Judah Christian gift a father's dream realized

Judah Christian gift a father's dream realized

CHAMPAIGN — Gene A. Salmon didn't have a lot of hobbies. He liked his job, loved his family and was passionate about Christian education.

He also knew the value of hard work, and demonstrated it throughout his life — starting as a bookkeeper for Cross Construction, the Urbana-based company he'd eventually go on to own.

Now, nine years after his passing, Mr. Salmon's hard work and passion for Christian academia can be seen in a tangible way — in the construction zone on the northern intersection of Rising Road and Kirby Avenue, the 51-acre future site of the new Judah Christian School.

Following his dad's death, Kurt Salmon made a 10-year commitment to Judah, promising to allocate 100 percent of the proceeds from his father's charitable trust to the school. The donation will eventually add up to about $5 million, says Joe Thomas, Judah's Executive Director of Institutional Advancement, and make the school's "Field of Dreams" project a reality.

"At one point in his life, my father really wanted to start a Christian school. Through strange circumstances, the investment he made to build a new school collapsed and he wasn't able to do it," said Kurt Salmon, whose daughters Hailey and Taylor attend Judah. "We didn't talk about the donations while he was alive. I don't think he even knew how much money would be there once other trusts were funded, but I know this would have been a big deal to him."

Calling the donation a "gift that keeps on giving," Kurt Salmon, who was an active member of the school board for three terms, says that even when the 10-year commitment is up, he plans to continue donating the funds to the school he calls the "best-kept secret in Champaign-Urbana."

"It's helped my kids more than just academically; it's spiritually, emotionally," he said. "This place just helps parents and their kids."

So far, the Salmon donations have gone toward the 2010 purchase of the land and beginning construction on the athletic fields.

Kurt Salmon is more than just a Judah parent and trustee of his father's estate — he's also the project manager overseeing the construction of the sports complex.

Cross Construction, which he took over from his dad, donated a large portion of the work on the site last year. The Gene A. Salmon Field Of Dreams project is considered phase one of the building process and is due to be completed this year; school administrators hope to see the new high school completed in three to four years.

The outdoor facilities will include an artificial turf field for soccer (and someday, Thomas hopes, football); a baseball field; softball field; junior high soccer field; track and space for field activities.

Judah's overall enrollment is up 13 percent this year. Kurt Salmon hopes giving athletes a place to call home will help in attracting and retaining students. The lack of facilities of their own has been a struggle for Judah coaches and players — the soccer team has traveled as far as Rantoul for practice; distance runners have used Hessel Park's sidewalks to get in their work.

"I hope this is the first step in the expansion process to get enrollment up and get people excited," Kurt Salmon said. "The new athletic fields will be premier fields for the area, so hopefully we can build on that, get enrollment up, get more donations and continue to build the school up."

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