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Gina Cox Center highlights Chamber meeting

Chamber president Leanna Rich presents Carolyn Horton the August Everyday Hero during the monthly chamber meeting last week. (Photo by Ed Galucki)
Chamber president Leanna Rich presents Carolyn Horton the August Everyday Hero during the monthly chamber meeting last week. (Photo by Ed Galucki)

New construction in Lonoke, opening of the new Gina Cox Center, new school year, new principals and other developments were covered in the Aug. 1 meeting of the Lonoke Area Chamber of Commerce.

“A lot of people have high hopes about what is going to happen, as far as Lonoke is concerned,” executive director John Garner remarked.

Lonoke athletic director Nathan Morris told of details leading up to the opening on Saturday, Aug. 10, of the Gina Cox Center at the High School. The doors will open at 2:30 p.m., with the ceremony to begin at 3 p.m., he said.

After the ceremony, the Center will be open for residents to see the beautiful facilities, Morris said.

“I am an excited and happy man,” Morris said.

The Center is named for Gina Cox Wiertelak, a Lonoke alumni and past basketball player, who, along with her husband Jim, pledged $1 million towards the construction of a new multipurpose facility.

The help by the Wiertelaks, pledged in 2007, “was a big, big bump in getting things headed in the right direction,” Morris said.

The idea of the Center was put on hold while plans were laid while a “brand-new, beautiful high school was built,” Morris said. “Then we got around to building the best arena around … We want this to be the bell tower of the community,” Morris said.

Plans were changed to add a new cafeteria; the arena has more than 2,000 seats and numerous other state-of-the-art improvements, Morris said.

There will be people to explain capabilities of Center during the open house, Morris said.

During the summer much of his time has been taken up as an informal tour guide for people who wanted to see the progress, and for officials from other school districts exploring what can be done for themselves, he said.

Lonoke School District superintendent Suzanne Bailey told of the preparations for the new school year.

July 1 marked her first full year at Lonoke, Bailey remarked. “I can say I’ve not been bored; not one day,” she said.

“We have working 24/7,” Bailey remarked.

Bailey introduced the new principals in the district. It has taken about two months to find the right person with a love for children and pride in their profession, she said.

With new administrators comes change and new ideas, Bailey said.

The new principals are: primary school — Rebecca Reed; elementary school – Jennnifer Barbaree; high school – Mark Sherrell.

Chamber member voted in new LACC member Small Town Livin’ Sports Grill, owned by Marshall and Stephanie Crowder. “If you have not had the opportunity to go over there to eat … I hope you take that opportunity,” Chamber president Leanna Rich said.

Marshall Crowder remarked on the business, “We just want to thank the community for supporting us…”

Lt. Col. Tom Langford, Little Rock Air Force Base community liaison, reported that former Lonoke liaison Lt. Col Mike Donaghey and wife had a baby – a girl – since Donaghey’s last chamber meeting in June. Baby and mother are doing very well, and the Donaghey’s are preparing to move to California to his new assignment. “We will be sad to see them go,” Langford remarked.

In Air Base news, Langford said the three top positions for the 19th Airlift Wing now have new commanders: Col. Patrick Rhatigan took command of the 19th Airlift Wing, replacing Col. Brian Robinson; also changed were commanders in the 19th Operations Group and 19th Mission Support Group.

The planned furloughs of civilian employees will cut 11 workdays between now and October, Langford said. It is possible that could change to fewer days, “That’s great news for the folks out there…” he said.

John Garner announced that Bill Ryker has sold M&M Florist to Leah Johnson. Ryker will remain with the business for about a month to help with the transition to the new owners.

Garner said house construction remains busy, with more being added to the starts he reported last month.

Construction of the Waffle House has not yet begun, and he is uncertain of when it would begin, Garner said.

Construction of the Lonoke Interstate-40/Arkansas Highway 89 interchange is progressing well, Garner said. “There is a span going across … what glory that is,” he said. He also said the construction company reports being “A little bit ahead of time.” Estimated completion is in the first part of 2015; if weather does not slow progress it could be done earlier, he said.

Yet another hotel has made plans to build at Lonoke, Garner said. Hampton Inns plans a three-story complex, “Isn’t it great?” he said.

“A lot of people have high hopes about what is going to happen, as far as Lonoke is concerned,” Garner said.

“I am so happy our two new restaurants are doing well … It speaks loud of Lonoke supporting their hometown places,” he said.

Garner said the next Chamber community outreach event will be the 9-11 memorial ceremony, to be held at the Lonoke Flag Plaza.

Anyone who has not attended the 9-11 Ceremony, “You need to come,” Garner said. He estimated attendance at the 2012 ceremony at about 275.

Support includes elected officials, the Air Base Honor Guard, special speakers, Jr.ROTC and other high school groups, and other groups, Garner said.

The Lonoke Flag Plaza is at the former Depot Street railroad crossing, and is dedicated to the memory of those killed in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center at New York, the Pentagon at Washington, D.C., and United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed, killing everyone on-board, when passengers acted to take control away from the hijackers.

Rich read the account in Debbie Atkins’ nomination of Carolyn Horton as the August Everyday Hero.

She is seldom on the “frontlines,” choosing instead to be on the floor with a child or helping a child get through a tough day.

Through her work at the Lonoke Exceptional Development Center, or as a daycare helper, or the nursery coordinator for Lonoke Baptist Church, she has helped raise more than one generation of children in the community.

“For many children in Lonoke, Mrs. Carolyn is an Everyday Hero in their lives,” Rich read.

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