FARLINGTON — For the past several years, Aggie Keesling — who is over the age of 90 — has spent days and nights with building a storm shelter on her mind.
“I ate, drank and slept storm shelter,” she said. “I talked everybody’s ears off about it.”
After six years, Aggie’s dream has come to fruition.
“I’m really, very happy that this day is coming,” Aggie said. “I was hoping to live long enough, now I push to be here when it’s done.
“If the good lord will be that kind to me I’ll be a fortunate woman.”
Saturday is the groundbreaking for a FEMA approved EF5 certified multi-use storm shelter, one of the first in the Kansas State Park system. The shelter will have a capacity of 300 people.
Aggie has lived at the park for many years and had noticed that there was no shelter for its campers, so she began her great quest to create one — starting with selling ice cream.
She took her ice cream cart — a side-by-side utility vehicle with a freezer on the back — around the camp sites.
With the help of a few friends — including the Friends of the Lake — she was able to help get the ball rolling for a storm shelter for campers.
“It’s just a wonderful feeling to be a part of something that started from a dream,” said Joe Bournonville, a member of the Friends of the Crawford State Park. “It’s just a perfect example how one person can change the world.”
What really benefited the process of building a shelter was in 2014 Aggie and four others came before the Crawford County Commission to talk about getting a shelter built. The commission accepted their request, which allowed the Farlington Lake Storm Shelter group to act as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. By then, Aggie and Friends raised $7,400 from ice cream sales and secured a $3,000 grant. A total of $75,000 was needed before applying for FEMA assistance for the building.
A storm which left many of the campers soaked and the death of her aunt — who was killed when a tornado went through Franklin, kept her motivated to make sure the camp has a shelter.
“It can happen here,” Aggie said a year ago after being approved in Jan. 2018 for FEMA assistance when the Friends reached the $75,000 goal.
The original plan was to have multiple shelters at each campground, but to receive the last bit of funds they are allowed one shelter, which also had to be “all purpose.”
The price to build the shelter kept rising but they persevered and collected more funds to make it all possible, Aggie said. Although Aggie and the others sold ice cream and several fundraising events were hosted at the park, they also had a lot of help from the Pritchett Trust Foundation, the Girard Area Community Foundation, the Southeast Kansas Community Foundation and many local donors.
“We had different things to raise money and God bless their hearts they were right there with me and they helped a lot,” she said, adding, “I’d have to give a lot of credit to the park.”
Aggie also gave shared appreciation of a dear friend, who is left anonymous.
“One special lady was a God send, there was just something about her I really liked,” she said. “When we were struggling to get the last bit of money together, she said ‘Aggie I’ll give it to you’ and got us over the hump and made it.
“I think the world of the lady, even if she had not helped, she’s a very sweet person.”
Aggie also gave thanks to the Friends of the Lake, the grant foundations, the donors and the many, many people who purchased ice cream. The Friends of the Lake reached the 25 percent they were responsible for, over $300,000. The FEMA assistance will cover the other 75 percent of the cost.
“It was my dream, but I didn’t do it alone, not by a long shot,” Aggie said. “It would have never been built on ice cream.”
The park is under a 120 day contract and will be ready for next storm season, Joe said.
There’s no way to be safe in a camper during a storm, Aggie said.
“I hope the campers will enjoy the building and maybe rent it out for different occasion and just remember it’s theirs.
“They wanted it and we got it, and thank God for that.”
Aggie said she plans to be back out at the lake to sell ice cream in May, but this time the money will go toward keeping the shelter in “fine shape.”
Want to go to the groundbreaking?
The groundbreaking will be at 10 a.m. at the storm shelter site on East Lake Road at the Crawford State Park. The event will coincide with the Friends of Crawford State Park Annual Chili Cook Off, a Chili Appreciation Society International sanctioned event. Registration is at 11 a.m., cooks will meet at 12:15 p.m. and the CASI turn in is at 4:30 p.m. Sample cups will go on sale for the public for $3 at 4:30 p.m. and the award ceremony will be at 6 p.m.