Years of hard work and dedication received their ultimate unveiling Sunday night, as Grand Island Public Schools’ Memorial Stadium — Jack Martin Field hosted its own celebration.
The project was spurred by Lanny Martin, whose father, Jack Martin, had been a community leader. Jack Martin, fittingly, volunteered as Memorial Stadium’s first timekeeper.
During Sunday’s rededication, Grand Island Mayor Roger Steele presented Lanny Martin with a key to the city. Decades earlier, Jack Martin had been mayor, presenting the key to the city to those going the extra mile for Grand Island.
“I’m proud to follow in your father’s footsteps,” Steele told the former mayor’s son.
Traci Skalberg, GIPS Foundation executive director, said at the rededication ceremony the project would not have succeeded in this scope without Lanny Martin’s backing.
Martin pledged $10 million to start the project and challenged the foundation to raise the rest of the money that would be needed.
“Lanny Martin was the dreamer in this case. His leadership, gift and challenge to Grand Island has come to fruition today,” Skalberg said.
Because of Martin’s gift and the gifts of countless other people, improvements to the stadium abound, including a state-of-the-art scoreboard. The core of the project, however, is the east side’s veterans memorial.
When Memorial Stadium held its first football game in 1947, it honored veterans from World War I and World War II. Now the east side includes more recent veterans with an interactive display.
As a whole, Lanny Martin’s dream garnered plenty of support as it moved forward. Campaign co-chairs and GIPS alumni Jeff and Jane Richardson spoke at Sunday’s ceremony.
Jane Richardson said, “This is what Islanders do: Join together for a common cause, rallying the troops, circling the wagons. We roll up our sleeves and get the job done.”
Grand Islanders met the challenge — 655 donors worth, to be exact.
Martin’s gift is the largest single donation ever given to Grand Island Public Schools, ultimately totaling $11.3 million.
Jim Kahrhoff, a Memorial Stadium campaign co-chair, said every dollar counts.
“When we talk about donations, if 1,000 people give us $100, that’s an indication of community support,” Kahrhoff said. “I want people to realize that large or small is fine.”
In an interview last week, Skalberg said, “Our goal is to be at $17 million. We’re about $300,000 shy. We’ve still got a lot of opportunities, so if people still want to give, they sure can.”
On Sunday evening Skalberg said chances are, Grand Islanders will again step up to the plate considering how Memorial Stadium — Jack Martin Field already has brought the community together.
“It’s not just a building or a field. It is a memorial to lives lost, a tribute to freedom — it is where community comes together, where camaraderie is more prevalent than what divides us,” she said.
The bands played on Sunday, honored speakers share their thoughts and an audience of supporters took to the stadium’s stands, fitting, as Skalberg said the stadium’s improvements and rededication were something that coalesced an already close community.
“In this case it was the perfect project to stitch together the fabric of family, school, community and legacy that is Grand Island,” she said.
Jessica Votipka is the education reporter at the Grand Island Independent. She can be reached at 308-381-5420.