Driving toward Alexandria’s Broadway on Ninth Avenue West, a sign now says Matt Kjelland Memorial Courts.
The Kjelland Foundation and Events helped purchase the signs, poles and hoops for the new courts, which will cost about $20,000.
The foundation’s goal is to promote mental and physical health and wellness in the Alexandria area, according to Kjelland.
Mike and his wife Sue created the Matt Kjelland Memorial Foundation in 2017. Their son Matt was 30 years old when he took his own life in 2016. After being diagnosed with Lyme disease, he was struggling physically and mentally.
Mike officially changed the name to Kjelland Foundation and Events in February after Sue passed away to honor both his son and his wife.
Since it began three years ago, the foundation has financially supported suicide prevention, wellness education and COVID-19 emergency response programs. Last year, foundation board members mentioned the idea of a memorial park to honor Matt Kjelland’s memory.
“Part of the reason the foundation wanted to work with the city was to give opportunities to people who sometimes can’t get anywhere else to shoot hoops,” Kjelland said.
Kjelland and three board members met with Bill Thoennes, Alexandria’s parks director, at the facility last summer. He said that Thoennes reflected their enthusiasm, as he wanted to see improvements made alongside the new Veterans Memorial Park.
Two foundation board members, Chuck Wiener and his son, Andrew Wiener, developed a proposal that included the foundation’s financial contribution and design ideas.
Andrew grew up with Matt, and they played basketball together from grade school through their senior year at Alexandria Jefferson High School.
‘Being put to use’
The day after the pavement dried, Kjelland said he talked to one Viking Towers resident who was using the courts.
“If whatever we do helps or saves one person’s life, then everything we’ve done is worth it,” Kjelland said.
A different day, he said he saw an older man in work boots and jeans sitting and watching.
“You don’t have to be an athlete to go out there and try it,” he said.
As the assistant varsity coach for the high school, Julie Wrobel said they’ll plan on using the courts, too. They have a military night every year, and she said the proximity to the Veteran’s Memorial Park would make it extra special.
Wrobel brought her Amateur Athletic Association team to the new courts for practice.
“It’s just great to drive up and see the courts being put to use,” she said.
The team members are all from different schools – Fergus Falls, West Central Area, Alexandria, Henning – and Wrobel said they kept commenting on the quality of the courts.
“What a great contribution to the community,” Wrobel said.
A previous version of this article reported an incorrect estimate of the Kjelland Foundation and Events' donation to the courts. This article reflects the updated information.