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By Linda Emley
On Friday, April 18, 1980, the Thomas F. Eagleton Civic Center was dedicated. I was there, but I wasn’t really paying attention because I was a 23-year-old single girl who was more worried about the weekend than any new civic center.
I wish I could go back in time and see this event again. On that day in 1980, I had no idea that some day I would be spending so much time on what I like to refer to as “the hill.” Since I don’t have a DeLorean time machine like Marty McFly had in “Back to the Future,” I turned to the The Richmond Daily News to see what I missed.
The Monday, April 21 headline read, “Name Community Center for Senator Eagleton.” There was a picture of Eagleton and the caption said, “…Senator Thomas F. Eagleton addresses the audience of more than 200 people last Friday at dedication ceremonies for the new civic center, named in his honor.”
The article gave more details. “Saying he considered it ‘a marvelous surprise and marvelous honor,” Sen. Thomas F. Eagleton learned Friday morning, along with the more than 200 guests who attended dedication ceremonies for the Ray County Community Center in Richmond that the new facility will bear his name.
“Presiding circuit Judge Charles H. Sloan, of the 8th Judicial Circuit, made the formal announcement that the building will be known as the Thomas F. Eagleton Community Center.In making the announcement on the stage of the new building, Judge Sloan unveiled a plaque containing the center’s name. The plaque also contained the names of the Ray County Court Judges, the county’s clerk, Newton C. Hamacher, and the names of the building committee, and will be placed near the entrance of the facility.
“Receiving a standing ovation, Eagleton approached the speaker’s podium after first examining the plaque.
“ ‘I have always subscribed to the belief that buildings be named to the honor of those deceased for at least a quarter of a century,’ he said, joking that the commemoration of a living politician could be something ‘you might be sorry about later on.’
“ ‘But I pledge to you not to cast a blemish on this decision,’ he said. He told the audience that the building is the second named in his honor. The other is a school in St. Louis.
“ ‘I am delighted,” Senator Eagleton went on, ‘that my name is associated with a building that lives. The plumbing and the electricity and all such things in a building are cold and lifeless. People give life to a building. This building will have life.’
“Noting the new center’s use by the Ray County Fellowship Center, the Senator expressed his pride, as chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Aging, in the nutrition program.
“The Fellowship Center, which is a permanent tenant of the building, moved into it in February, shortly after construction was compete It is an outgrowth of the the county’s Nutrition Center, a program that provides inexpensive meals, five days a week, to county senior citizens.
“That the building will also be used by many other local groups and organizations, the senator said, ‘will make it a living vitality.’
“Funding for the local center was provided for with a $150,000 HUD grant. ‘This building is a partnership between HUD and the local community to solve a common problem – a need long felt here and now resolved.’
“Ray County Court Eastern Judge Tom Bowen served as emcee for the ceremonies Friday, which began at 10 a.m.
“After the introduction of special guests, he introduced Mrs. Mary Sloan, representing the Allen-Morton-Watkins Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Mrs. Sloan presented two flags, a United States Flag and the State of Missouri flag, for use at the center. They were accepted by Presiding County Court Judge Monroe Fields.
“The U.S. Flag was procured by the DAR from Senator Eagleton and had flown over the U.S. Capital in Washington, D.C. The Missouri flag, procured from the 16th District Representative Norwood Creason, had been flown over the State Capitol in Jefferson City.
“Judge Fields gave the welcoming address, on behalf of Judge Bowen and Western District Judge Lonnie Proffitt, including a special welcome to judges of Northwestern Missouri who were in Richmond Friday for an all-day meeting.
“The dedication Friday was the culmination of work begun in 1977 by the Council of Clubs, a Chamber of Commerce committee comprised of representatives of community organizations.
“Harold Strobel served first as chairman of the council committee to explore and investigate the construction of a community building, and later as chairman of the project’s advisory building committee.
“The Ray County Court applied for the HUD grant, which was officially approved in October 1978. Groundbreaking ceremonies were held in January 1979, after the site for the building was selected. It is located just northwest of the Ray County Recreation Building-Museum. The building and its grounds are mainly situated on the county-owned Ray County Fairgrounds. A portion of the land was obtained from the city of Richmond, from its West Park grounds, which adjoins the county land on the north.
“The 8,000-square-foot steel building was constructed by Richmond Construction Co. owned by Ed Poe, the project’s low bidder.
“Eagleton Civic Center contains a large auditorium/meeting room, a stage, kitchen, smaller meeting rooms, office facilities and rest rooms. Early this month, the county court established a schedule of fees for use of the building’s facilities. Fees collected will be used for the building’s maintenance and utility costs.”
After reading this story 33 years later, I have some questions. Was Thomas Eagleton really surprised that the building was named after him? It’s hard to believe that everyone involved was able to keep this secret. Eagleton died in 2007, so I can’t ask him. My next question is, did he have other buildings named after him? Sept. 11, 2000, the 8th Circuit Federal Courthouse in St. Louis was named the Thomas F. Eagleton Building.
Thomas Eagleton was George McGovern’s vice presidential running mate for a brief time in 1972, before issues related to his mental health history forced him to be dropped from the ticket. I always wondered if they were friends after that was all over.
I found that Eagleton served on the Council of Elders for the George McGovern Center at Dakota Wesleyan University. In 1996, Eagleton helped promote McGovern’s book, “Terry: My Daughter’s Life and Death Struggle with Alcoholism,” so they seemed to stay on good terms.
And last but not least, I wanted to know what happened to the flag that Mary Creel Sloan gave to the Eagleton Center. I may know the answer to this since there is a American flag and a Missouri flag attached to the wall on the Eagleton stage. I’m sure I was working at the Eagleton Center when these flags were placed on the wall, but once again I was too busy being a 23-year-old to remember.
I found an intesting fact about Thomas Eagleton. He donated his body to the medical science department at Washington University. His dying wish in his farewell letter was for people to “go forth in love and peace – be kind to dogs – and vote Democratic.” I like the love and peace part, but what about “cats and Republicans?”
One of my favorite memories of working at Eagleton was my frequent trips to the Richmond Square. It was my monthly duty to take our newsletter to Gowing’s Funeral Home so Sam could laminate a copy for us. I was also sent to Newton Clark’s office to deliver papers and pick up other documents. I’m not sure what was on those papers, but I always loved my visits to the courthouse because you never knew who or what you would see. It’s safe to say that my courthouse visits haven’t changed in 33 years because the “who or what” rule still applies.
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