 2000, the foundation resumed publishing Alumni Update in an updated format in spring, 2001.  It has been published ever since.  It features stories about alumni, school happenings, fundraising activities, school district history, student achievements, and coming events.  It also provides some general information and holiday greetings.  It is mailed free of charge to over 6,000 alumni, friends and their families.  The newsletter is sent twice a  year, in the spring/summer and an Annual Report in late November.

            In July, 2003 the foundation board approved a proposal for a new capital campaign to raise $250,000 for the Endowment Fund, supplemental grants to the Parent Teacher Organization, and funding for improvements to the Kewanee High School library.  Little did they know then that the “Endowing Our Future” campaign would have successes beyond their wildest dreams.  As planning for improvements to the library began, it soon became apparent that the facility needed more help than originally planned.  It needed more room, better furniture, a new heating and ventilation system, carpeting, and better lighting.  All this would cost far more than anticipated. 

            During the summer of 2003, Dr. Warthen, Foundation Director and a hard working planning committee including Dan Ryan, KHS Librarian, and John Sayers of the Kewanee Public Library, KHS Principal Mike Kirkham, Maintenance Director Steve Simaytis, Superintendent  Bob Lagerblade, and architect Bill Hawkinson visited several area schools with outstanding library facilities.  These included Sterling High School and Mendota High School.  The committee working with the school district architect developed an interesting plan containing three fundraising scenarios.  The first was to do a very minimal job by adding carpet and new furniture; the second would include everything previously mentioned, plus new lighting, heating and air conditioning system, and other minor improvements.  Finally, a third plan included the previously mentioned improvements plus a 1200 square foot expansion of the facility, and all new thermo pane windows.  With the help of Mr. and Mrs. Phil Good and family, and their generous challenge grant, and major gifts from Mr. & Mrs. Mark Petersen, and Community State Bank, the funds were raised to make the Good’s Learning Resources Center a reality.  The final cost of the project was $510,000.  The facility was dedicated on October 8, 2006.

            During the fall of 2004, the Kewanee Schools Foundation partnered with the Kewanee Rotary Club to distribute student dictionaries to 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students in all Kewanee public and parochial schools.  The project is part of a nationwide movement to improve literacy among American school children.  It was started by Mary French in 1995 in Charleston, SC.  Today various volunteer groups donate “A Students Dictionary” and other reference books to children throughout America and several foreign countries.  The Kewanee Rotary Club funds the cost of the dictionaries and the foundation distributes them every fall.  To date approximately 1,850 Kewanee School children have received dictionaries.  They are currently distributed to third graders who keep them for class use through grade five. 

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     Trips and other fun activities have been part of the overall student and alumni offerings since 2004.  Trips have been taken to various college football and basketball games at both the University of Illinois and the University of Iowa.  Perhaps the greatest trip was a twelve day trip taken to the Hawaiian Islands during March, 2005.  It included a six day cruise of nearly all of the islands with time to enjoy Oahu for a few days prior to the cruise and a few days before flying home.  Other fun activities include the annual wine tasting gala held each May and the annual auction held every March. 

            In 2006, David and Garry Costenson of Kewanee and numerous other KHS sports boosters organized the first Athletics Hall of Fame to honor outstanding Kewanee High School athletes of the past.  During the first year, thirty five famous KHS athletes were honored during the induction ceremonies.  Every year or two since, the Athletics Hall of Fame committee inducts famous and very deserving athletes, coaches and supporters into the Hall of Fame.  The foundation assists with the logistics of the event by sending invitations, making reservations, providing name tags, coordinating food services and whatever else it takes to promote the event and make it a success. The next induction is scheduled for September 20-21, 2024. 

            After being housed in the vault in the Administration Office at Central School for nearly seven years, the Foundation Office moved to Kewanee High School during January of 2007.  The new facilities were located across from the main office at KHS and adjacent to the Good’s Learning Resources Center.  The facilities were more spacious, more comfortable, more professional, and there is ample room for storage of important records.  It is also easier to find for visitors and a much nicer location to work with alumni, students, and friends.  In September 2019, the Foundation Office relocated to the Administration Office of KCUSD #229, located at 1001 N. Main.  The newly built facility is a central location with easy access from the parking lot.

            After taking a brief rest and recuperate from the “Endowing Our Future” campaign, the foundation went back to major fundraising when they were approached in early 2007 and asked by the Kewanee Board of Education to raise $100,000 as a required match for the school district to receive a $1,000,000 Federal, no interest loan to improve the Kewanee schools.  The Board of Directors of the foundation made a formal commitment to raise the funds and did so with a legal commitment in fall, 2007.  The foundation was given five years to raise these funds according to provisions of the Qualified Zone Academy Bond (QZAB).  Through raising these funds, the school district would have $1,100,000 to use to repair aging school buildings, purchase new technology, and train teachers.  The foundation added an additional $100,000 to the goal to help assure that funds would also be available to help pay the many expenses of operating the foundation such as printing the Alumni Update, and paying the operating expenses of the foundation office.  Only two short years remain to come up with the funds needed to reach the goals of the campaign, but the foundation is working hard to achieve their goal.  Serving as honorary co-chair of the campaign are Mr. Francis Rinella and his late wife Margaret, and Mr. Philip Miler and his wife E. Jean Miler.

            Upon the passing of world famous etiquette expert Marjabelle Young Stewart, the Stewart family wished to establish a living memorial to her in the form of a beautiful butterfly garden at Kewanee High School.  In fall, 2009 work began on the project with the removal of sod, construction of a unique carved ornamental sidewalk, roto-tilling and the planting of numerous perennials in the garden.  In the spring, agriculture students grew annuals for the garden and helped plant them.  By early summer, 2010 the garden was in need of a water source for the butterflies that would eventually inhabit the garden.  This need was met when Alex Warthen and three other Boy Scouts constructed a water source complete with fountain as an Eagle Scout project.  The foundation is currently studying the need for fencing around the garden to enhance its appearance and keep out pests.  The garden was dedicated on August 28, 2010.


            Little has been said about the thousands of people whose lives have been touched and improved by the Kewanee Schools Foundation.  New facilities, more comfortable surroundings, a more beautiful school environment, hundreds of scholarships, recognition of individual accomplishments, and a sense of history impacted by the publications and communications with alumni have all been an important part of the foundations work.  It is important work and necessary work, especially in these troubled financial times.  To all the alumni and friends whose lives we have touched, we say we are glad and to all those who have helped us help others we give you our profound thanks.

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