“A community that loses its culture has lost a lot more than money can buy.”

Mary Koep made that statement during a meeting Wednesday, Aug. 21, when the committee working to save Brainerd’s historic water tower discussed its latest business.

Though money can’t buy culture, as Committee Chair Koep reminded those in attendance, it can help save the tower from destruction, which is the group’s goal.

After about 10 months of grassroots fundraising efforts, the citizens committee is up to about $20,000.

“The majority of that that we have is from community support and small donations,” committee treasurer Ashley Storm said Wednesday. “So those are your $5, $10, which is great. It’s done what we wanted it to do. It’s gotten our community behind us, and now it’s time to move onto the bigger bucks.”

About $5,000 came from a booth at the Crow Wing County Fair last week, while other funds have come from a GoFundMe website, donation boxes at Cub Foods, keychain sales at various businesses and other private sources.

Owners and staff from Clark Lake Homes and Pit Happens Catering joined the committee for Wednesday’s meeting and presented two checks, each for $2,500 to help save the tower.

“This is a cause that I think we really believe in,” Lynn Peterson, owner of Clark Lake Homes said. “Personally, myself, I think it’s very important. We don’t have very many of these structures left.”

Along with the donations, Pit Happens owner Adam Peterson said his company will be at Roundhouse Brewery this Friday, Aug. 23, for the Paul’s Bacon Ride packet-pickup party. One dollar from every meal sold that night will be donated to the water tower.

Dave Badeaux, city council liaison to the committee, said he hopes the generous donations from Clark Lake Homes and Pit Happens will help spur more larger donations from businesses to help the group meet its roughly $1.6 million fundraising goal by October 2020.

That’s the date Brainerd City Council members gave as a sunset day to raise the money to repair the century old downtown structure. Falling stucco prompted the discussion last year and drove the council to agree the tower would be torn down if the money can’t be raised in time.

Repairs could be as expensive as $2-3 million, though Badeaux hopes about $1.6 million by next October will give the council more options -- such as a referendum -- to raise the rest of the funds.

As the group’s focus now shifts to larger donations -- though any amount is still accepted -- the members have their sights set on a $23,700 grant from the Minnesota Historical Society. That money would help fund professional designs outlining the scope of work needed to be done on the tower. Without those designs, committee member Paul Skogen told the group it will be very difficult to get any other larger grants down the road.

The city council has already pledged $12,500 in matching funds -- about a third of the cost -- for the designs, should the grant come through.

Skogen said Wednesday the grant has been submitted and is now in the review stage, when the historical society could ask for more information before making a decision. The group should know next week if they earned the grant.

If the grant doesn’t pan out, there is a $10,000 one from the historical society the group will look to apply for in October.

How to get involved

Cash or check donations for the water tower can be dropped off, or sent to Brainerd Community Action, 213 S. Fifth St., Brainerd, MN, 56401. Checks can be made out to Brainerd Community Action, noting in the memo area the donation is to save the water tower.

Donations can also be dropped off at Brainerd City Hall, as long as they are earmarked for the water tower. Debit and credit card donations are now accepted through the city's web store at https://cityofbrainerd.revtrak.net. There is a 3.61% service fee to donate online.

Donations are also welcome through the group’s GoFundMe page at http://bit.ly/2LVVl1G.

Water tower keychains are available in exchange for $20 donations at Vicki Randall Nail Salon, Paradigm Automotive, Rafferty's Pizza, The Local 218, CatTales Books & Gifts and Caribbean Beach Tanning Salon.

Save the water tower T-shirts are available with a $25 donation. Those interested can call city hall at 218-828-2307 or stop by to be put in contact with a committee member.

Donation boxes are also located at both Brainerd and Baxter Cub Foods locations.

Those who donate $250 or more in cash or check will be eligible for refunds if not enough money is raised in the time allotted. Other donations, including all of those paid through the city website, will go to Brainerd Restoration.

The water tower committee meets at 6 p.m. the third Wednesday of every month at city hall, with the next meeting Sept. 18. Meetings are open to the public and allow time for public comment.

Anyone with fundraising ideas can attend a meeting or contact the committee through Brainerd City Hall.

For more information on the water tower committee and its work, visit bit.ly/2Fl90LE or follow the group on Facebook at "Save the Historic Brainerd Water Tower."