The Community’s Center’s new director doesn’t just talk the talk, he walks the walk.
The first time Gene Wockenfuss walks through the front door of the facility each day, he’s not heading for his office to tackle work there, but to the workout room to engage in a cardiovascular workout and lightweight training. This is a bit of a change for him.
“I have been an avid weightlifter,” Wockenfuss said, noting that he has different needs now.
Wockenfuss is happy to be returning to Madison, a community he has considered home since he first attended Dakota State University.
“It grew on me – the people and what the community had to offer,” he said. After graduating from DSU, he stayed on to become a coach and athletic director.
In those leadership roles, Wockenfuss emphasized service to the community and led by example, volunteering at area nursing homes. When he felt an internal tug to try something different, he spoke with his pastor who made a suggestion.
“He said, ‘You like hanging out with seniors. Why don’t you try Good Samaritan in Sioux Falls’?” Wockenfuss recalled.
He then served as the executive director of several large senior living communities and as the COO of the YMCA in Rapid City before turning his sights on Madison again. He was attracted not only to the vibrant community but also to The Community Center itself.
“It is very unique,” Wockenfuss said, speaking not only of the programming but also of the partnership which exists between the City of Madison and DSU.
He believes the facility is one of the community assets which brings people and businesses to the community. He also believes the center helps people in the community to connect with one another.
“It is the absolute hub,” Wockenfuss said.
He is aware that he faces some challenges, primarily a loss of membership during the pandemic.
“We’re on a slow climb back,” he indicated. “I want people to know we are a safe facility. It’s safe for you to use it.”
To help get the message out, Wockenfuss plans a hard marketing campaign. He wants area residents to understand that The Community Center is special, which they can learn by visiting the facility.
“I want every person walking in to have a positive experience,” he said.
During his first week at the center, he noticed there is already a core group of people who utilize the fitness and group fitness opportunities. One way he hopes to expand that is by growing the aquatics program.
He’s also looking at expanding the afterschool program, perhaps by having other locations around the community. He’s even taking a hard look at the center’s childcare program, which is currently available to parents while they are using the facility.
“If you go to any community right now, there’s a need for daycare,” Wockenfuss said.
He views the existing partnership with DSU as one of the strengths upon which The Community Center can build. He noted student employees are already an integral part of the staff.
“Exercise science students do a lot of our personal training,” he said.
Wockenfuss envisions collaborating with athletic teams to host events. He is already working with DSU to enhance the experience of those who use the facility by improving connectivity. He he can see the benefits.
He believes his optimism is one of the strengths that he brings to the table.
“I rarely say ‘no.’ I may say, ‘The time’s not right,’ or ‘We need more discussion,’ but I rarely say ‘no’,” Wockenfuss indicated.
He also brings a great deal of energy to the position and believes he’s a good fit for the organization.
“I want to make sure the community knows I’m here for them,” Wockenfuss said.