By Linda Emley
I think by now everyone knows I work at the Ray County Museum. I spend many hours sitting in my officee as I work on my laptop writing stories and take care of other duties. From my desk, I can look out the window and see the Thomas F. Eagleton Civic Center.
I have a soft spot in my heart for the Eagleton Center because I was there when it opened in 1980.
A few days ago, I was at Eagleton and I paused for a minute and looked around. Many things have changed in the past 33 years, but it’s still the same building that I once loved as much as I love the museum.
In 1979, I got my first real job and went to work at the Ray County Fellowship Center. It was orginally in a building across from the Richmond Fire Department before moving to Eagleton. I enjoyed our time there because many Richmondites would stop by and visit. Donna Pack was our leader and we had a great crew. Florence Wilkins was in charge of the kitchen and I’m happy to report, it’s still her kitchen.
We had many fun parties at the Fellowship Center. I’ll never forget one Halloween when I borrowed my Uncle’s WW II Navy uniform and dressed up like a sailor. Mr. Maddux dressed up like a bride and we had a shotgun wedding. I still laugh everytime I see that crazy picture. Our 1979 Thanksgiving dinner was wonderful because we had a carry-in dinner and everyone brought their best dish. I fixed a relish dish and I was shocked to find that no one was eating my celery. I was informed by one of the guys that many older people don’t have enough teeth to eat celery, so I was still eating leftovers a week later.
Eagleton Center was dedicated on April 18, 1980. There is a plaque just inside the front door that gives all the details. It was dedicated by the Ray County Court. Monroe Fields was the presiding commissioner, Lonnie Proffit was western commisioner, Tom Bowen the eastern commisioner and N.C. Hamacher county clerk. The building committee was Harold Stroble, William Shryer, Herb Crum, Sam Offutt Jr., Don Jackson, Elmer Minnick and Margaret Armour. Like our museum, the Eagleton Center belongs to Ray County.
Long before the Eagleton opened, we started getting supplies ready for our new building. I remember looking over the catalog with Donna Pack and picking out the kiln that we were going to need for our ceramic classes.
Gary Moll and I worked in the office and kept track of the monthly stats that were needed for MARC. The Mid America Regional Council still plays a big part in the day-to-day operations of our center. Somewhere along the way, Ray County Fellowship Center became Ray County Senior Center because someone thought the Felllowship Center sounded like a church name.
One of my duties at Eagleton was to plan day trips for the seniors. It was fun putting together bus tours and I even got to chaperone trips to the Royals and other fun adventures around Kansas City.
We always had a group of men playing cards. All of my card buddies from 1979 are gone now, but it makes me happy to see that the current generation of card players still takes it seriously and plays to win.
One thing that has changed a lot over the years is the Eagleton stage. When Eagleton first opened, we didn’t use the stage much because we were afraid that someone would fall off. It’s always been a mystery why the stage is so tall. A few years ago, I heard the story behind this. Apparently, someone went to the Farris Theatre and measured how tall its stage was. This was a good idea, but they were standing in the orchestera pit when they measured and this made the stage seem a lot taller than it should have been.
Sometimes I rode with the drivers when they delivered meals on wheels to homebound seniors. It was fun taking them their lunch because we were the only human contact some of them had.
My time at the Fellowship Center was well spent beucase I learned a lot about working with people. One of the local deputies and I went all around Ray County and gave talks to senior groups about “Crime Prevention for the Elderly.” One of the projects we worked on was helping seniors invetory their household in case of a fire or theft. We used a metal engraver to etch each person’s SSN number on the back of all their appliances. I still laugh about this everytime I think about all the old radios out there with our SSN on them. What were we thinking? At least it makes me feel a little better this idea came from the folks in Kansas City and we didn’t just make it up.
While I was working at Eagleton, I was also going to night school at Wentworth. As if that wasn’t enough, I was spending my free time taking correspondence courses from TWA’s Breech Academy in Kansas City. In 1981, I left Eagleton and went to work for Frontier Airlines. Little did I know that 30 years later, I am back where I belong – on the hill.
This Friday, Ray County Historical Society is hosting a free Gospel Concert at the Eagleton. Leo and Sharon Smith will be performing with their band, the Gospel Echos. We will have hot dogs, chips and drinks available for purchase, if you’d like to join us for supper. Just like old times, I will be there making sure everyone has a good time, so come join us. It all starts at 5 p.m. and it won’t be over until Leo says it’s over.
Looking back 30 years ago, I can admit I may be older and wiser, but I’m still a workaholic with too many irons in the fire. And that’s the way I like it. The only grass that will be growing under my feet will be when I’m done here and they plant me six feet under. Until then, you can catch me on the hill at the museum or in the valley at the Thomas F. Eagleton Civic Center.