In 1977, a young Steven Johnson began his freshman year at Simpson College. Thirty-seven years later, he came back to help dedicate a brand new fitness center bearing his name.
Members of the Simpson College community – past and present – gathered Feb. 7 for the dedication ceremony of the Simpson Athletic Complex, which features the brand-new Steven Johnson Fitness Center.
Johnson, an entrepreneur now living in Texas, contributed more than $2 million toward the $6 million renovation. Simpson’s board of trustees granted approval to move forward with the project a year ago.
“Every project like this needs a champion,” said Simpson President Jay Simmons. “Steven and Shannon Johnson very much were the champions for this project.”
Work began in March 2013. The renovation features the Steven Johnson Fitness Center, a two-tier workout facility consisting of a 5,500 square foot strength and conditioning center and a 4,500 square foot exercise and fitness center. The picturesque facility overlooks Buxton Stadium.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” Johnson said after touring the facility.
Johnson described how he arrived at Simpson College from his hometown of Exira with a wrestling scholarship. He said the experiences he had at Simpson, including the professors who mentored him, had a great deal to do with his current success.
The renovation also includes additional classroom and meeting space, administrative and academic suites, an expanded wrestling room, a cheer, dance and multipurpose room, a new Hall of Fame display, an exercise science and athletic training lab and a Swim Ex rehabilitation and therapy pool.
The improvements help Simpson on three fronts, enhancing educational opportunities, campus recreation and the athletic programs, explained John Sirianni, special assistant to the president.
“I believe this renovation truly represents who Simpson is,” said Sirianni, who was integral in the fundraising and planning that made the project possible.
Brian Niemuth, the athletic director and head women’s basketball coach, echoed those sentiments and pointed out that the renovation benefits the entire campus.
“Anymore, the idea of building a strong body and mind is very attractive to promising students,” he said. “It’s not just for athletes; it’s for the whole student body. I think this is a tool the school can use to build its recruitment base.”
Current students are already reaping the benefits. Senior Russ Fairfield of Atlantic, who is majoring in exercise science, played football during his years at Simpson.
“Our past weight room was just a box and so we weren’t able to utilize it as well,” he said. “The equipment offers a lot of different facets for people to train in different ways. It’s high quality, state of the art equipment. I think we have the best weight room in the conference now.”
Fairfield has seen many changes during his time at Simpson, including a new surface at Buxton Stadium, the completion of the Kent Campus Center and now the athletic facility.
“Simpson’s on the up and up,” he said. “It’s going to be the place to be.”
A former wrestler, Johnson was particularly proud of the new Luther L. Hill Wrestling Room. He remembered the facility he wrestled in, which left something to be desired.
Located in the basement of Hopper Gymnasium, he recalled that the old practice facility “resembled a dungeon more than a wrestling room.”
The new facility also honors those people who helped make Simpson what it is today. Those in attendance at the ceremony included the likes of legendary coaches Jim Williams and Dick Starr and representatives for the late Larry Johnson, Hap Miller, Shelley Scott O’Meara and John Sullivan.
Simpson has come a long way since Johnson drove his 1972 Oldsmobile from Exira to the Indianola campus. But despite humble beginnings, Johnson gave credit to Simpson for shaping him into the man he is today.
“Simpson College gave me a path to my future that, without its assistance, would have had a much different result,” he said. “I am honored not only to be a part of making this facility a possibility, but also grateful I can someway repay the debt Simpson College so justly deserves.”