Community center prepares for dedication ceremony in March 2024

The building housing the community center is in its eighth decade and the center is into its fifth decade — with the parks and recreation department looking to gather up remembrances for a dedication ceremony planned for March.

In a letter posted on the Wrangell Parks and Recreation Facebook page, Director Lucy Robinson encouraged everyone to share their photos and personal stories of time spent at the building over the years.

“Preserving the community center’s history is not merely a duty; it's a vital act of love for the building itself,” Robinson said in her post, “which is why we plan to dedicate the community center to Wrangell’s athletes: past, present, and future — cherishing the rich sports history that has taken place in the ‘old gym’ for decades.”

Often called the “old gym,” because of its history as the high school gym, the building was constructed in the early 1950s after the previous one had fallen into disrepair, according to former borough manager, basketball referee and longtime resident Jeff Jabusch.

Jabusch has his own fond memories of time spent at the gym. “I grew up playing basketball here, so I certainly had some good times in the old gym,” he said.

One memory remains particularly vivid for Jabusch when he played with the Wrangell Wolves against East Anchorage in a tight contest for the state basketball championship at the gym in March of 1970. “We lost the first game only by a few points. In the second game, we won and the fans stormed the court,” he said.

Unfortunately, Wrangell lost the third and final game. “It still haunts me today,” he said.

Longtime resident John Martin shared his own memories about the old gym. “I remember playing basketball in that gym in grade school,” he said. “It was pretty exciting stuff. The gym was rather small, so it was packed with people.”

Martin also remembered fun get-togethers. “There were sock hops, where we were dancing in our stocking feet,” he said.

“My memories are more current,” said his wife, Cindy Martin, citing games of pickleball, a jazz band concert and contra dancing.

Jabusch said that sometime around 1983, the town passed an $8 million bond issue to build a new high school and swimming pool. Completed approximately three years later with grant money added to the project, all high school activities moved to the new location. “The school population had grown some by then, so it was a good time to do it,” he said.

With a much-needed space for activities now available, the former high school gym became Wrangell’s community center shortly afterward. “Adult and youth programs started being held there,” Jabusch said.

“A well-preserved historical building can be utilized for community events, day-to-day activities and programming, an emergency shelter and a tourist attraction, boosting our local economy and creating job opportunities,” Robinson said in her Facebook post.

“We strengthen our sense of community and belonging when we take pride in our history. … It allows us to connect with our elders and pass on their stories to our children. Preserved history is a valuable resource. It provides insight into our town's evolution.”

Photos and stories can be emailed to lrobinson@wrangell.com or people can stop by the Parks and Recreation office and they’ll make copies. For more information, call 907-874-2444.

 

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