Leader Blues

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

NEIGHBORS>> Preserving Lonoke's history

IN SHORT: After seven years, museum finds a permanent home.

By John Hofheimer
Leader staff writer

When Dorothy Jackson Deats and eight other family members piled all over each other into a one-seat Chevy in Lonoke in the 1950s and lit out for Oklahoma, members of this share-cropping family thought they had it made, she told Sherryl Miller, executive director of the Lonoke County Museum Board.

Her father had gotten a job at Fort Sill in Lawton, Okla., making $150 a month.
“We thought we were bad rich,” she remembered.

Deats, visiting relatives, huddled with Linda Acrey and Miller in Miller’s Lonoke Library office sharing history and patching holes in her geneology.

A year from now, this meeting might have taken place two blocks away in the old Scott Chevrolet building, which the museum board hopes to renovate in stages until they have a permanent facility for the many papers and artifacts that have been assembled.

After more than a year of frustrating negotiations with the Lonoke City Council, which always sounded supportive but never quite got around to making the museum board the asked-for, long-term lease for land upon which to construct a museum, unnamed benefactors came to the rescue this spring.

The building has been renovated many times, but it will be a great asset to our community and the county of Lonoke, Miller said.

She said an architect is assessing the needed fixes and changes. Miller, who refused to name the people who donated the property, said that soon, after years of looking and waiting, the museum would finally have a permanent home.

She said it was the perfect example of the difference that one big-hearted family can make to a community.

Miller said the only stipulation to the gift was that it be used as a museum.

Deats, the visitor from Oklahoma, said she was excited and hoped to find some way to help with the big task ahead—converting an old, historic home and auto dealership into the 9,000 sq. foot museum it can be.

The building sits on lots on Hwy. 70 in downtown Lonoke, across the road from the old railroad right-of-way the board had once hoped to lease from the city.

The museum board is busy writing grants to fix the building’s roof and began making the other needed repairs and upgrades necessary to house its collection in a watertight, temperature controlled home with modern lighting, wiring and plumbing.

“We need $30,000 for the roof,” said Miller.

“We might can get a 50-50 grant through central Arkansas Planning and Development,” she said.

After the first of the year we can apply for Arkansas Humanities and other grants.”
Deats was a child when she Arkansas. As the three women pored over books and documents, helping her fill out her history, Acrey said.

“This is the kind of thing Sherryl does. Her good deeds are the stars in her crown,” she added.

Miller is employed 10 hours a week at the Lonoke library and often works 30 or 40 additional hours a week, helping with historical projects.

In the renovated museum, Miller will have an office adjoining the room designated for the geneology materials. The kitchen will be torn out, leaving about three rooms plus the very large attached building behind it.

“We need committed souls,” said Acrey. “We need someone who’s on fire for the museum. Sherryl eats and sleeps museum,” she added.

Miller said the museum is in need of sports memorabilia, local Indian artifacts and artifacts of pioneer life, the Civil War, local politicians, Eberts Air Field, the world wars, old businesses, old county maps and old family pictures.

Miller can be reached at (501) 676-6635.