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Fenholt family donates $275,000 to TLC, ‘closing the gap’ on relocation costs

Fenholt family donates $275,000 to TLC, ‘closing the gap’ on relocation costs
William “Bill” Fenholt of Charles City is shown with his family, wife, Doris, who passed away in 2018, and their daughter, Karen, who died in June. Submitted photo
By Bob Steenson, [email protected]

“Christmas came to TLC: The Learning Center a little early this year,” said TLC Board President Lisa Garden. Thanks to a family with deep ties to the Charles City community, the child care center should be able to open in its new location in the new year debt-free.

The TLC board announced that Bill Fenholt, a Charles City native and high school graduate who was also a member of the Charles City Board of Education after he retired and returned to the community, is donating $275,000 to TLC in the name of himself and his late wife, Doris, also a Charles City native and high school graduate.

TLC announced that the after-school room in the newly renovated space will be named “Karen’s Korner,” in honor of Bill and Doris’ daughter, Karen, who died in June. Karen Vander Lee was a member of the TLC Board of Directors in its earlier years, and served for a time as its interim director.

“Karen was a ‘go-to’ person for meeting the needs of the center, whether it was raising funds for a new item for the children or just simply running errands for supplies,” said Garden.

Karen had moved back to Charles City from her home in New Jersey in 2005 after her husband died.

TLC has been working with the Charles City School District since 2019 to build a new home in the former middle school building at 500 North Grand Avenue.

The project started off with awards of $1.525 million in state grants aimed at boosting access to child care in the state. With that and money that had been donated through the community, the TLC board thought it would be able to completely pay for the remodeling.

But, like many other construction projects over the past couple of years, it fell victim to COVID-19 pandemic delays and other inflationary cost increases, leaving it $275,000 short of the renovation costs, and months behind the scheduled move from its current location.

“With delayed equipment starting to arrive and a very generous donation by William “Bill” and Doris Fenholt of $275,000 to ‘close the GAP,’ the opening of the New TLC is in sight!” Garden said.

Bill Fenholt and Doris Koeneke both graduated from Charles City High School in 1947 and were high school sweethearts. They were married during college and both went on to earn masters degrees in educational fields.

Bill built a 40-year career in education in Iowa and then in Minnesota, as a teacher then school business manager. He was the superintendent for business affairs in the Orono School District, a suburb of Minneapolis, from 1965 until his retirement in 1992. At his retirement the Orono School District named a newly built auditorium in his honor.

Doris also taught in Iowa, then for 24 years in Orono.

They moved back to Charles City in 1993 and soon became foster parents. For the next 17 years they were “parents” to 38 children, many of whom still remain in contact.

Bill Fenholt served on the Charles City Board of Education for seven years, including a time when the board was discussing plans for the middle school building. In 2014 Fenholt was named to the Charles City Excellence in Education Foundation Comet Hall of Fame.

Garden said that when Bill Fenholt learned of TLC: The Learning Center renovating for a new child care center, he knew he wanted to give something back to his hometown that has been so good to him and his family, and to the organization where his daughter had worked.

“He was wanting to do something with the middle school. Save it or do something with it. He was one of those believers that even if the school didn’t need it that it had to have a purpose for something. This is that purpose. It just took a little bit longer to get there than what we thought it would be,” Garden said.

“With this generous donation from the Fenholt family and the opening of the new TLC in January 2023, this will mark the beginning of the second generation of TLC providing quality child care beyond the next 20-30 years!” Garden said.

The historic 1932 front part of the building at 500 North Grand Avenue was sold to a private developer in 2019 to be renovated into 35 to 40 market rate apartments. That part of the building has been isolated from the newer part of the former middle school, with both sections now having their own utility and heating and cooling systems.

The north former classroom area of the newer part of the building has been under renovation since January to be turned into space for TLC. In addition to all the rooms on the north part of the corridor, TLC will use the former girls locker room, which has been renovated into a kitchen, and the child care will also have access to the gymnasium.

TLC is paying the school district a token $1 per year to lease the space, for five years from the time the child care takes possession. There is an option to purchase the space at the end of the five years.

TLC is responsible for the cost of renovations to the inside of the building where it will be located, and will split the cost for utilities on the newer part of the building that will be used by TLC and that is still being used by the school district.

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