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Grandparents Gifts Foundation from Shelby, Iowa is looking for any information on the old telephone office building located on downtown main street.  The non-profit group is in the process of filling out the site inventory application that will then be submitted to the state committees to decide if it would be eligible for a National Register status.  If it becomes registered then the group will have many more grant opportunities through state and federal grants.  

They are asking for anyone who knows anything about the building when it was a telephone office to please contact one of the directors and relay that information, or even better would be pictures or actual people that may have worked there in the past. 

GGF has just finished putting on a much needed brand new roof and had the whole building tuck-pointed and so it should last another 100 years or so, but we need to get the building into use – which is a museum for the town is the hope of the group.  There are so many things that were saved from the school that need to have a place to display them and the city has a very impressive collection of old newspapers from the 1800’s that need to be copied and put out there for any and everyone to enjoy.

We need your help in gathering as much information as possible, so please let this be a conversation that you use in any gathering and get out there and help us dig and come up with stories and pictures and names that we can use to help fill out our paperwork.

Current board members for you to get ahold of if you have any information are as follows:

Gene and Peg McCool, Bob Thoms, Betty Berg, Lugene Behrens, Frank Paul and Marci Anderson.      GranparentsGiftsFoundation.com or email to: ggf@walnutel.net

This is going to be your museum – so please feel free to come join us at one of our monthly meetings posted on our website first Monday of the month – we need your help.

 On another note, the Shelby School which GGF sold to Foutch Brothers is finally getting started. They officially got done in Harlan and have begun the big task of making the old school into a viable one of a kind apartment complex – very unique.  Keep an eye on that progress also – because GGF is trying to keep this town in the news.


Grandparents Gifts Foundation meetings will be the first Monday of every month at 7 pm

at the Corn Crib unitl further notice.


Sad day today . . .

As many of the directors and GGF friends that could be today at the school, we all left with very very heavy hearts.  We went to the school to do a final walk-thru and collect the various things we wanted to store away for our next project.

We put the totes full of treasures in the concession stand until we have a chance to go through them in hopes to find a place for them in the museum after we get a new roof on it.  While boxing up the last minute items we reminisced about things that had happened at the school, and since we had taken pocession of it.

Then, it came time for us to gather our stuff and walk out the door; not for the final time, but this time we had to drop our keys on the table as we all went out the door.  I didn’t check everyone else, but I can tell you that my eyes were very damp.  Why can it be so hard to leave a big old massive unused building?   Why, because our little group – GGF – with backing and financial support from everyone we did not want this old building to be bulldozed down without putting up a fight for it.  It would have been easy to throw in the towel several times, and just say, “Well, we tried, but yet knowing  that there might be some little thing we were missing and could do – we kept up our fight and it all turned out for the best.”

From the night we selected our board of directors and decided that we were not going to allow this building to meet it’s demise, that same determination had to be on board for us to finally get through this – and no doubt it has taken years!!

Knowing that the building was going to be re-used as apartments and give it a new life while keeping it’s integrity as “our old Shelby School” was all we needed to keep going.

Determination and ingenuity of a small group that their backs have been put up against the wall is amazing.  Having a good supportive board of directors with a president who knew which way this group needed to go plus the support of the alumni  we pulled off something that can probably never be matched in this little old town again.

The keys to the school go to the new owners this coming week  – but they can’t take away the memories of working together on this project to bring it to fruition.  Thanks to everyone!!

By no means is our little group disbanding and calling it quits.  Our first project as a group was enormous and our second will be small and more manageable.  The old telephone office down on main street needs the same love, care, attention, and devotion  that we gave to the school.  That building was donated to our group and we hope to secure the building right next to it also to be able to make a museum out of it and store all the school treasures. The town has a collection of old Shelby newspapers that start back in the 1800’s that need to also be copied and displayed, so that will be another treasure along with the graduating pictures that should also go in the museum – and of course old Abe Lincoln.  The school bell, flagpole and dedicated stone out in front of the school will move to our new location along with the old score board from the old gym which still works – so there are lots of plans on the back burner, just waiting to be executed.

We can’t let our little town of Shelby dry up and blow away, nor do we want to.  Thereare too many memories and too many good people that helped us to achieve our goal with the school to stop now.

The new owners of the school hope that everyone will stop by and see  our school when they are finished and possibly maybe even take residence there.

So, the story will go on and on and on.

GGF Board of Directors



TIF Money Redistributed Back to Investors                         6-7-12                                         Janiece Rau

Gene McCool, representing Grandparents Gifts Foundation, accepted a check from Shelby mayor, Lisa Juhl, at the Shelby City Council meeting in the Shelby Depot June 5.

Now that the sale of the Shelby School Bldg. is nearing completion, the TIF money became eligible to repay the individuals who loaned their own money to fix the roof of the school building, which was the first step in restoring the school.

The Foutch brothers from Kansas City plan to redevelop the building and turn it into apartment buildings, a fitness center, and possibly senior citizen housing. The gym will still remain available for city functions, such as soup suppers and alumni banquets.

GGF appreciates the generosity of these concerned individuals who contributed both physically and financially, and stepped up to save the Shelby School Bldg. because they felt it was the best thing for the community.

The TIF (Tax Increment Financing) money comes from taxes and was set aside to be redistributed to repair justifiable property in the area.

GGF isn’t finished yet. The old historical telephone office on Main Street has been donated to GGF, and they hope to turn it into a museum to house school and Shelby memorabilia sometime in the future.



Harlan Tribune, January 6, 2012

SHELBY – The non-profit group, Grandparents Gifts Foundation, has received a large donation which they hope will go toward making their dream of creating a museum in Shelby a reality.

Don Jensen of Shelby has donated a historic building in downtown Shelby to the Grandparents Gifts Foundation in honor of his wife, Lorraine’s memory. Lorraine became ill late last summer and died December 4, 2011.

Donation discussed…

Prior to her illness, the Jensens had talked about giving the building to the Grandparents Gifts Foundation. The building was built in the early 1900’s and s believed to have first housed a telephone company.

Through the years a few of the things the building housed include a beauty shop, centennial headquarters and used for seed corn storage.

Jensen bought the building in 1972 and operated D&D Rebuilding, a starter and alternator re-building business, in the building until 1992.

Preserving the past…

According to GGF president, Gene McCool, the group was ready to think about moving onto their next project after finally getting closer to turning over the school building and grounds that they have taken the last several years protecting and finding an investor to take over that project and make apartments out of for the good of the town.

The group had inquired earlier as to whether the Jensens would consider selling the building to the group when Lorraine was still living.

At that time, the Jensens said that it would be something they were interested in as soon as the school was in its final stages of being turned over.

GGF was saddened to learn of Lorraine’s death in December.

“Shortly after her death, the Jensens’ attorney got a hold of one of our directors and asked if we would be interested in taking the building as a donation – and of course the group said immediately – my goodness, yes, it would be a privilege,” said McCool.

Museum Plans….

The group has plans to use many of the artifacts that came out of the school in the museum, along with a whole closet full of newspapers that are being stored at the city hall that date back to the beginning and ending days the original Shelby newspaper was published.

Along with city pictures and lots of memorabilia that folks have been telling the GGF that they would donate as soon as there is a place to keep them safe.

Plans will also be made to get the building listed on the Registry of Historical Places and acquire help on funding to get it back into pristine shape before opening it to the public.

“It will give us time to get our thoughts together and plan our moves and our strategies for this undertaking,” said McCool.

GGF is really looking forward to the opening of the museum downtown.

“We have been hoping and praying for something like this to happen and felt like we proved ourselves and our determination by successfully saving the school and making it a viable part  of the community again,” said McCool.

“Good things can happen in these small towns but it takes lots and lots of help from the whole community to make these things come to fruition.”

Heartfelt story…

The only thing Jensen has asked of the GGF is for placement of a plaque somewhere in the building with his wife’s name on it to honor her memory. That is a request the GGF directors say they will be more than happy to fulfill.

“It is just nice once in awhile to hear about these heartfelt stories instead of all the killing and fighting and turmoil in the world,” said McCool.

“We thank Don and promise him that when the museum is open, we will have a plaque dedicated to him and his wife, Lorraine, for giving our group the building. We hope to make them both proud for making that decision.”




By Andrew J. Nelson

Published December 19, 2011

SHELBY, Iowa — The fortress like, 1920′s-era brick school on the west side of Shelby, Iowa, could have a new lease on life with its pending purchase by a Kansas City, Mo. developer.

Details are still being worked out, but a property management company that restores old buildings is in the process of buying the three-story structure to turn it into apartments.

The developer – Foutch Brothers, founded by Woodbine, Iowa, and native Steve Foutch – sees a market in Shelby, which is located just off Interstate 80 in southern Shelby County. The town of about 640 boasts a Menards distribution center on the south side of town, yet has little housing for employees, many of whom commute from the Omaha area.

“The main thing was Menards,” Steve Foutch said. “You got 600 employees who are a mile south of the building, and there is no (available) housing around it, so you are bound to pick up some people who are tired of driving from Council Bluffs.”

The building’s future looks considerably brighter than it did earlier this year. It was closed as a school in 2005 and later was purchased by a local non-profit, the Grandparents Gifts Foundation.

The group, spurred by a mix of community pride, sentiment and concern for Shelby’s future, sank an estimated $110,000 into the building to save it, replacing the old roof.

“We could not see the wrecking ball take this school down. It was just not something we were willing to do. We didn’t know how we were going to do it. We just had to find a way,” said Peg McCool, a director of Grandparents Gifts. “The building was just too good.”

Grandparents Gifts, which McCool said is being paid $50,000 for the building, plans to use the money to open a new museum in downtown Shelby dedicated to local history.

The U.S. Census Bureau says Shelby County’s population fell about 7 percent over the past decade. Foutch acknowledged the population trend, but said the presence of the Menards facility made the difference. “If Menards wasn’t here, we probably would not be doing it.”

Foutch expects to convert the school into 34 apartments, mostly one- and tw0-bedroom units. The original school gym will be converted into two-story town house apartments. The 1970′s gym addition to the south will have a day care center, a fitness center and a community room. The basketball court will likely be converted into an indoor soccer facility.

Renamed the Shelby Lofts, it is expected to open in late 2012 or early 2013.

“Anywhere you go in any town you are going to find a basketball court…but you are not going to find any indoor soccer facilities,” Foutch said. “We just saw that as an opportunity to create something very unique in southwest Iowa.”

Foutch has been joined in the business by his two brothers. Shawn Foutch of Johnston handles properties in Iowa and will oversee the Shelby Lofts.

The company has done most of its work in Missouri and Kansas. It has restored about a dozen old schools, including one in Fairbury, Neb.

“Obviously, growing up in that area, we feel a strong urge to give something back,” said Steve Foutch, whose parents still live in Woodbine. “We know the people. We’ve got the contacts, and after doing a lot of work in Kansas and Missouri, I miss Iowa.”

There are a number of reasons why, the bulk of the Foutch Brothers’ business is restoring old buildings, including that the buildings “have a lot of character,” are solidly built and take a bit of ingenuity to remake for modern needs.

“I really hope they save them before they start tearing them down,” he said.

McCool said redeveloping the school could be an important step toward spurring the town to grow again. Many Menards workers stop in for meals at the Corn Crib, the restaurant and convenience store she and her husband operate. They ask about places to live nearby, but nothing is available, she said.

“This is the little boost that Shelby has needed,” she said of the new housing. “We’re hoping we get so many people here, somebody will have to start a grocery store……

“There’s no end to what could happen,” McCool said. “It’s definitely good for the town.”



By Andrew J. Nelson

Published March 3, 2011

SHELBY, Iowa — A local nonprofit group is rolling the economic development dice, hoping that renovating a now-closed school building can help bring new people to town.

It’s a long shot, one economic development expert says, but one that Shelby hopes will pay off big.

“Some of these towns out here, they’re dying. … This is one of the things that can help us survive,” said Bob Thoms, 77, a director of the Grandparents Gifts Foundation.

The organization seeks to restore the roughly 30,000 square-foot, three-story, 1920s-era schoolhouse on the west side of the town of 640, about 38 miles northeast of Omaha.

Like a brick fortress, the old school looms over nearby homes. Its third floor offers commanding views of the town and surrounding countryside.

“It’s a marvelous building, and today you would be hard-pressed to find a crack in the exterior. I think it could survive a tornado,” Thoms said.

A mixture of community pride, sentimentality and concern for Shelby’s future is spurring the Grandparents Gifts to try to restore the building and give it a new, still-to-be-determined use.

“It’s just too magnificent of a building to let it go down. There is nothing like this in the area,” said Peg McCool, a director of Grandparents Gifts.

The group already has sunk an estimated $110,000 into the project, replacing the building’s roof. The organization got that money from unsecured loans and fundraisers.

There is a gymnasium attached to the south side, built in the 1970s, that is used as a community center. It is not part of the hoped-for renovation.

The actual cost of restoring the building is difficult to estimate. But it could be in the neighborhood of $5 million, said Andrea Kathol, executive director of the Pottawattamie County Development Corporation, which is advising Grandparents Gifts.

Exactly what purpose might be found for a restored building is not yet known.

Converting it to apartments could be an option. The Shelby area lacks rental units, organizers say, and the employees of the Menards distribution center south of town commute from places like Omaha.

Another option is senior citizen housing.

The organization has applied for grants to fund a feasibility study to determine its best use, a big step in the process.

“It would basically help us get lenders and potential investors involved, and that would give us the credibility we need in order to go forward,” Kathol said.

Dave Swenson, an Iowa State University economist who specializes in rural communities and rural growth, said the town and the project are caught in the changing demographics of rural America.

Young people are leaving for cities such as Kansas City and Omaha, Council Bluffs and Des Moines, because there aren’t a lot of opportunities for them in small towns, Swenson said.

The U.S. Census Bureau says Shelby County’s population fell about 7 percent in the past decade.

“You’re like about a dozen other small communities in the state of Iowa,” Swenson said of Shelby and its school. “What do we do with these things? More often than not we abandon them because we don’t have a viable second use for it.”

But he applauds Shelby residents for trying.

“To the degree that it can be a good asset, it’s in everybody’s interest to try to develop it. But again, it’s got to be feasible. It’s got to be realistic.”

The inside of the building isn’t much at first glance. The roof installed in the 1970s deteriorated after the school closed in 2005, leading to water damage. Strips of paint hang from walls. Hardwood floors in classrooms have buckled.

But the structure itself is good shape, with walls roughly 15 inches thick, said Gene McCool, president of Grandparents Gifts and Peg McCool’s husband.

“This is solid concrete,” he says, slapping the wall just inside the main entrance. “This is the real thing.”

In nearby Irwin, Iowa, Leslie Brisee and her husband Adrian, both 53, converted a 1917 schoolhouse into a combination home and private genealogy research library. They purchased the school for $5,000 and moved to Irwin from upstate New York after seeing the building advertised on eBay in 2004. They have not renovated the structure.

“It’s definitely not your typical living arrangement, that’s for sure,” Leslie Brisee said. ”This one definitely has character. It has a lot of art deco elements. … It’s a neat old building.”


This is the story of a little town in Southwest Iowa called Shelby.  The actual town was established in 1870 and of course was started as a railroad stop, thus a small town grew from that. The folks who now live and have lived in the past at Shelby are proud of their modest  town and would like everyone to know about their  town and the peril it is facing today.

In 1870, James Hawkins, an Englishman and a veteran of the Mexican and Civil wars, chose to erect a log cabin on his land east of Shelby which he obtained with services rendered while fighting in the Mexican War.  Rock Island and Pacific railways reached Shelby in 1868.  The first building erected in the town was a section house.  Shelby has the distinction of being the first town in Shelby County to have had railroad facilities.

Many years passed with Shelby growing into quite a little town, people moving in and out and wanting to call it their home.  Then in 2005 the Shelby School building was closed and efforts were made to sell it at that time.  During these years, water damage and neglect caused much deterioration to the building.  With the word demolition in the air, the “Grandparents Gifts Foundation” was formed and with lots of blood, sweat and tears, they bought the property in hopes of putting the site back to its grandeur state.  Many personal unsecured loans were made and this group raised money to put a new roof on the building.  The building was then tight and GGF volunteers worked tirelessly to clean up water, mold, old carpeting, sagging ceiling tiles and any other cleaning  that needed to be done.

To pursue renovations and improvements many fundraisers have been held, grants have been written and work hours have been donated.  The vision of the GGF group is to bring life back into this old majestic building and let it be a proud and useful focal point for our community. We’d like to see the building used as an area museum, daycare center or apartments for senior housing.  The gym would be a community use area with many sporting events plus there is a nice baseball diamond and areas where soccer  fields  can easily be set up.

Andrea Kathol, Business Director for the Pottawattamie County Growth Alliance, has been introduced to our group.  Along with Lori Holste from the WIDA (Western Iowa Development Association) office in Avoca, they have come up with a plan to re-vitalize the building starting with a pre-development plan.  This would include a feasibility study to determine for what this property would be best suited.  The feasibility study includes an updated asbestos survey, National Parks Process/Site Plan/Preliminary Drawing, Market Study, Construction cost estimates, as completed appraisal, environmental phase I report and the PCDC (Pottawattamie County Development Corporation) fee.  Andrea is responsible for many successful renovation projects in Council Bluffs and she did exactly to those buildings what she would to our building.

Stay tuned for further developments from the  town of Shelby with “the little school building that could!!”