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Tropics committee introduces fundraising efforts at cocktail party

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[April 28, 2016]  LINCOLN - Saturday evening a special cocktail party was held at the Elks Country Club Ballroom. The invitation-only event was hosted by the committee charged with raising funds for the restoration of the Tropics Sign as a Route 66 Tourist attraction, and as a remembrance of the iconic Tropics Restaurant in Lincoln.

The event brought in an intimate group of fewer than 50 people, but all of whom have strong memories of, and affection for, the Tropics. According to the committee members, this was the target group for this kick-off event. Committee member Michelle Bauer said that the hope was that the evening would energize the guests and make them into champions for the cause as the committee works to hold fundraisers later this year.

The money raised will then go to the restoration of the iconic sign, and the eventual placement of the sign in a prominent location in Lincoln.

The highlight of the evening was a presentation by Tami Goodrich that included the history of the Tropics in photos. Goodrich, who is the daughter of the owners, Lew and Bev Johnson, spoke about living as a child in the Tropics along with her brothers, and how that her parents were committed to the restaurant and worked diligently to make it a place everyone could enjoy, and did so successfully.

Throughout her slideshow presentation, she noted people in the pictures who held a special role in the history of the restaurant and asked that guests in the room help her fill in the gaps when folks were pictured she didn’t know. There were several responses to the request, along with folks who just shared memories connected to what they saw in the slideshow presentation.

Goodrich shared some fond memories as well. She recalled how her parents worked out a 20-hour a day schedule. She said she remembered well her father bringing her and her brothers to the restaurant for breakfast before school each day. She said that dad took care of this part of the day so that her mom could sleep in a little bit before coming to work as well.

She remembered being permitted to play "waitress," going table to table and “taking orders” while the real waitress stood in the background and did the real work.

She remembered the scent of her father. Goodorich noted that it was always very late at night when her father would come home. But he carried the scent of grease and smoke, and it was instantly recognizable when he walked into the home. She said no matter where she was at, she always knew the minute dad came home.

And, she remembered the year that winter weather saved the restaurant. She recalled it was 1977, and the restaurant was struggling to stay open. That winter a terrible storm hit in Logan County, knocking out electricity in a very wide area. She said that Ameren brought in large numbers of people to get the electricity back on in the area. She noted that all those people needed to eat, and Ameren worked to get the electric back on at the Tropics as quickly as possible so that their crews had a place to eat. She said the Tropics served the crews three meals a day, for quite some time, and it was that boost that got them through a terrible year.

Throughout the presentation, Goodrich talked about milestone events that occurred at the Tropics, the famous visitors, the two fires; one not so serious, the other quite serious. She remembered the murals on the walls of the dining room, the exquisite buffet, and the Tiki Hut Bar.

She also talked about the future of the Tropics sign.

Currently, the sign has no home and is in dire need of restoration. To get a home for the sign and complete the restoration, the committee hopes to raise about $50,000. Goodrich explained that it would cost $25,000 for the restoration, then there would be residual costs to getting it placed in a permanent location, such as electricity for the neon. They also want to place a wayside marker at the sign that will provide some history and explain the sign’s Route 66 significance.

Right now the sign for all practical purposes is homeless. And, not unlike people who find themselves in that situation, being homeless provides a specific challenge. It is hard to get money when you have no home, and it is hard to get a home when you have no money.

The goal of the committee right now is to raise enough funds to be able to say, “This project is real, and will be going forward.” When they reach that goal, the committee will be able to then present the project as something that is going to happen, to property owners whom they hope to work with to secure a permanent home for the sign.

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According to Bauer, and Maggie McMurtrey of the Logan County Tourism Bureau, the committee has some good ideas of where to put the sign. They want to assure that it is located in a part of the city that will be relevant to Route 66 Tourism.

In addition to the presentation by Goodrich, there was a wall filled with memories of the Tropics as it was when the Johnson’s were the owners and operators from 1955 to 1997.

An additional feature of the evening was an original Tropics table and chairs, set with the yellow tablecloth and green napkins. Guests had the opportunity to sit at the table for a photo.

There was also a mystery wine grab-bag fundraiser, where attendees could pick a bag for $10, and would get to take home a bottle of wine after the evening was over.

The food provided by the Lincoln College Food Service Department included hamburger sliders, bacon wrapped sausage, meatballs, a variety of fruits and cheeses, spinach dip with bread, and a tossed salad dressed with the famous Tropics Thousand Island Dressing, a homemade concoction made daily at the restaurant from scratch.

Tami Goodrich, Lincoln Mayor Marty Neitzel and Alderwoman Kathy Horn

Goodrich had made the dressing from her parent’s recipe, and many enjoyed the memory of it. At the end of the evening, she told the audience that at each table, one chair was specially marked, and the person sitting in that chair would take home a jar of the homemade dressing.

The Tropics Fundraiser Committee includes Goodrich, representing the Johnson family; Bauer, representing the city of Lincoln; Renee Martin and McMurtrey, representing the Logan County Tourism Bureau; along with Bob Goodrich, Eric Johnson, Kim Johnson, Konnor Browne, Cara Barr, and Bob Wilmert.

The group has fundraising efforts ongoing now including a “gofundme” account where anyone can donate via the internet. To make such a donation go to TropicsSign 

There are also plans for a large fundraiser this fall that may include a sit-down dinner or cocktail party and a reprise of the presentation given last weekend by Goodrich.

The committee is open to suggestions about future fundraisers and are also happy to have volunteers who will pitch in and help make those suggestions reality. Anyone wishing to become involved in this effort can contact Maggie McMurtrey at the Logan County Tourism Bureau.

[Nila Smith]

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