ODELL -- It was Sarah’s dream.

Sarah Novotny never got to see her dream of the restoration of Odell’s Rice Hospital completed.

“She would be terribly excited right now hugging everyone here,” said John Novotny, Sarah’s husband. “She just thought that building needed to be saved.”

In February 2012, Novotny died after a 1 ƒ year battle with ALS.

“The closer we get to being done, the harder it gets,” John said.

The six other members of the restoration committee, who have developed a special bond restoring the old hospital into Rice Lodge and Conference Center, quickly reminded John with smiles that they never will really be done.

This weekend, Rice Lodge and Conference Center will have its first customers staying in the building after 4 ƒ  years of work.

In spring 2008, Sarah convinced the group of Larry and Robin Stanosheck, Gary and Mary Jo Bures, and Bruce and Gwen Vitosh to see the value of the building.

“It was just a vital part of the community for so long that everybody has a memory about it,” John said.

Dr. Clarence E. Rice built the hospital and began his practice in Odell in 1929.

"Everyone that comes in here that is of an age who was treated by Dr. Rice has a story to tell about something that happened to him or her. Whether it is they were born in this room or had their tonsils taken out in this one," John said.

With the help of nearly 100 volunteers, work progressed quickly on the restoration. When Sarah became unable to see the work of the hospital, Gwen would record video of the changes for her to watch at home.

John quit working when his wife became ill. People would help, so that he could come to work at Rice Hospital for eight hours a day.

“Since then I haven’t worked for a dime,” John said. “I have just been here trying to get this project done.”

The other members have also given greatly of their time and talents. Robin was key in writing the grant that came from the Nebraska Department of Economic Development.

In the $88,000 grant that financed part of the $250,000 project, the group promised to make its mission for the building to bring out-of-state residents to Nebraska and bring Nebraskans to Odell.

Donations financed the other half of the project. Families sponsored each of the six rooms in Rice Lodge for $10,000 each. The committee encouraged each family to put its family history and photographs in the room they sponsored, making Rice Lodge a small museum of the community.

For $75 a night, customers can stay in one of the rooms named after the families who sponsored them. The committee worked to decorate the hotel in colors popular in the late 1920s.

The village still owns the building, but no village money was spent on the project. The committee will continue to operate it for three years.

“We are hoping that after three years that it will be financially stable, so someone can come in and maybe run it for the city or the city can lease it,” John said.

The committee’s next project is the south wing of the building, which was once used as a residence.

Aug. 26 is the grand opening of Rice Lodge and Conference Center. There will be food, tours and a special time for celebrating all the volunteers.

“There aren’t too many chances in life to be involved in something so much bigger than yourself,” Mary Jo Bures said. “When the opportunity arises, you go for the ride and a tremendous amount of personal satisfaction comes from just giving.”

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