Utica Playground ribbon cutting

Utica held a ribbon cutting and dedication ceremony for a new playground at the ballfields on May 16. Pictured with the ribbon are, from left: Becky Sandman, Mike Fehlhafer, Kayla Rystrom, Don Sandman and Melissa Grantski. Behind them are (from left) Jim Swanson, Ewald Fehlhafer (Carl Fehlhafer is obscured), Garry Dittmar and Autumn Walford with her daughter, Ella.

Utica residents recently joined efforts to make their community a little safer and a little more fun for kids.

Last summer, volunteers installed a new playground near the ballfields on the northwest side of town, and they held a dedication ceremony for the new equipment this spring on May 16.

Autumn Walford, who helped spearhead the project, said the village board approached her and fellow residents Melissa Grantski and Carrie Gumaer three years ago about improving the old equipment.

“There wasn’t much of it, and what was there wasn’t safe for our children to play on,” Walford said.

In three years, they raised $3,838 from the community to help pay for the equipment, which totaled $25,984.

“That doesn’t sound like a whole lot of money, but this is a small community,” Walford said.

They sent fundraising letters to local businesses, farmers, families and community organizations like the Lions Club and Heritage Committee, in addition to holding fun run events.

“Your participation is greatly, greatly appreciated,” Walford said to a crowd that gathered at the dedication.

The village board paid about $20,000 of the total cost, much of which came from local Keno proceeds.

The playground was made by Game Time Playground Equipment through Cunningham Recreation of Ankeny, Iowa.

Volunteers came together to install the slides, monkey bars and other features.

“What’s really cool is the volunteers saved the village over $8,200,” Walford said—the cost that a company would have charged to do the installation. “That doesn’t even include hours of machinery used. We had volunteers that decided to put in their hard-earned time and equipment to put this together.”

The village maintenance department helped prepare the site, as well as three generations of the Fehlhafer family—Ewald, Mike and Carl—and Don and Becky Sandman, whose granddaughter, Kayla Rystrom, 10, was the first child to play on the new playground.

“It was a lot of fun,” Walford said. “We looked forward to getting together in the evenings. It was definitely a team effort. When we volunteer our time, we pass that trait on to our kids, as well. If I learned anything from this project, it’s that you can’t do this alone. It takes all of 

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