By Lexi Betz
Christmas Day 2020 came early for the Malone community. On Dec. 22, Malone officials announced that the fundraising necessary for Pioneer Park has been completed.
Phase one of construction, which includes synthetic turf game and practice fields for men and women’s soccer, will begin early this spring. With completion scheduled before Aug. 1, the park will be available for use just in time for preseason training for fall athletes.
The first stages of Pioneer Park go back to 2015 when the idea was first documented. Initial investments were made in 2017 by major gift donors and a groundbreaking ceremony followed later that year.
Right as the project seemed to pick up the most momentum since it’s conceptualization, plans were halted with concern that a portion of the funds would stray from the original plan.
From the very start of this project, the decision was made that Pioneer Park would be funded solely by fundraised dollars. To stay true to these values, construction of the park had to be postponed until further fundraising could be raised reflecting that criteria.
Nearly four years after plans were halted, contracts and permits are being finalized and the excitement of Pioneer Park has Malone buzzing again.
Bob Dean, pioneer development officer, has played a very large role in seeing these plans finally become reality. Bob Dean joined the Malone advancement team in 2017 to help with major gifts and fundraising, primarily those focused on athletics. He has worked diligently the last three years in building relationships with potential partners and donors to propel the project to where it is today.
The message Bob Dean was able to communicate to potential partners was simple; not only would a partnership or donation be an investment in Malone, but also an investment that would benefit the entire Canton community.
“It’s not just about Malone, it’s about this part of downtown Canton,” Bob Dean said. “It’s about being able to support events that will take place at these facilities that will boost things like hotel room rentals, food vendor sales and tourism. People listened, they prayed on it… and here we are.”
While Dean feels emotionally connected to the Pioneer Park project as a whole, he has another reason to be excited for the park’s future: a son who gets to see, first hand, how his father’s efforts will affect him and his team.
Ryan Dean, sophomore soccer player, gets to be one of the first pioneers to step foot on the result of what has been nearly a six-year process.
“To be the first generation of players on the new field is an honor and a privilege and I’m thankful for the donors and Malone staff for all they’ve done,” Ryan Dean said. “My father being a part of the project makes it even more special. He is my inspiration and my mentor, and I can’t wait to be a part of Pioneer Park to honor that [relationship].”
While the later phases of Pioneer Park plan to include a synthetic turf baseball field and renovation of the current softball field, phase one will still allow the softball and baseball teams to utilize the new facilities.
With baseball and softball being two sports that are heavily affected by weather conditions, the opportunity to have a facility to rely on when fields are unplayable is an advantage most schools in the Great Midwest Athletic Conference do not have.
“For us, there will be more opportunities to train. The turf will extend our fall season and opportunities to be outside. It gives us a lot of flexibility,” Kathryn Bzdafka, head softball coach, said.
Pioneer Park will not only serve Malone’s current athletic department. The abundance of other uses include facilities for intramural sports, sport and band camps and expansions of sport offerings such as men and women’s lacrosse.
Pioneer Park will also provide students the opportunities to be in positions where they can experience sides of business, sport management, marketing and sales that are unique to the park’s operations.
Within the next six months, this dream that so many have worked tirelessly to finalize will come to life.
“Seeing this first part come to fruition gives the image that is now backed in reality to the Canton community to say Malone isn’t standing still,” Bob Dean said. “We are growing.” To learn more about Pioneer Park visit www.malone.edu/pioneer-park.