“Some people want to tear old buildings down. We want to build old buildings up.” That statement from the chair of the Lecompton PRIDE program, Greg Howard, symbolizes the vibrant spirit of this community.
In 2020, Kansas PRIDE is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its founding. This is another in our series highlighting Kansas PRIDE communities.
Kansas PRIDE is a partnership of K-State Research and Extension, the Kansas Department of Commerce, Kansas Masons, and Kansas PRIDE, Inc. Through the program, local volunteers identify their community’s priorities and then work with the resources of these partners to create their ideal community future.
Lecompton is one example. “We’re just a group of volunteers that come together for the community,” Greg said. He works at the post office in Lawrence and is a longtime Lecompton resident who served on the local school board for 20 years.
A focal point of the Lecompton PRIDE program is the former high school building. “The city almost sold it to an outside group for a dollar,” Greg said. “We told them the PRIDE group would want to have it available for a community center.”
Despite some skepticism, Lecompton PRIDE took over the building. That turned out to be an excellent move.
The PRIDE group replaced windows, put in new flooring where needed, and restored the third-floor theater. That space now looks like a 1920s theater, complete with red velvet curtains and improved seating. The building has its original marble terrazzo floors. The theater hosts plays written by local artists, dance recitals, and more.
“The building is very heavily used,” Greg said. In a typical year, it hosts youth dance classes, heart-healthy exercise, Zumba and yoga classes. Other gatherings include a Monday morning coffee group, Weight Watchers, and sewing and craft groups.
“I’d be glad to give anyone a tour,” Greg said.
As befits a former school, the building is also the site of the Lecompton branch of the Perry-Lecompton library. A local church operates a clothes closet in the building. The PRIDE group also added a gazebo outside. After the pandemic hit in early spring, Lecompton PRIDE hosted a socially distanced, outdoor, live-band concert.
An annual rummage sale is a major fundraiser for the group. PRIDE members gather donated items during the year and then offer those items for sale in the spring. “We offer quality but inexpensively priced items,” Greg said. This benefits families and raises several thousand dollars annually for Lecompton PRIDE.
The organization also hosts bingo, a chili feed, and a fish fry. “The support of the community has been phenomenal,” Greg said.
The activities of Lecompton PRIDE extend beyond the walls of the building. The local PRIDE committee supports Territorial Days, the local community celebration, and Perry-Lecompton school tailgates, plus an Easter egg hunt, and Christmas in Lecompton. They also put flags on downtown utility poles.
These activities have earned Lecompton PRIDE the Community of Excellence award from the state PRIDE organization – not once or twice, but six years in a row.
“The backing of the community and the area have been incredible,” Greg said. “Our motto is: Don’t just reside in your community, live in it!”
It’s a fitting motto for a rural community such as Lecompton, population 625. Now, that’s rural.
Jaime Menon and Jan Steen are co-coordinators of the Kansas PRIDE Program for K-State Research and Extension. “Lecompton PRIDE has done an amazing job transforming their former school building into a community center which offers so much for their community,” Jaime said. “Through the community center and other projects, Lecompton PRIDE continues to work hard to give the residents of their community the opportunity to stay engaged and connected.”
“Some people want to tear old buildings down,” Greg said. “We want to build them up.”
We commend Greg Howard and all the volunteers of the Lecompton PRIDE program for making a difference with their spirit and commitment. They’re not just saving a building; they are building their community.