By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
Globe Staff Writer
GALENA, Kan. —
Renovating a 120-year-old home seemed like a good idea to Kay Deardorff and her husband, Richard.
It had historical value; it was built by William Sapp, a mine owner credited with helping to build Galena. It had sentimental value; Richard Deardorff grew up in the home in the 1950s.
Armed with tool belts and hard hats, they began renovations in November 2009 for what would be their second career: operating the place as an event center.
“It’s one of the oldest homes in Galena, but when Richard’s mother, Grace, passed away eight years ago, it just kind of sat there,” Kay Deardorff said. “We worked hard to bring it back to life, named it Grace House, and we’re very proud of it.”
But having used their retirement funds and taken out loans to cover the cost, they struggled with how to make the operation a financial success.
“We went very much in the hole last year; we didn’t get a lot of response at first,” said Kay Deardorff. She said she kept financial records by hand rather than on computer, and she didn’t have much experience when it came to creating a business plan, a marketing plan or promotional materials.
Enter Enactus, formerly Students in Free Enterprise, a national group that formed a local chapter at Pittsburg State University 23 years ago. Now with 50 members on campus, the group bills itself as “a community of student, academic and business leaders committed to using the power of entrepreneurial action to transform lives and shape a better, more sustainable world.”
Each year, student teams must come up with economic development projects that can be featured at regional and national competitions, and that also have a positive impact in their communities.
“They decided the best way to rebuild the Southeast Kansas economy is to research, preserve and promote the rich mining history,” said the students’ adviser, Suzanne Hurt. “They call the effort ‘Building Southeast Kansas: Planting Seeds of Change.’”
The students selected the Deardorff home as one component, dubbing the effort “Saving Grace.” For the other component, they decided to create a tourism map of historical mining-related attractions in conjunction with the Franklin Miners Hall Museum and the Crawford County Convention and Visitors Bureau as they gear up for a traveling exhibit by the Smithsonian Institution in May. They dubbed it “Tourism to Trade.”
A $1,500 grant from Sam’s Club is providing funding for the Grace House effort. The students also put in some sweat equity, such as clearing brush and leaves from the property to make it more attractive to potential clients, and shopping for decorative items for a makeover. And they’re tapping into fellow students’ areas of expertise.
“They had no formal business cards or price sheets, so we helped them develop more professional materials,” said Kaitlyn Bristley, who is seeking a degree in business management and marketing and serves as president of Enactus at PSU.
Bristley also helped transfer the handwritten spreadsheets to a computer program, and she is helping Kay Deardorff learn QuickBooks software to help her track finances more accurately and efficiently.
Project chairman Jake Yankovich, who is seeking a degree in economics and business management, said he helped arrange for PSU construction students to build a gazebo on the property for use as an outdoor venue for weddings and other events.
“This will open up a whole new avenue for us,” Kay Deardorff said of that structure. “We already have an Aug. 23 wedding booked for it that we couldn’t have accommodated before.
“We are gradually building (the business). We had a really good Christmas season, and February has been a good month for us with a lot of ladies’ groups, luncheons, teas. We could not buy this kind of help, even if we could afford it.”
It’s been profitable for the students too, they said.
“I’ve never managed a project like this, and it’s been a chance to see what works, what doesn’t work, and get some experience with business in real life rather than in a textbook,” Yankovich said.
Sara Joseph, a commercial graphics and marketing major, is the graphic artist for the “Tourism to Trade” map project, which will include Grace House on its points of interest. She said that beyond giving her a great addition to her portfolio she’ll need when seeking a job, she hopes it helps tourists coming to the area realize what Southeast Kansas has to offer in the way of sightseeing.
“It includes every place related to mining, like Big Brutus, the Carona depot, the museum in Baxter Springs, the Miners Memorial in Pittsburg,” she said.
It will be printed on campus and distributed throughout the region, including at businesses, gas stations and hotels.
“It’s amazing what this group of students are doing and what they have already accomplished,” Hurt said.
The Pittsburg State students will present their projects at regional competition April 17 in Rogers, Ark. Winners will qualify for national competition set for May 21-23 in Kansas City.