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High Plains Cultural Center serves community that built it

KILLDEER -- Ken Roshau and Diana Wunderle are exactly the type of people for whom the High Plains Cultural Center was built. The two are executive director and assistant director of the new facility, respectfully. But more importantly, they're me...

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Press Photos by Nadya Faulx Ken Roshau, executive director of the High Plains Cultural Center in Killdeer, stands inside the center’s gymnasium on Feb. 10. Below, the center was constructed near the south entrance of Killdeer.

KILLDEER - Ken Roshau and Diana Wunderle are exactly the type of people for whom the High Plains Cultural Center was built.
The two are executive director and assistant director of the new facility, respectfully. But more importantly, they’re members of the very community the center has served since late December.
Neither Roshau nor Wunderle are from Dunn County; Roshau and his wife split their time between Killdeer and Dickinson for her teaching job with Killdeer Public School, while Wunderle is a recent transplant from Seattle.
Before the High Plains Cultural Center opened, there were few - if any - spaces the community could enjoy together.
“The center gives them a place to gather,” Roshau said on a recent Tuesday, just after an afternoon lunch crowd had dissipated. “Even for most of the families here, they’re pretty large. They had no place to gather other than go to Dickinson or someplace else. … Now they have a place where they can hold their events and gather for about everything.”
Wunderle, an artist who moved to Manning with her husband two years ago, said she loves that the center is serving families in the area.
“I love that we have married couples coming in here in the evenings with kids and saying that basically having access to this place saved their sanity,” she said.
And the center that serves the community was, to a great extent, built by the community. The $3.2 million facility off Highway 22 at the south entrance of Killdeer was built from the ground up after 10 years of planning, fundraising, setbacks and successes. About a third of the construction cost came from local donations - a statement, Wunderle said, of the center’s potential service to the community.
“That we enjoy the support of the community says something about the community,” she said, “and the fact that the community recognizes the need for this place.”
The idea for the community center began about a decade ago with a group of people “meeting and just talking about how we could improve our county,” said Dunn County Fair Association President Terrald Bang, who helped helm the development of the cultural center.
Killdeer never had a space “big enough to accommodate everything that’s going on,” he said. “The population is growing, the school is growing and there really wasn’t any place for recreation.”
Those initial ideas led to meetings held throughout the county - every city in the county, Bang said - to gain input from community members on what they wanted the all-purpose building to provide.
“To me and the rest of the board, yeah, it’s a feeling of accomplishment that we did what most everybody wanted,” he said.
The road to fruition wasn’t without its challenges. A number of community members balked at the center’s price tag, which only increased as time went on.
“As time goes on, they’ll see the value in it,” Bang said. But at times, the Fair Association struggled to solicit donations.
Still, the “resilient” members of the Building Committee and Dunn County Fair Association “just kept moving forward,” Bang said.
“They knew we needed it to enhance Dunn County.”
Today, the High Plains Cultural Center attracts about 100 regular dues-paying members, along with drop-ins who enjoy its daily lunch special (built on-site in the center’s sprawling kitchen) and the companies who take advantage of the gym’s 500-person capacity to hold meetings and trainings. Center managers are always thinking of new ways to pay the bills. Even with about a third of the development cost paid each by community donations, the Dunn County Commission and loans, about $1 million is left to pay, and work still isn’t done.
“Hey, I’m positive about it,” Bang said. “Our board is very, you know, we don’t want to get complacent in paying our bills.”
Roshau and Wunderle are two of just a few paid members on staff. The facility relies largely on a list of reliable volunteers who keep the place running.
“There are so many people involved,” Roshau said. “They take ownership. People come in, clean. It’s heartwarming to see. They want it to be successful.”
The parking lot might still need paving, and a room sits empty as it awaits a possible art exhibition, but Bang said the community center is already serving its purpose - and donations are still coming in.
“One of our missions has been, all the time, a wellness and youth center,” he said, “and there’s enough of that going on right now to prove its worth.”
Perhaps an even more important role the community center plays for Dunn County is in preserving the area’s culture amidst the changes brought by the oil boom, which Wunderle calls “awesome and epic.”
“It is a black gold rush here, literally,” she said. “And I am hoping that the community center here can be a kind of bastion against the storm of change.”
Cultures change regardless, Wunderle said, but they can do so in good ways over a period of time, or they can be “wiped off the face of the earth.”
“If you don’t hold on to some of the traditions and the local culture throughout these changes, the whole identity of the place will change,” she said.
The center is one of the reasons Wunderle moved to Manning the first place. When she relocated to the area, she and her husband were deliberating between a home in Dunn County or Dickinson. Seeing that the center was being built helped clinch the decision.
She said the center could have the same effect in bringing more new residents to Killdeer.
“I hope so,” she said. “I really do.”

Faulx is a reporter with The Press. Contact her at 701-456-1207.

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