The Lititz Rec turning 75

By on January 23, 2019

The original idea was simple – to provide a gathering place that would enrich the local neighborhood. Today, this place is known as the Lititz recCenter, and this year the organization celebrates its 75th anniversary.

Humble beginnings

In February 1944, the notion of a special community space was first born. That was the year that Lititz businessman Ralph M. Spacht obtained a three-story abandoned warehouse. Once a knitting mill and later a cigar factory, it was situated at the north end of Spruce Street in downtown Lititz, and next to the Lititz Springs Park. Spacht would donate the building for the town’s use, his wishes being that it would serve as a headquarters for scouts, sportsman, and other groups and organizations.

The main entrance to the first Rec center, which bordered the Lititz Springs Park, was dedicated June 23, 1945. Local artist Richard Fleckenstein would create the patriotic theme above the door.

“He traded one warehouse for the one next to the park. It was three stories high,” his son, Bill Spacht said. “My dad wanted an entrance off the park, so that’s what we did,” he added.

Renovations commenced that summer as funds began to be raised.

“Dad wanted it to be patriotic,” Spacht said. “His idea was that after soldiers came home from the war, he wanted a place for them to socialize, and for young people to gather and not be out on the street.”

Finally, on June 23, 1945, The Lititz Recreation Center would open its doors to the public. That day, Burgess (Mayor) Vic Wagner presented a charter of occupancy to M.C. Demmy, who would serve as the head of the facility. During an address on the first day, guest speaker Dr. Luke Biemsderfer, then president of Millersville State Teacher’s College, would describe this new venture as “a means of creating a better world for generations to come.” Thousands of people would enter the new facility during the first couple of days alone. Within a few weeks, membership, available for only $1, grew to nearly 300 persons.

Shown here is the refreshment stand from the first location of the Lititz Recreation Center. After teen dances, an ice cold root beer or a hot dog was sure to hit the spot.

 

Wendell Hower loved to “hang around” the original Rec Center.

 

James Oatman and Karen Klopp enjoyed playing longboard at the original center during the 1950s.

This site proved to be a hit. Among the many activities held inside its walls over the years were teen dances, ballet classes, and meetings of every kind.

Rec in the Park

As the area’s population began to increase in the late 1950s, the town would slowly outgrow their beloved building. Thus, it was determined that a new and improved structure was needed. Demolition began at the original site in April, 1960. Lumber from this structure was re-purposed by the local Amish to construct barns. Several furnishings inside were also spared when possible, and went carefully into storage for use in the future.

“It served its purpose for years until it didn’t pass the codes anymore,” Spacht recalls of the well-used meeting place. “So we bought more land west of it.”

The plan was to rebuild in the same location as the original, but extend the footprint further north into the Lititz Springs Park. A fundraising campaign began in June of 1960. Efforts proved to be robust, with the Lititz area being divided into 19 fundraising “districts.” Wheelbarrows were a common sight in Lititz during these drives, utilized as a symbol for residents to “give big.” Within a few weeks, $7,300 was raised. By the end of the next month, over $10,000 was realized.

The I. Walton Bobst Recreation Center, which was located on the grounds of the Lititz Springs Park between 1961 and 1989.

A large monetary gift also came from a former resident. Growing up in Lititz as a child, business mogul and philanthropist Elmer Holmes Bobst always thought highly of his boyhood home, and pledged over $100,000.

The official groundbreaking would take place August 5, 1960. The idea of a new, improved, and more modern facility was to be a reality. The venture would be named in honor of Bobst’s father and be called the I. Walton Bobst Recreation Center. Rice and Weidman, Inc. of Lancaster would be hired to serve as the contractor for the project and Lititz resident Ira Yeagley performed all of the masonry work. Throughout the construction phase, excitement grew as signups were held in the Lititz Elementary School gymnasium for classes to be held in the future facility.

Dedication ceremonies, beginning with the cornerstone laying, took place Sept. 30, 1961 with Dr. Herbert Cooper acting as Master of Ceremonies. Area businessman William Bell would serve as the Recreational Director. The Warwick High School Marching Band also performed for the occasion, and the day also featured an open house as well as an evening dance. Ironically, the site would be the third location that was chosen; but would prove to be a great spot that was easily walkable from nearly any point in town, and all situated right next to the beautiful park.

The 11,000 square foot, two-story structure contained a craft room, offices, a lounge, and meeting rooms. The gym, complete with a kitchen, would prove to be a versatile space and was the location of many events throughout the years including antique shows, banquets, and workshops. The second floor boasted two more large meeting rooms.

During this era, many residents have fond memories of Jerry Kiralfy, who served as the director from the late 1960s until 1988. Thanks to his generosity, during the early 1970s, a room was reserved for the youth to call their own. Dubbed “The Bridge,” it was a friendly place to gather, and provided a coffeehouse and snack bar. Several hundred students, ranging from 7th grade to those in their late teens, would visit this space on any given Friday night.

“The Bridge” was a popular coffeehouse and gathering place during the 1970s.

Lititz native Dave Dombach remembers.

“It was a place for kids to be themselves, talk, or ‘rap’ as we said then,” Dombach said. “It was just a great place to hang out. Kids could bring their guitars and sing.”

The Bobst Recreation Center thrived for many years, but as the needs of the town evolved, the desire for a new facility would increase.

Bigger and better
The Lititz area experienced significant population growth in the 70s and 80s, and once again needed a larger and even more enhanced center. Responses to a local survey helped determine the new design. At the helm of this new venture was Roy and Skip Clair of Lititz.

“Roy and I both grew up in the original Rec Center,” said Skip Clair. “It was always very important to us. We had so many wonderful memories there as teenagers. Then when Roy became Mayor, we saw a need for a bigger Rec Center. That was his big mission at that time.”

“We had many meetings with a building committee, which took about a year or planning,” she added.

Groundbreaking ceremonies for the Lititz Community Center took place in May, 1987.

The committee was also given an “office.” This headquarters, which consisted of a desk and telephone, was located inside the Lititz Book Store at 48-50 E. Main St. This space would allow organizers to fundraise right in the heart of town.

By the time ground was broken in May of 1987 for the over 40,000 square foot facility, $1.5 million was raised via efforts through donations and bake sales. Like its two predecessors, the Lititz Community Center, as it would be called, would be a true group effort. Construction continued, and by December 1988, the new structure, situated between the Warwick Middle School and the Lititz Springs Pool, began to take shape.

Grand opening festivities would be like no other Lititz had ever seen in the past, and served as the perfect opportunity to show off all that the new location had to offer. Just some of the many enhancements that would now be available was a snack bar serving hot, made to order food; an arcade and jukebox; and an indoor pool. On June 10, 1989, MTV star Howard Jones played a concert in the new gymnasium ­ a benefit for the new center. And if that wasn’t enough star power, on June 24, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts performed in front of a capacity crowd in the same location. The concert was all part of Teen Day, one of several events that celebrated the grand opening.

And on June 19, 1989, the new Lititz Community Center officially opened for business.

In August of 2007, it was time to grow once more. After eight months of construction, the gymnasium, locker rooms, lobby, and other areas would be completely remodeled or expanded. There would also be one other major change ­ the facility would be renamed The Lititz recCenter. A grand celebration, including an open house and a special ribbon-cutting, would take place the next month.

In recent years, there have been several more expansions, as well as a splash pool being added. And in 2015, a two-phase, $4.1 million growth was completed — the site would increase from a 70,000 to a 100,000 square foot facility.

In August of 2007, it was time to grow. After eight months of construction, the gymnasium, locker rooms, lobby, and other areas around the center would be completely remodeled or expanded.

Karen Mailen has served as executive director of the center since 2003, and has seen many enhancements over the years.

“The 75th anniversary is an exciting milestone for the recCenter and the community, this alone is the greatest evolution,” she says. “There are not many recreation or community centers that celebrate this history and longevity.”

Mailen points to local support from the area when reflecting on what really stands out to her.

“As the executive director, I have to say that the community support and responsiveness has been the most rewarding aspect of my tenure at the recCenter.”

There has also been an expansion off site, in the form of Lititz recROC, which opened in January 2017 and is located on the Rock Lititz campus a few miles north of the recCenter. Since 1944 when the idea of a rec center for the town was originally fostered, Lititz has more than embraced its changes­; in fact, the town has supported its evolution, growth, expansions, and relocations throughout the decades.

“I’m so proud of what they’ve done with it,” Skip Clair said. “It went farther than I’ve ever dreamed.”

The 75th anniversary will be the theme and focus for the Lititz recCenter’s Annual Legacy Luncheon on May 28. Additional plans are currently in the works. Visit lititzrec.com for the latest information. 

Cory Van Brookhoven is a staff writer for the Lititz Record Express. He welcomes your comments at cvanbrookhoven@lnpnews.com or 717-721-4423. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *