- Associated Press - Sunday, March 12, 2017

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (AP) - A 1970 graduate of Honey Creek High School, Mike Harding maintained fond memories of playing golf at Rea Park when his career in the coal business led him to a life in Evansville for 35 years.

Now 64 and retired, he’s been back living in Terre Haute since November 2014.

But Harding is not pleased with the modern-day look of Rea Park, particularly the clubhouse.

“I looked at the clubhouse (during a 2013 visit) and oh my gosh, it’s really in bad shape,” he recalled.

As previously reported in the Tribune-Star, Harding and longtime golf buddies Bill Olah, Dan Sanders and Earl Elliott formed a nonprofit organization known as Friends of Rea Park Inc. Their goal is to turn Rea Park - all 160 acres - into a popular gathering place for more activities than golf.

For example, they envision wedding receptions, dances, parties and meetings if a banquet center is built there.

“Over the last three years, we have been working toward some plans, not just for the Rea Park clubhouse, but for Rea Park,” Harding explained.

He said two possible plans for park renovations and four possible designs for clubhouse renovations exist. The Rea Park Clubhouse Feasibility Study and the Rea Park Master Plans should be ready for review by the Terre Haute Parks Board at its March or April meeting.

If one of the new designs is approved, a terrace would be built onto the back of the clubhouse.

“There is the possibility of fully developing this,” Harding noted. “We may not do it all at once. It may have to come in pieces.”

Eddie Bird, superintendent of the Terre Haute Parks and Recreation Department, agreed that it won’t happen all at once.

“Since this all started, it’s kind of become more of an overall master plan for the whole Rea Park,” Bird said. “The building would be the No. 1 item. Then down the road, say for Phase II or Phase III, we would try to fix up the park, which I was kind of for because we don’t really have a park on the south side. I mean, it’s called Rea Park, but it’s a golf course.

“I keep telling Mike, the main thing is the building for right now. The first step has to be the building. And then we’re looking at maybe adding a trail around the property - a jogging trail, walking trail, biking trail. And then we’re also looking at maybe moving the tennis courts to one end of the park and then adding some picnic shelters and maybe a playground and maybe later on even a splash pad.”

Harding estimated the cost of all renovations at between $3.5 million and $5 million.

“We’re either going to raise it or we’re going to work with the city,” Harding said.

“I think the public would like the re-design of the building … to make it useful. It would be an activities center for the park.”

Bird, who would love to see a full kitchen and restaurant added to the park clubhouse, said it all comes down to how much money can be raised through the Friends of Rea Park.

History shows that Terre Haute grocery magnate William S. Rea left $100,000 in his will to build the park in 1919, which would be nearly $1.4 million in today’s dollars.

His widow, Geraldine Rea, donated an additional $60,000 in 1925 to build a clubhouse.

Local architectural firm Johnson, Miller, Miller and Yeager designed a clubhouse of the Mediterranean style.

“At the time, the population of Terre Haute and the population of Evansville were about the same,” Harding said. “Terre Haute was a pretty prosperous place in the 1920s.”

He mentioned that the whole park has not been renovated for almost 100 years, but now there’s a chance for new pickleball courts and a driving range.

“The park is almost 100 years old, and it needs to be renovated, but it’s an easy fix,” Harding insisted. “It has the potential to impact all kinds of people.”

One reason he wants that impact is the health of Wabash Valley citizens.

Harding recently found a study online that ranked Vigo County as one of the unhealthiest counties in Indiana in 2016. He wants to change that.

“We need to begin to change our culture here,” he said.


Source: (Terre Haute) Tribune-Star, https://bit.ly/2mCkxh2


Information from: Tribune-Star, https://www.tribstar.com

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