Edinburgh gets an aptly named resource
By Tim Hommey
Situated at the southeast corner of Johnson County, with parts spreading into Johnson and Bartholomew counties, the town of Edinburgh faces challenges that many small communities contend with. The influx of big box stores in larger cities nearby, a relatively small population compared to its neighbors and uncertain economic times have negatively impacted the commerce and social life of downtown Edinburgh.
Five years ago, a dedicated committee of community members began a concerted effort to reverse that trend, to revitalize the downtown area of the town of roughly 4,600 residents.
One of those driving the effort was longtime town board member John Drybread, who was serving as the town manager when he passed away in March 2016.
“He always wanted to see Edinburgh thrive and for residents to have amenities similar to the surrounding larger communities,” says his daughter, Sarabeth Drybread, director of the community center in downtown Edinburgh that is named after her father.
A committee decided Edinburgh would need an anchor, something that would serve as a “one-stop shop” for residents, Edinburgh business owners and visitors. That anchor would be a community center.
“[The John R. Drybread Community Center] is the result of the collaborative effort and dedicated work of many citizens, town employees, departments, local businesses and organizations,” says Edinburgh town manager Wade Watson. “We are confident this will bring many new services, partnerships, resources and vitality to our entire community, but specifically to our historic central business district.”
The community center’s focus would be threefold: It would serve as a central hub with resources for residents and visitors. It would promote economic development in the downtown and surrounding area by offering space where an unofficial chamber of commerce could operate. And it would provide programming and services to adults of all ages.
But first, the center would need a physical space.
The building at 100 E. Main Cross St. was largely empty for years, other than being used as an annual haunted house for a few years. Before that, it housed banks of one name or another. The most recent owner, Salin Bank, gave the property to the town in 2009. When a pizza restaurant considered the building as a possible location, local safety inspectors deemed the structure unsafe and in need of major structural repairs. Despite this, town officials realized it would be the perfect setting for a community center.
But it would need a lot of work. Edinburgh town officials decided to apply for, and won, a grant of $450,000 through the state Office of Community and Rural Affairs. The grant provided the impetus to save the structure and meant that no local taxpayer money was necessary to save the building.
The building got an overhaul, complete with new support walls. “Everything is new on the inside,” Sarabeth Drybread says. “New wiring, new plumbing, new HVAC system, all due to this grant we were able to get.”
What’s in a name?
With reconstruction underway, the building needed a name. When John Drybread passed away, he left a legacy of service to his hometown and his country. After graduating from Edinburgh High School and Western Kentucky University, he served in the U.S. Navy. He returned to the area to work for Columbus-based Cummins Inc., where he was employed for the next three decades.
For more than 25 years, he served on Edinburgh’s town council; for more than 10 years, he served as town manager. Community center committee members chose to honor him by naming the center after him.
“In Edinburgh, the name John Drybread and community go hand in hand,” says community center committee member Cathy Hamm. “The John R. Drybread Community Center is appropriately named in memory of an individual who was an excellent example of community.”
After all, it was John Drybread’s community service that helped shape the center that would bear his name.
“John faithfully served Edinburgh for several years and was involved in the early stages of crafting the vision for the center,” Watson says. “I have no doubt he would have strongly objected to having the center named after him, but this decision has support from the entire community.”
Now named, the John R. Drybread Community Center needed an executive director, someone to ensure that the center doors opened and that the mission was carried out.
The announcement came in 2018: John’s daughter, Sarabeth, would lead the center. “Sarabeth expressed interest in the position and her skillset and qualifications made her the obvious first choice,” Watson says. The fact of her being John’s daughter is a tremendous bonus for the community.”
Sarabeth — who previously worked as a project manager for the Columbus Food Co-op, and on Bloomington-based Upland Brewing’s marketing team — is closely connected to the area. It is, she admits, a complicated connection. “I think everyone from a small town has a complex relationship with their hometown. I couldn’t wait to get out after high school and just be a number,” she says.
But distance and experience tempered her view. “Over the past 15 years, I’ve been able to meet people from all over the world and work in different cities, but I’ve had this guilt for not contributing to the community that raised me. I’ve realized that the ambitions I have are largely due to the support I got from the people of Edinburgh,” she says. “My teachers, groups like the Lions Club and Tri Kappa, neighbors and my family are some of the kindest and most generous people I know. It’s a privilege to be in the position I’m in and work for them and beside them.”
And work for them she has. In her short time as the director of the community center, she has not only overseen the reconstruction of the physical space, but she’s set plates spinning as she implements her father’s original visions, including attracting and retaining retail outlets that meet the community’s needs.
“One of his visions for the community as the town manager was to really see a thriving downtown,” she says. “We really want to focus this on being that place that where people can come in and that we can start just creating and building more sense of community, especially in our downtown, and using this revitalization as a catalyst for more growth in our downtown.”
Further, while the center is focused on serving all members of the area, there is an especially pressing need for a space for senior residents, as the senior center building collapsed approximately a year and a half ago.
Sarabeth’s plans include leveraging existing community amenities and relationships to foster a real sense of community. “Working on projects and programming through our parks department and through the amenities that we offer where everyone feels that they belong in this community and that they’re loved and supported, and that they have the right resources to go out there and to give back and to be a real active part in the community,” she says.
She is also committed to being wholly inclusive by providing a space for the less visible members of the community. “You know, we have a pretty big LGBTQ community. I know that they’re there, but I don’t see them in the community,” she says. “The community center will be a safe place for them and a place to gather, as well.”
No official date has been set for a grand opening. There was an open house during Edinburgh’s Holiday of Lights celebration on Dec. 8.
Beyond the official opening, Sarabeth notes that Edinburgh has a big birthday coming up. In 2022, the town will be 200 years old. “The more I learn about our history, the more I see how we’ve always been a community of characters with passion, resilience and kindness,” she says. “I know the John R. Drybread Community Center will be a place to showcase this.”
To learn more about the John R. Drybread Community Center, visit facebook.com/JRDCC.edinburgh.