Doc’s Pavilion Will Celebrate the Community He Loved
In the first few years after moving to Wakarusa in the 1950s, Robert “Doc” Abel built a community swimming pool and pool house in his backyard.
Wakarusa, a town of 1,100 at the time, didn’t have a community pool, so Doc Abel’s new one attracted large crowds of kids and adults. To this day, Wakarusa residents remember the good times in and around that pool from the 1950s to the 1970s.
After he died in 2017, people who came to his viewing said one of two things.
“So many people either said, ‘he delivered me, or I swam in his pool.’” Nancy Roeder, Doc’s daughter says.
When Doc first came to Wakarusa, there were no family physicians in the town. Over a career spanning 66 years, Doc Abel delivered more than 10,000 babies and not only established a family medical practice in the community but became a fixture. Doc Abel rarely took a break. He always seemed to be doing something to help the community.
On top of having his own medical practice and making house calls, Doc was the team doctor for the Jimtown High School and Northwood High School football teams. He was a member of Wakarusa Chamber of Commerce, Lions Club, Historical Society, and Friends of the Wakarusa Public Library. He was also a board member for the Elkhart County 4-H Fair and WaNee Community Schools.
His final house call was made just weeks prior to his passing in 2017 at the age of 92. Since then, there has been a void in the community where Doc’s presence once was.
Nancy and the Roeder family knew Doc’s legacy had to be honored and continued in some capacity. “The community was important to him,” she says. “We wanted to do something that would honor him – something he would be pleased with.”
Doc’s oldest Roeder grandchild, Andy, was put in touch with the Community Foundation of Elkhart County when they wanted to get started. “At that point, we just had ideas,” Andy says.
The Roeder family and Jodi Spataro, Chief Advancement Officer for the Community Foundation, set up a foundational agreement with a broad mission to “further
To hear from the businesses and individuals in Wakarusa, they held a town hall where people came and shared memories of Doc as well as ideas they had for a community project. They formed a committee to digest the feedback given and started brainstorming the different avenues the project could go.
They deliberated over ideas like a statue to honor Doc, an ice skating rink, and a park, before settling on “Doc’s Pavilion,” an outdoor shelter for group gatherings, local events — and where people can remember Doc’s contribution to the community.
Once the Roeder family finalized their decision, they went back to the Community Foundation to establish the project’s budget and certain fundraising goals.
“The Community Foundation has experience. They’re bringing knowledge to the table regarding fundraising,” says Billie Roeder, Andy’s spouse.
Doc’s Pavilion 2.0
Building Doc’s Pavilion will cost an estimated $1.2 million. The Roeder family committed $250,000. The Community Foundation matched it with a grant.
The fundraising campaign currently sits at around $800,000. To attain the last bit of money, the Roeder family is continuing to spread the word about the fund to local businesses and are applying for various grants.
The pavilion will be located on the corner of Olive and Waterford Street in Wakarusa.The exterior of the open-air pavilion will be lined with brick donated by Jolinda Lengacher and J&N Stone. Two large garage doors will open the building to the public to come in for a range of events and activities. Inside, there will be a stage for festivals and concerts, as well as a concession stand, benches, picnic tables, and restrooms.
The 4,500-square-foot space will host town events like the town’s historic Maple Syrup Festival, the Halloween party, and Christmas Around the Tree. The maximum capacity will be 300 people. The building will also be available for rental year-round with the potential for wedding receptions, graduation parties, and class reunions.
In a lot of ways, the Roeder family’s dream for Doc’s Pavilion is the same as Doc’s was 60 years ago when he built the swimming pool: To provide a unique gathering place for the people of Wakarusa.
“To me, if this is a tenth of what he gave to us and gave to the community, I think we’re doing something good”— Charlie Roeder, Grandson
“To me, if this is a tenth of what he gave to us and gave to the community, I think we’re doing something good,” says Charlie Roeder, Doc’s youngest Roeder grandson. “He always taught us to put other people and the community first.”
This story appeared in the 2021 Annual Report.