Although Wild Rose Jefferson has been open for more than three weeks, the grand opening Friday lived up to expectations for a gala event.
An estimated 400 people stood where soybeans had been planted up until a year ago to hear congratulations from elected officials and thank yous from members of Grow Greene County Gaming Corporation and Wild Rose management.
Wild Rose chief operating officer and president Tom Timmons was emcee. “I think we’ve built a pretty nice place, something we can all be proud of in Greene County,” he said.
General manager Mike Couch introduced the management team: Lisa Jaskey, Aaron Harn, Tom Heater, William Ledvina, Matt Nahnsen, Nancy Webb, Mike Wiederin and Ian Wilkinson.
Of the dignitaries, Gov Terry Branstad spoke first. He mentioned Greene County’s status as the first Home Base Iowa community. “There’s a lot of exciting economic development that’s going on here in addition to Wild Rose, and it’s great to see a small county like this that has this kind of spirit and this kind of support… I just want to say I hope every county in Iowa can follow your example,” Branstad said.
Sen Chuck Grassley followed Branstad to the podium. He said that Greene County and Jefferson are very progressive and that garnering a casino “came as no surprise.” “This is all about jobs and economic development. There’s a lot of good things that have happened in a lot of small towns in Iowa that 20 years ago nobody would have thought of. A facility like this is one of those examples…. a lot of good paying jobs that nobody would have thought of. They keep communities alive and the keep Iowa prospering,” he said.
Timmons first introduced Ed Podolak, former pro football player and play-by-play announcer for the Iowa football team. Timmons said Podolak is a friend of Wild Rose owners Gary Kirke and Dr Mike Richards. Podolak is from Atlantic; he said he’d love for Atlantic to have a facility like Wild Rose as a venue for events like his upcoming high school reunion.
Kim Rueter, who owned the farm ground Wild Rose was built on and first proposed to Timmons and Kirke that they consider a casino in Greene County. “It was one crazy idea and a 15 minute meeting with Gary and Tom that brought us here today. What a place we’ve got,” Rueter said. “I’m proud of the idea, and I’m proud that it’s had such a good impact on this community…. Things are looking up in Greene County and Wild Rose has been and will be a huge part of that. They’re a great company with fantastic home grown leadership and I wish the success and congratulate them on opening this spectacular facility.”
Greene County supervisor Guy Richardson thanked Rueter, Kirke, Richards and others for this “game changing achievement.” He noted that Wild Roses’ commitment to pay out 5 percent for charitable use rather than the required 3 percent, made the project regional rather than local. He said that Timmons and the Wild Rose staff are “second to none when it comes to taking an idea like this and making it come to life.”
Jefferson mayor Craig Berry said that the casino “means everything [to the community] right at the moment.”
According to state Representative Chip Baltimore, “when a community gets behind a project like this it shows and that is truly representative of what small town Iowa is all about.” He said he uses the casino project as “an example of what happens when dedicated people who love their community, who are passionate about their community, bond together and are insistent that something positive is going to happen.”
Lori Mannel and Norm Fandel, both members of Grow Greene, made brief comments and thanked the Racing and Gaming Commission and the Wild Rose management team.
Jeff Lamberti, chair of the IRGC, spoke. He admitted that getting a gaming license for Greene County was an uphill battle from the start. The commission did not make a decision on the license until the day before they voted in Burlington on June 12, 2014. He said all factors were weighed, “but the thing that really made a difference was everybody that was working on the project. The support of the community… really was one of the deciding factors that put you over the edge, got to the 3-2 vote, and now you’ve got this great facility,” Lamberti said. “You see an immediate and substantial effect on this community,” he added.
Wild Rose owner Gary Kirke spoke last. “When we first met Kim Rueter, we told him he had to go back and get the grassroots support of the community. You folks have been fantastic since Day One…. We have a wonderful economic opportunity here…. We appreciate from the bottom of our hearts all of you and everything you’ve done. Thank you very much. I hope we live up to your trust and faith,” Kirke said.
After the speakers, the Greene County Chamber’s Ambassadors group staged a ribbon cutting with Branstad , Richards and Kirke doing honors with the scissors.
The grand opening continued with the inaugural performance in the Greene Room events center, a sell-out performance by Kenny Rogers. Rogers will perform for another sell-out crowd Saturday evening.
Wild Rose had promised Las Vegas show girls. The girls were from a Des Moines modeling agency, but their costumes had been sent from Las Vegas. Several gentleman, including Denny Lamoureux, and ladies enjoyed the novelty of show girls in Greene County and had their picture taken with them.