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Fair project pays MIP dividends

MILAN -- From Fourth of July fireworks to Camden Park walking paths, the spirit of Milan Improvement Project's volunteerism has bolstered the tight-knit community.

``It's unbelievable the things they do for Milan and the kind of money they put in here,'' village trustee Jim Flannery said of MIP. ``These guys have just got hearts of gold.''

MIP is a volunteer group dedicated to the beautification and improvement of Milan. The group is composed of community-minded people as well as representatives of 10 civic organizations such as the Milan Lion's Club and Pythian Sisters, MIP president Betty Boltz said.

Group members meet monthly to discuss ongoing projects and decide where to concentrate money and attention. The group's bylaws require money be spent in the village, and any project considered for funding must fall under MIP's guidelines of civic improvement, Mrs. Boltz said.

The group is focusing on Camden Park now, Mrs. Boltz said. They hope to carve another walking path into the woods, she said, to add to the ones already in place.

MIP has raised more than $1 million over the 27 years of its existence, all of which has been pumped back into improvements and activities in the village. The money is raised through MIP's twice-yearly arts and crafts fairs.

In the spring and again in the fall, hundreds of craft dealers from across the country come to Milan to unpack their boxes of wares in the pre-dawn hours.

The October 1997 fair featured 380 vendors and attracted about 21,000 shoppers, fair director Connie Wyant said. Each vendor pays $25 to $40 for a display spot, and each fair-goer pays about $2 admission. The money really adds up.

``We've had some shows come out with $56,000,'' she said, ``but the average is probably $45,000.''

There are dozens of craft fairs in the Quad-Cities throughout the year, but the volunteers set MIP's fair apart. Between 300 and 400 people donate time and services to make the day a success, Mrs. Wyant said.

Those who will benefit from MIP's donations also roll up their sleeves to work, she said.

``MIP gave $40,000 to Just Kids when they started to remodel,'' Mrs. Wyant said, ``so those mothers pitched in to help with ice cream and at the pop stand.''

Businesses have donated services too. Eriksen Chevrolet-Buick-Geo has allowed MIP free use of the business' property since the first fair in 1973. Johannes Bus Service Inc., shuttles fair-goers from the Showcase Cinemas parking lot to the fair at no charge.

Their loyalty is inspired by a deep-rooted attachment to community, the belief that many people working together can achieve greatness. Achieve, they have.

MIP regularly donates thousands of dollars to village projects including parks, the community center and Milan bike path. During the holiday season, MIP bought thousands of lights to string at the Milan Community Center, even hiring an electrician to install them, Trustee Flannery said. The organization puts money where village residents can use it, he said.

``MIP has developed Camden Park into what it is today,'' Trustee Flannery said. ``They've done work in all the parks.''

The hard work that goes into the craft fairs and the year-round operations of MIP is all worth it in the end, members say.

``I don't get tired of it because it keeps me busy,'' Mrs. Wyant said. ``I enjoy it. It's always a big satisfaction when you get to spend the money on a worthwhile project.''

Mrs. Boltz agreed.

``When you're a small village, you don't have the money to put into parks,'' she said. ``We are able to help contribute to the parks, which I feel is so important.''

-- By Sarah Larson (January 26, 1998)

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