August 6, 2008 Edition

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Restoration of Clover
Bend gym underway

Woodworkers Josh Nash (from left) Cody Perkey and Randall Perkey of Ronny's Woodworks prepare to move a door that is being used in the renovation of the Clover Bend gymnasium.
Leslie Ginn
Staff Writer

The Clover Bend School gymnasium has played an important role in the history of the small community, and after approximately 70 years it is undergoing a complete restoration.

In the mid 1930s there were 88 families that relocated to Clover Bend to become farm owners. The families came from the northeast and northwest areas of Arkansas with assistance from the Farm Security Administration.

The formation of the new community resulted in the construction of five buildings, including the Clover Bend school gym, in 1938 and 1939 to support those families. The school opened in 1939. All five of those buildings are now on the National Historic Register.

"I remember wagons and teams packed all around the outside of that gym," Viola Meadows, president of the Clover Bend Historic Preservation Board, said. "There were two wood-burning stoves going to keep the gym warm. That gym was a real treasure for our community that brought everyone together."

The gym became a key to bonding the families into a strong community. The athletic program in Clover Bend began with athletic coach Bruce Logan, who coached both girls and boys basketball on an outdoor dirt court before relocating to the gym. M.D. "Doc" Williams relocated from Swifton around 1940 to become the coach, as well as the superintendent, principal and bus driver.

The athletic program became extremely competitive. The school primarily supported basketball, but also had indoor badminton. Meadows recalled that Clover Bend won many basketball awards on several competitive levels.

"We were the team to beat in the community at that time," Meadows remembered. "That gym was a tremendous building to have in what used to be a cotton field. It was a gift from heaven to our community."

There is a two-phase plan to restore the gym to its former glory. The first phase involves primarily the outside of the building. In this phase, repairs will be made to the roof and siding and outside window trim and doors will be replaced. Ronny's Woodworks from Cave City has been contracted to complete all the woodwork. This is expected to take approximately two to three weeks. Painting the entire outside will come next.

"The whole goal is to get it back into shape," Randall Perkey, woodworker from Ronny's Woodworks, said. "We've tried to keep it as original as we can."

The second phase will include the interior of the gym. A handicap-accessible entrance and bathrooms will be added, plus the floor, stage and electrical wiring will be repaired.

"We are a volunteer organization," Meadows said. "All labor is donated except for hiring out for specialized labor."

The gym continues to be useful in the community. It has been the site for dances, ballgames, auctions and wrestling among other events.

"It is available for rent for whatever the community needs," Meadows said.

The face-lift has been made possible by several programs and individuals. The National Park Service granted $100,000 through the "Help Us Save Our National Treasures" grant program. This was a dollar for dollar matching grant. The Arkansas Historic Preservation Program has also contributed $68,000 toward the project, which can be used to match the federal grant. This leaves the local Clover Bend Historic Preservation Board to raise $32,000 before the early part of 2010.

Those interested in donating to help preserve the Clover Bend Gymnasium may send checks to Clover Bend Historic Site, c/o Bill Doyle, treasurer, 229 South Free Street, Hoxie, AR 72433.

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