SALMON — Neptune Lynch, 94, pushed his shovel into the dirt where a $2.5 million sports complex for students will soon be built.
A complex that Nep, as his friends call him, is paying for.
Nep and members of the Salmon community ceremonially broke ground last week for the facility, which will house basketball gyms and other space for kids in the Salmon School District and local community. Nep donated funds for the project to the Salmon Education Foundation.
“I got to thinking … since I’m not going to take (the money) with me when I go that I could do something good with it,” he told EdNews.
Other factors fueled the decision. Nep lives in Missoula, Mont., but has deep roots in the central Idaho mountain town flanked by miles of timber country.
From 1958 to 1977, he ran a sawmill on the Salmon River’s North Fork. In its heyday, Nep’s 42-foot band saw buzzed out tons of lumber for use across the northwest.
He always “hung tough and made improvements,” but when the environmental movement of the 1970s put a hurt on business, Nep traded the mill for a 14-acre lumber yard in Missoula and focused on another local pursuit: the Stagecoach Hotel that still lodges guests in 100 rooms along the Salmon River.
Nep, who doesn’t like to “blow smoke,” reminisced on the old days, from breaking ground for the hotel’s first 50 rooms to the day he traded the mill: Oct. 28, 1973.
Yes, he remembers the date.
“I may not remember the date a week from now, but I’ll remember dates and names from many years ago,” Nep said.
Neps’ affinity for Salmon also stems from the district’s plight in passing a bond issue for new facilities. Local voters have rejected measures to fund projects over six times in recent years.
“It’s not a rich town,” said Nep. “It doesn’t have the industry it used to to keep bringing money in for the schools.”
Giving back allowed Nep to help the community where his son attended school and played basketball.
“I wanted to do it,” he said. “I made the decision all on my own.”
Bill Allen, an acquaintance of Nep’s and a 20-year member of the local education foundation, helped guide the process.
“I went out on a whim and asked him, and he went for it,” Allen said. “His generosity will help at least 85 kids a year for up to 100 years.”
Students, clad in sports attire for the ceremony, gathered around Nep to express their gratitude.
“Thanks, Nep,” several said in unison.
The local education foundation will oversee the project’s construction on district property and will “turn the key over to the district” around next April, Allen said.