Grants totaling $150,000 are boosting parks and recreation projects across Mercer County thanks to the Looser-Flake Charitable Foundation.
Everything from playgrounds and kayak launches to concession stands, baseball fields, roads and lakes were included in the list of gifts made possible through the foundation, which was named for and established by the estates of Dorothy Looser-Flake and Roberta Looser. The sisters were born and raised on a family farm near New Boston, Illinois, and the dollars from their estate are earmarked for Mercer County projects.
This year’s grants of between $7,500 and $18,000 were handed out to communities in all corners of the Illinois Quad Cities’ south-westernmost county through the sisters’ legacy foundation, according to a news release. The foundation is administered by the Quad Cities Community Foundation.
“It’s our privilege to help uphold the legacy of two people who were passionate about their community and committed to ensuring its vitality beyond their lifetimes,” said Kelly Thompson, Community Foundation vice president of grantmaking and community initiatives. “The Looser-Flake Foundation’s championing of good work all across Mercer County — from parks and recreation to mental health and education — has been generous, strategic, and nothing short of transformational.”
This year’s total matched the $150,000 that the sisters’ foundation donated to parks and recreation projects in the county in 2018. The Looser-Lake foundation’s biggest investment in 2022 was an $18,000 grant to the Village of Matherville for its Enjoy Matherville Lake Project.
Improvements included an upgraded beachside walking surface, new seating and signage, and land and tree maintenance. They were designed to enhance the lake as a place for residents to exercise or play and as a destination for visitors from farther afield, who will patronize local businesses and deepen their appreciation for the village’s small-town way of life, the release said.
Thanks to the sisters’ gift, the annual fireworks display over the lake – which draws thousands to the village each year – was a bigger celebration than ever, according to Alex Johnson, who helped spearhead the project as one of the village’s trustees.
“We asked ourselves, ‘What can we do to promote our town and benefit people?’” Mr. Johnson said. “The lake is one of our unique features, something a lot of communities our size don’t have. We wanted to make it more accessible for everyone to use.”
The dozen other recipients of grants this year, their projects and the amounts they received were:
- Aledo, Jaycee Park rehabilitation, $9,000.
- Keithsburg, Keithsburg kayak project, $15,000.
- New Boston, Shotwell Park relocation, $11,500.
- Eliza Township, Concession stand repair/rebuild, $7,500.
- Mercer County Ag Society, Concrete roadway project, $10,000.
- Mercer County Family YMCA, New recreation equipment, $10,450.
- Joy, village park project. $7,800.
- New Windsor, Baseball field upgrades, $12,500.
- North Henderson, New playground structure, $17,500.
- Seaton, Seaton Park beautification, $7,750.
- Sherrard, Sherrard Park project phase II, $14,500.
- Viola, Miles Park equipment project, $8,500.
Villages applied for the Looser-Flake grants through a unique collaborative process coordinated by the community and economic development nonprofit Mercer County Better Together (MCBT), the news release said.
“The Looser-Flake Charitable Foundation and Mercer County Better Together share the same collaborative vision,” said Kyle McEwen, MCBT’s executive director. “It’s one thing to say you have a participatory process — it’s another to have an actual driver putting that financial incentive behind it, which is exactly what the Looser-Flake Foundation does.”
Mr. McEwen coordinated and streamlined the grant application process for Mr. Johnson and the other project leaders, most of whom are volunteers. Mr. McEwen convened collaborative conversations between those leaders to share questions, insights, and equipment.
Together, the villages decided on each project’s grant funding request as well as a matched dollar amount drawn from pooled resources. They even agreed to take less funding per project so that all 13 projects could be realized, according to the news release.
“What a great demonstration of the fact that we have shared priorities and interests and an ability to work with one another,” Mr. McEwen said.
The result at Matherville Lake is that the Looser-Flake Foundation grant allowed volunteers to complete a great deal of work all at once.
“Instead of taking baby steps, we’re in a place where people can come out and see a finished product,” Mr. Johnson said. “That fills everybody with a sense of pride, and what we have now is something people are interested in continuing to grow. That wouldn’t have been possible without the Looser-Flake Foundation.”