About 50 years ago, a group of Key Pen residents banded together to preserve a local piece of history and turn it into a community hub. They bought the old Vaughn Union High School, originally built in 1906, from the school district for $8,100 and called themselves the Key Peninsula Civic Center Association.
Through the years, the community has shared some good times at Key Peninsula Civic Center events ranging from the wildly popular Bingo in the 1970s to Pioneer Days and skate nights. The center holds many memories with love birds who hosted their wedding receptions there, VUHS alums who’ve trekked back for reunions, and countless residents who have celebrated milestones ranging from birthdays to wedding anniversaries.
The center, also home to the Key Peninsula News, has been the pulse of the Key Peninsula, serving as the host to local events ranging from outspoken community meetings and political forums, to arts showcases and livable community fairs.
The volunteers have been the cornerstone of the organization, struggling through some tough years to keep doors open, and making sure whatever needed doing — maintenance, repairs, fund-raising, cleanups — got done. Some volunteers are third generation.
Just as much as the community has relied on the Civic Center to provide services and activities, so has the Civic Center relied on the community for support. Generous donations and high attendance at fund-raising events have helped offset ever-increasing costs of running the facility.
In August, the KPCCA will hold a 50-year celebration with a community bash, trying to recreate the atmosphere of its Pioneer Days, including a parade and a popular fish tank. Several bands have been lined up for the occasion. A bicycle cart with ice-cream and popcorn along with cotton candy will be available — as it should be at any celebration intended to bring back some good memories. A dunk tank, square dancing, line dancing, pony rides, and a beer garden are on the agenda for the festivities, which kick off with a parade in Key Center at noon, followed by a 1 p.m. community “picnic” at the center.
“It’s a once in a lifetime event,” says Gloria Bowman, one of the organizers. “It’s about giving back to the community for the community support.”
Tim Kezele, the KP Lions Club 2005 Citizen of the Year who will be the parade’s grand marshal, recalls people lining up the streets in Key Center during the traditional Pioneer Days parade. “A lot of people have good memories about it,” he says. “It was a down home festival.”
The center has more to celebrate than its 50 years of service. In recent years, several upgrades have been made including a new roof and paint, and a revamped gymnasium with a basketball court. It is in much better financial shape, and continues to look for opportunities to add programs, such as sports activities in collaboration with the park district.
Kezele, one of the founders of the Key Pen museum housed in the center and longtime president of the Key Peninsula Historical Society, says the center “was built on Bingo games and spaghetti feeds” and the anniversary is “a big deal.”
“It’s always been a holy piece of ground; the community always rallied around it,” he says.