By Tom Larson
It's difficult to talk to people about raising money to expand services when the nation's economy is in such a mess.
When it comes to wellness and fitness, however, the new director of the Regional Fitness Center, sees better health as one of the few hedges people can make during difficult stretches in their lives.
"Wellness and fitness help with stress, and everyone certainly has a lot of that right now," said Wayne Morford, who took over the RFC's directorship earlier this month. "Working out and staying in shape is important in tough times."
Expansion, which is on the RFC's agenda for the future, is Morford's forte.
Morford, 51, joined the RFC staff after 10 years as the director of recreation and fitness at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb. During his time there, Morford was involved in upgrading the university's facilities and programs.
"We really laid the groundwork for future expansion there," he said.
Before joining Creighton in 1998, Morford worked for 12 years as associate director for facilities and programs and assistant for outdoor recreation at the University of Miami, Ohio. where he helped oversee the development of a $21 million recreation and fitness facility in 1994.
Morford was born in Fargo into a Navy family so his family moved often, but father Dean, a Brainerd native, and mother Beverly, who's from Fargo, made a point of bringing the family to vacation near Detroit Lakes in the summer months.
Those experiences helped guide Morford's decision to go after the RFC position.
"I've liked the Midwest because of the family values thing," said Morford, who has three daughters ranging from college age to elementary school age.
He also likes the community-based model developed by the city, county and the University of Minnesota, Morris that brought the RFC to fruition. Building on that will be one of his priorities as the RFC approaches its 10th anniversary.
Employee wellness, personal training and expansion of group fitness areas are all important for young people as well as old, he said.
"As I've grown older, I don't know if I could get through a more hectic life without staying fit," Morford said. "I can almost guarantee that (wellness and fitness programs) work, if you just do it. If we can match you up with a program and get you in here consistently, two or three times a week, I can guarantee you'll feel better."
Wellness has grown in popularity and importance in recent years, and the RFC needs to adjust to continue offering the community the best possible programs, he said.
That's where expansion is needed. The RFC has done a good job upgrading its equipment the last few years, but the facility lacks areas for group fitness and multi-purpose rooms for meetings and gatherings, he said.
"We're serving the community well," Morford said, "we just need to expand available times and space so we have things for people when they come in. Right now, we're approaching our limits."
The university also would like to see the RFC improve opportunities for students, Morford said.
Morford also has heard from some in the community about the possibility of integrating fieldhouse space, both for indoor tennis and to accommodate UMM sports teams.
"We have to decide what are the next steps to take to serve our community partners," Morford said. "The model is in place for how the building was built, and now we have to continue with that and find ways to raise money with the community partners."
Citing outdoors activities as his first love, Morford said he would promote the RFC's existing outdoors-based programs and offerings, such as the climbing wall, outdoor equipment rentals, and possibly teaming with school districts and the university to seek grant funding and a location for a ropes course. Family Fun Nights in the future might be more geared to outdoors programming.
Morford also will seek to more closely tie the RFC and its activities to community events, such as Prairie Pioneer Days.
Strategic plans for building toward that future should be completed by next fall, in conjunction with the RFC's anniversary, he said.
"We want to be able to say at the 10th anniversary, 'OK, here's the next 10 years. What can we work on?' " Morford said.
Being able to propose new ideas and be able to work on them in a cooperative environment made Morris feel like home, he said.
"It appeals to me to be in a community where you can make a difference," Morford said. "I like to get to know people and help out."