Elgin pools local resources and community support

November 8, 2017

As winter rears its head, residents here are no doubt dreaming about warmer days sitting poolside.

They had no issues beating the heat this summer thanks to committed local leadership, abundant community support, and a generous contribution to the Elgin Community Foundation Fund from two visionary residents.

Inhabitants of Elgin had long wished for a new pool to provide a fun local attraction for not only residents, but visitors, too. Built in the 1950s by local farmers, the existing pool was leaking and in disrepair.

Originally community leaders explored the possibility of refurbishing the pool’s shell, however, with only a seven-year lifespan, they knew they were simply prolonging the inevitable.

Though the pool project enjoyed wide community support, meeting its hefty price tag of $1.6 million would prove challenging to any community, particularly one with a population less than 1,000. A plan sprung into motion in 2013 with a request to the city council that funds be set aside for the construction of a new pool.

In 2015, the Elgin Community Foundation Fund, an affiliated fund of Nebraska Community Foundation, received a welcome surprise — a nearly $500,000 contribution from the estate of Gerhard and Amelita Tunink, two longtime Elgin residents, to benefit the local park.

Most community members agreed: The part of the park that needed the most attention was the swimming pool.

The Tuninks, better known as Jerry and Lita, were fixtures in the Elgin community. As owners and operators of Tunink Construction Company, they were generous with both their time and their money and fiercely dedicated to the future of the hometown they loved.

In 2015, the executers of the Tunink estate, including their niece, Sandy Kester, invited a number of local organizations — St. Boniface Catholic Church, the Knights of Columbus, Antelope Memorial Hospital, Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion, and the Elgin Community Foundation Fund — to meet for an important announcement.

She remembers with a smile how jaws figuratively dropped to the floor when she told them she would be distributing endowments — according to Jerry and Lita’s wishes — amounting to over $1.7 million to the organizations represented in the room.

The Elgin Community Foundation Fund, for example, was to receive $500,000 — an amount that meant the new pool was within reach.

The Tuninks had no living children. All three of them struggled with health issues during their tragically short lives. Even so, Jerry, Lita and extended family made the most of their time they had with the children. Jeannie, their youngest daughter, particularly enjoyed visiting the park and especially the pool.

“She would giggle and giggle,” said Kester of Jeannie’s time spent in the pool.

Unable to walk, Jeannie’s limbs “came to life” when she was in the water, Kester said

Jerry and Lita’s attention to detail when planning their legacy can serve as a model to many. Their carefully laid plans left no questions as to how they wanted their money spent.

“I really felt privileged to do this for them,” Kester said.

Kester said she also felt confident that the Elgin Community Foundation Fund would ensure that her aunt and uncle’s wishes were honored.

The Tuninks’ sizable gift was monumental to the success of Elgin’s pool project. Just one month later, the city council brought a bond election to approve $500,000 for the pool to local voters. That bond passed with an impressive 97 percent approval, reinforcing its value to residents. The gift also supplied new momentum to local volunteers to seek public donations to supply the remaining necessary funding to complete the project.

Through diligence, resourcefulness and a lot of patience, Elgin rose to the occasion.

In September 2016, ground was broken, and on June 24, 2017, the Elgin pool held its much anticipated grand opening. Featuring a new zero entry depth entry, kiddie water feature, and new bathhouse, the Elgin community pool is undoubtedly creating countless lifelong memories for Nebraska families — just as it had for the Tuninks years ago.

Though Jerry and Lita did not have the opportunity to see the new pool themselves, Kester said she is certain they would have been proud of what their generosity accomplished and the tribute to their children’s memories, too.

“Jerry and Lita felt so blessed to have the strength of the Elgin community to support their kids and family,” said Kester. “This was their way of saying thank you to their hometown.”