Yates City lights up park in impressive fashion

It wasn’t just the rhubarb pie and ribeye sandwiches talking.

Sitting at Harvest Home Park in Yates City on a recent Saturday during the town’s annual festival, my family came to the same conclusion: What a nice park. Nice dry pavilion (which was particularly welcome when the monsoons came). Well-kept ball diamond. New playground equipment. Nifty stage. Plenty of grass for kids to run on. A groomed tractor-pull pit.

And now the park will be even more usable thanks to the addition of lights to illuminate the ball diamond.

In just a few months of fundraising, the Light Up Yates City committee was able to generate more than $104,000 to install the new lights.

That’s an impressive sum anywhere, but is doubly impressive in a town of fewer than 700 residents. The generosity says a lot about folks in Yates City. It also perfectly reflects the passion of Jim Ralston, who as president of the Elba-Salem Park District has for years worked to improve the town’s parks and community center.

If you spend time around Ralston, you know he always has some project or another that he’s pursuing. You also know that he will keep on talking about them until they get done.

Even Ralston needed help this time, though. After hitting up several politicians to help pay for the lights and getting nowhere, Ralston was frustrated. Then he skipped the politicians and hooked up with park district board member Debbie Newell and the Galesburg Community Foundation and things took off.

“She knows how to communicate with people a lot better than I do,” Ralston said. “I’m from the old school. She’s from the new school.”

After a March 29 meeting with the Galesburg foundation, Newell helped come up with a marketing campaign and Ralston went to board meetings seeking money. The original deadline to raise funds was May of 2023, but response was more immediate and more generous than expected.

“We started pounding doors right away in April and I couldn’t believe the response,” Ralston said. “It’s unbelievable we raised that much, and right in the middle of Jody (McKinty) having her St. Jude benefit and raising $111,000. You talk about a small community coming through.”

Money raised includes sizable donations from the City of Farmington, Salem Township, the Bank of Yates City and the Bank of Farmington. The village of Yates City also contributed and overall, Newell said 71 people, businesses and organizations made donations.

“This adventure has been a whirlwind and heartwarming, to say the least,” Newell said.

The money came so quickly that lights should be in this month, as the first meeting with contractors is Sept. 6. Extra money was used for a new scoreboard and will pay to run electrical lines to the tractor pull area and other “wish list” items.

Newell said anyone who still wants to donate can do so through the Galesburg Community Foundation and the Bank of Yates City. Oct. 31 is the deadline to be on a donor’s plaque that will be installed at the park listing all who gave $500 or more.

At present, primary users of the Harvest Home field are t-ball players from Farmington’s summer baseball league. But Ralston has also extended an open invite to other local travel teams as well.

“When you spend that kind of money, you hope it will take off,” he said. “We’re going with the old Iowa saying, ‘If you build it, they will come.’”

If they do come, they’ll find a nice, clean park that any town would be proud to call its own.

Contact Jeff Lampe at (309) 231-6040 or jeff@wklypost.com