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Tubby Smith visits Wadena

Photo by Cara Newberry Rev. Del Moen and Mayor Wayne Wolden stand by with several excited youngsters as head coach for the Minnesota Gophers, Tubby Smith, and Miss Wadena, Haley Anderson, cut a ribbon to finalize the dedication of Wadena's southwest park. Kids were so eager to utilize the new equipment that they crowded the park, getting in some playtime while awaiting Tubby Smith's arrival. The enthusiasm from Wadena youth merely illustrated a quote from speaker Christie Meier,:"Play is to a child wha...1 / 2
Photo by Cara Newberry Ellen Bacon of Wadena was enthralled to meet and speak to Coach Tubby Smith at the June 17 southwest park dedication. Bacon was one of the very first fans to receive an autograph from Smith, whom she said she watched even during his ten years at the University of Kentucky. "However, I was extremely happy when he finally came over to Minnesota," said Bacon.2 / 2

On June 17, Wadena area fathers and their families had a chance to meet Gopher men's basketball coach Tubby Smith at the dedication of new equipment at Wadena's southwest playground during Father's Day.

Grant money given to the Wadena-Long Term Recovery Committee by the Tubby Smith Foundation was used to reopen a playground in both Wadena and Almora. An opening speech was given by Rev. Del Moen, who spoke highly of Smith's generosity and recognition of Wadena in a time of need.

With a crowd of more than 40, Smith talked about how his foundation strives to support charities that benefit underprivileged children in the state of Minnesota.

"I could not imagine the toll that a disaster like this takes on a community," Smith said. "But you have all managed to come together and are helping rebuild each other's lives."

The Tubby Smith Foundation has also contributed to children's needs around the country by funding physical and educational resources like early childhood development, new computers for kids clubs and donations of clothes to the Salvation Army.

Sporting a smile, Smith said Wadena was a perfect example of just what "Minnesota nice" means, as he had observed such an outpour of support from within the town and surrounding communities.

Wendy Molstad, case manager for the Wadena-Ottertail Long Term Recovery Center, and Mayor Wayne Wolden were also speakers at the dedication.

"It's wonderful to know that when the county could not afford to replace the play structures within budget, someone who is involved with as many different projects and charities as Tubby Smith was able to provide the means for kids to love the outdoors again," Wolden said.

Wolden also expressed that more than $2.5 million has been contributed to recovery efforts, yet there is still more to be restored in the Wadena area.

During the event, which helped mark the second anniversary of the 2010 EF4 tornadoes, Smith was accompanied by his wife, Donna, and Caitlin Mahoney, executive assistant for the University of Minnesota men's basketball program. The event was organized by Molstad, who initially contacted Mahoney.

Mahoney, who is in her sixth year as Smith's executive assistant, coordinates his schedule and acts as a liaison for several groups he is involved in. During the presentation, Molstad and Christie Meier explained just how much of a positive impact new playground equipment has on families affected by the June 2010 storms.

Many children suffer with lasting trauma from having experienced tornado destruction. Smith was able to see Wadena area children already enjoying the new structures as he joined Miss Wadena 2011, Haley Anderson, in the ceremonial ribbon cutting for the event.

The tornado themed book, "Struck Down but Not Destroyed", was also available for purchase at the dedication. Afterward, Tubby was happy to oblige Wadena residents with a handshake and an autograph opportunity.