LEPANTO — People from across the state gathered in front of the historic Lepanto Museum on Monday to celebrate the announcement of a $175,000 matching grant that was being presented to the city.
The grant will help with the restoration of the museum after a March 30 tornado hit the town.
The museum sustained the most serious damage of the downtown buildings as high winds blew the roof off, which resulted in the closure of both the museum and the Goldsby Public Library on which part of the roof landed.
Lepanto Museum Board Member Clay Bradford said on Monday that he was proud of the progress they had made to preserve the museum and town history as he recognized those who contributed to the restoration of the museum.
According to Bradford, the museum was formed in 1980 as a 501(c)3 non-profit corporation with all volunteer staff, after the old bank building was donated by the Dan F. Portis family.
The museum opened in 1981.
“The museum chronicles through its exhibits the transition of this town and the surrounding area from a sawmill community economy in the sunken lands of eastern Arkansas to an agricultural economy,” he said. “The military history of local residents are also featured including a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, a Purple Heart award, and a Bronze Star recipient from WWII.”
In addition, the museum highlights athletic achievements from 1945 to present.
Bradford was joined at the presentation by Arkansas State Rep. Johnny Rye, Arkansas Sen. David Wallace, Assistant Director of the Arkansas Heritage Foundation Jimmy Bryant, Lepanto Mayor Earnie Hill and many others to celebrate the occasion and honor some of the museum’s volunteers and patrons, including Patsy McClain, Mary Slack and Guana Combs, whose volunteer efforts have kept the museum alive after all its founders passed away.
“Without your support, there would be no museum,” he told the women.
McClain and Slack said that they had spent about 40 years at the museum, while Combs said she was there for 25 years.
“We have raised a little over $300,000 since March, after the tornado hit,” Bradford said as he explained how he and other concerned citizens put together a flyer in an attempt to raise at least $100,000 needed for roof repairs, which turned out to not be nearly enough.
However they were able to raise a little over $175,000.
In regard to the fund-raising campaign, he thanked former resident Kim Hill Fowler and her husband, Chris Fowler, whose donation, which they made in honor of her parents, Wayne and Vivian Hill, was a catalyst to gaining additional donations.
He said they had been fortunate to have generous donors such as the Fowlers and many others.
“Their contribution with other residents’ donations allowed our museum to approach Governor Hutchinson for additional grant money,” he said.
Bradford explained that after speaking with Rye, Wallace, and Hill; they were able to set up a meeting with Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Oct. 11 to explain the situation.
“Through their efforts we were granted an audience with Governor Hutchinson to present our case for additional grant money needed to repair the museum,” Bradford explained. “As a result of our meeting, we were graciously given a grant from the Department of Commerce, which was approved by the governor.”
During Monday’s event, Bradford also recognized Bryant and the Arkansas Heritage Foundation.
“As our repair process has been underway, we have been in constant communication to repair the museum as close to its original architectural state as it was in 1915,” he continued. “By doing so our hope is it can be reclassified as a contributing building of the Lepanto Commercial Historic District formed in 2009 on the National Register. This status, if achieved, would allow annual grant applications to secure funds for maintenance of the museum.”
He stated that they still have more repairs to complete on the inside of the museum, as well as plans to make it handicap accessible.
“Fortunately our exhibits have been protected and preserved from the damage of the tornado,” Bradford said, noting that like many other projects the estimated costs had been too low initially and they still need continuing donations to achieve full repairs to reopen the museum.
Rep. Rye said after the presentation that it was important to the city that they received this grant, noting that this is only phase one of three.
“It is very important to the city that we get this fixed,” Rye said, noting that exhibits include items from World War I and II.
“It is important for us that we preserve this history,” he added.
Rye said next on the agenda for the city will be to replace the 1903 plumbing under the town, which will cost an estimated $3 million. He said they have already begun working to get a $750,000 matching grant for that project as well.