“How did such a state-of-the-art, 30,000 sq. ft. facility with an 8,000 sq. ft. heated pool get built in such a small town? One with just 143 residents?”

That question is often asked about the Netawaka Fitness Center.

Good question. The answer proves people in small towns can have big dreams ... and watch them come true.

The idea for this Netawaka facility was spurred by a group of residents who felt it would fill a void in the area. There is no such facility near this tiny burg located at the junction of Hwy. 75 and K9. And if done right, they believed, this new venue just might lead to a “rebirth” of the town.

Many small towns across the country are struggling today. What’s needed for their survival and growth is something that sets them off and makes them “different”... by offering something that will lure people there on a regular basis.

Proof of that approach is now apparent in Netawaka, where the low rates at this non-profit fitness center in the center of town has attracted over 1,000 members.

This state-of-the-art wellness center has become the “Gathering Place” for people from the surrounding towns. It’s a place where they connect with old friends and make new ones.

But back to its roots.

The funding for the facility started with the support of residents, who then reached out to a member of the Zwonitzer family.

The Zwonitzers grew up in this small town, where their parents operated the Snappy Inn Café (the small café area in the Center is now named after it). The family shares fond memories of regular customers at the café and being members of the high school Hornets teams.

After visiting, listening and studying the plans, Bobbi Reiman, the youngest member of the Zwonitzer family, agreed to help complete the $5 million structure.

“Yes, this is still my family’s ‘home town’,” she says. “We have many fond memories of growing up here, and are so proud to be able to give back in such a tangible way.

“We are fortunate to have had some success in business, and this is our way of sharing that good fortune with others. There’s a saying, ‘Give while you live, so you know where it goes.’

“And that surely fits this project. We’re so proud to see how people in the area have embraced this facility. It’s our hope that it contributes directly to their health, and add a spark to the re-growth of this small community.”

Members can work out on their own, or sign up for a variety of classes.

The “Walking Lanes” around the exterior of the auditorium got a great deal of use during the past months.

“Not many local gyms and other venues have enough space for a beautiful walking lane like the Netawaka Fitness Center does,” says Juli Ellis of Kansas City, one of the Center’s advisors. “And here walkers can exercise during cold winter months or rainy spring days.”

Family memberships have particularly increased since additional “family-oriented” functions were added.

The facility has also become a “gathering place” for retirees, who play card games, dominoes and checkers ... while others enjoy crafts, puzzles, quilting, knitting. And some come just to meet new friends and have interesting conversations.

“We listen to our members,” says Scott Steffes, the Center’s General Manager. “We learned there isn’t a lot for young people to do in the area, and we’re fixing that with our Kids Zone, as well as our basketball clinics during March Madness, etc. We have the equipment and functions to keep these young people busy, active and healthy!”

Members continually comment on how clean the place is, and about its friendly staff members. One recently said, “Instead of the Netawaka Fitness Center, they should call this place the ‘Netawaka Friendly Center’!”

In the months ahead, the outside of the Center will become as attractive as the inside, as the expansive landscaping plan again comes to life, including flowers, shrubs, trees and a recycling pond by the front entrance.

There’s also a colorful arrangement at the entrance to the town at the Hwy. 75 & K9 junction, topped off by an 80-ft. windmill with a gold and red “sunflower” painted proudly on its fan.

“This is such a grand venue,” Steffes said. “It’s a great feeling to see how this facility is enjoyed and appreciated by its members. Every day I see smiling faces here. It’s good to know these people are staying healthy mentally as well as physically.”

For a photo tour of the facility, check out its web site at www.netawakafc.com.

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