Notre Dame Honors Clark Street Project Silent Servants with Annunciation Award

Members of the Clark Street Project Board are 2021 recipients of Notre Dame Regional High School’s (NDHS) prestigious Annunciation Award.

The honor was bestowed by the NDHS Education Fund Foundation Oct. 22 during a dinner program at the Jackson Civic Center.

The award is presented annually to individuals who have devoted immeasurable time, talent, or treasure to sustain Catholic secondary education in the community and whose presence, by word and deed, has enriched the lives of the students of Notre Dame and served as an example for all.

Honored were founding members of the Clark Street Project Board whose service began in April 2001: Bob Basler, chairman; Jim Maurer, ’69, vice chairman; Steve Dirnberger, ’75, secretary; John Layton; and Ray Buhs. In December 2001, Larry Westrich, ’80, joined the Board, replacing Buhs.

Thanks to this group of passionate trailblazers – silent servants who have quietly given countless hours of dedicated service – the project has enjoyed tremendous financial success for two decades with NDHS reaping the benefits, said Alex Jackson, ’05, NDHS director of development.

“It took a lot of vision,” he said.

The Clark Street Project, which paved the way for Bingo World at 823 N. Clark Street in Cape Girardeau, is the brainchild of Tom Reinagel, ’68, who conceptualized the facility while volunteering at the Knights of Columbus Council 6420’s bingo operation in Scott City, Missouri, more than 20 years ago. Thanks to his creativity, the operation has become an enormously successful model — a hall dedicated to centralizing bingo games of civic organizations scattered across the community with proceeds raised to benefit their respective missions.

“I saw the need and that it would work best in one location and sold it to the organizations,” Reinagel said. “I went out and got financing for it. It took a lot of organization and salesmanship.”

The charitable gambling operation currently supports two Cape Girardeau Area nonprofit organizations — Notre Dame Regional High School on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and Optimist International on Fridays. Notre Dame parents and members of Cape Girardeau’s and Jackson’s Noon and Evening Optimist clubs staff their respective game nights. Rich Siebert has managed the facility since July 2003.

The 20,000-square-foot hall can seat up to 1,000 people. It features padded chairs, six electronic boards, monitors showing balls as they are called, a console that displays on a flat screen TV the numbers of air jumbled balls, handheld tablets, a sound system with drop microphones so players can be heard, restrooms, and a concession stand which serves as an additional fundraiser for various clubs, teams and organizations that staff it.

Bingo World has drawn a nightly average of 217 players, ages 16 and up, since its inception, with larger crowds as progressive jackpots grow. An attendance record was set on Jan. 26, 2005, with 847 players. Other large crowds included 700 on Jan. 19, 2005; 639 on Jan. 21, 2004; and 609 on Jan. 16, 2016.

The games are one of Notre Dame’s largest fundraising events with revenues helping to offset tuition costs and operations, making attendance at Notre Dame more affordable for students. The four Cape Girardeau and Jackson Optimist Clubs use Bingo proceeds to support a variety of youth efforts.

Over 20 years, the Clark Street Project has donated $662,500 in revenues from operations to help grow the endowment of the Notre Dame Regional High School Education Fund Foundation.

The operation is located on property formerly owned by the Wulfers family along Clark Street, north of the Cape Girardeau Public Library and south of SafeSpot Self Storage. Jeff Unterreiner, ’84, of Cape Girardeau said the Wulfers property went up for sale in 1992 while he was president of the NDHS Booster Club. It was his idea to purchase and hold the property for NDHS at a time when the school was considering expanding at its previous location on Ritter Drive. The nearby property was envisioned as a potential site for additional NDHS athletic fields, if necessary, he said.

The Wulfers family offered the property at a discounted price to benefit Notre Dame, and a group of investors including Jeff Unterreiner, his father Ronn Unterreiner, and Steve Dirnberger stepped up to purchase and hold the property specifically for Notre Dame’s future use, Layton said.

In 1994, the Catholic Foundation of Springfield on behalf of the Notre Dame High School Education Fund Foundation purchased the Clark Street property from the investment group. Subsequently, the Clark Street Project was formed with the Catholic Foundation of Springfield selling the property back to Clark Street Project on May 1, 2001 for the development of what is now Bingo World.

Jeff Unterreiner said a bingo hall was not on the investment group’s radar when it initially purchased the property, but the reimagined concept has paid enormous dividends, he said.

The Clark Street Project was formed as a tax-exempt 501 (C) 25 organization.

“There were some early struggles, not the least of which was setting up the c25 with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and then having the Missouri Department of Revenue decline our tax-exempt application,” Layton said. “We had to hire outside legal counsel who represented us for more than a year in finally winning that battle.”

Reinagel helped select the inaugural board members who served side-by-side with him during the first year. Additionally, Reinagel served as the construction lead, Columbia Construction Corp. provided contracting services, and Jerry Roe developed budget projections for operations.

Bingo World officially opened on the memorable date of Sept. 11, 2001, with a business model founded on Reinagel’s concept that the Clark Street Project would rent the hall to not-for-profit groups with Bingo proceeds to financially support the charity efforts of their civic organizations. Over the years, the non-profit groups leasing the facility have evolved. At its 2001 launch, the Kiwanis Club, Cape Girardeau Elks, the joint Optimist Clubs, Notre Dame Regional High School, and St. Mary’s Home and School Association signed leases to host bingo in the hall.

While the centralization of bingo operations in the city was a new concept, Notre Dame’s foray into bingo was not. Earlier in its history, Notre Dame operated bingo games on Wednesdays and Saturdays in the A. C. Brase Arena Building at 410 Kiwanis Drive in Cape Girardeau, where the Kiwanis Club and the Cape Girardeau Elks Lodge #639 also hosted their respective bingo nights. Prior to that, Notre Dame operated its bingo games in the former grocery store building now housing Dogwood Social at 80 S. Plaza Way in Cape Girardeau, and in the Bavarian Hall in Jackson, Missouri developed by Bob Drury and gifted to Notre Dame as its bingo hall with the first games played there on Dec. 8, 1993.

“The planning (for Bingo World) really started at the old high school (on Ritter Drive) with Sister Mary Ann (Fischer),” who served as former NDHS principal, Reinagel said.

That is when Reinagel and his wife, Susan, ’68, first became involved while their son and daughter were attending Notre Dame. Reinagel credits Susan for working as hard as he did to ensure Bingo World’s success.

“We nurtured it along,” he said.

As the games have continued and thousands of numbers have been called, the members of the Clark Street Project Board have continued overseeing building maintenance, guiding financial operations and recruiting civic organizations to participate. Recently, after 20 years at the helm, board members began contemplating their retirement and succession plans to ensure the Project’s continuity.

“The founding members of the Clark Street Project board have provided an immeasurable amount of service and support for Notre Dame Regional High School and other civic organizations that used the facility,” Jackson said. “I say ‘immeasurable’ because of all the work done prior to the formal launch of the board and all the benefits that have yet to be realized in the future.  It is amazing to have a group of individuals so dedicated to an idea and a cause that they gave up their time, talent, and treasure without question to support our community.  We are truly blessed to have such amazing leaders working for the benefit of our students at Notre Dame.”

After two decades, the founding board, with the exception of Dirnberger, retired this past summer, and a new board was named. Effective July 1, 2021, new board members are Diane Howard, ’73, chairwoman; Whitney O’Daniel, vice chair; Tara Elfrink; and Greg Jansen, ’87. Dirnberger is continuing as secretary.

“Notre Dame Regional High School sincerely thanks both the founding and new Clark Street Project Board members for their past and future commitment and tireless, faithful service with this endeavor in support of Catholic secondary education in southeast Missouri,” Jackson said.