Thursday, November 17, 2011
‘Good to be home’
By SUE WATSON
Holly Springs native Charles Ivy Owen talked about his love for his hometown and redevelopment in Fort Chaffee Crossing, Ark., where he now lives and works.
The community development expert was the recent speaker at the Holly Springs Chamber of Commerce luncheon, held at the David L. Beckley Conference Center on the Rust College campus.
To start the membership meeting, chamber executive director Rebecca Bourgeois announced ongoing programs and projects.
A joint Main Street/Chamber of Commerce website is being designed by Dream Design Studios LLC in Hernando. She thanked First State Bank and the Bank of Holly Springs for sponsoring the chamber website construction.
The website will have a membership directory to promote members both inside and outside the city.
The chamber has a Facebook page – Holly Springs Chamber of Commerce – and also plans to do an e-newsletter as a means for members to get in contact quickly with the chamber.
Bourgeois announced a scholarship fund has been established in the name of the late Lisa Cole, who worked diligently in the community for civic organizations such as the Holly Springs Rotary Club and the chamber of commerce.
Chamber board president Greg Campbell expressed delight at the meal provided by Rust College and for the use of the Beckley Center for the luncheons. The Holiday Committee is active in planning for Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. The Christmas parade is set for Saturday, December 3, with rain day set for Monday, December 5. Floats will line up at 3 p.m., judging of floats takes place at 4 p.m. and the parade starts at 5 p.m.
On the square, entertainment will begin with music performances about an hour before the parade.
The chamber lighting contest will be conducted within the city limits only by a panel of judges who will ride from December 12-14. Remember to have Christmas lights on at residences and businesses at this time. Winners will be chosen for first, second and third place in residential and commercial contests and best door will be chosen.
Owen told some of his cache of stories about Holly Springs and related his dear love for the city and hopes to come back here to retire. He and his wife Barbara were planning on house shopping after the luncheon.
He related how he got his start as a young man working at the Powerhouse while attending Ole Miss. And Owen worked on urban development projects under the late mayor Sam Coopwood before moving on to Memphis, Hot Springs, and Philadelphia (Mississippi band of Choctaws) and eventually landing in 2007 at Ft. Chaffee Crossing where he is executive director of the redevelopment authority. He has 44 years in community development.
“Man, it is good to be home,” Owen said.
His talk focused on Holly Springs, “and what it means to me.”
His dad served as vice president of First State Bank and his mother operated Louise’s Beauty Salon out of the basement of her house – located on Chulahoma Avenue next door to the Buchanans.
Owen interned at the fire department, then got involved in the Powerhouse and police department while attending Ole Miss. He served as radio dispatcher and was responsible for keeping the water tank filled. The town had a fire whistle, then went to short-wave radio and later telephone to summon firefighters.
Under Mayor Coopwood, firemen got paid $2 to turn out to a grass fire that took less than an hour to extinguish and $.50 more an hour for over an hour. They were paid $3 to work a house fire and a little more if they worked over an hour.
“In 1962-63, I went to work at the Powerhouse and I can remember every square inch of it,” Owen said. “The water department was on one side, the power generators on the other, and the jail was added on the east side where the mayor held municipal court every Sunday morning.
Owen got his first shot at economic development in his part-time job helping the mayor write urban development grants. He said they were easy to get and Coopwood took advantage of his many associations with politicians to get his projects funded.
Owen had the job of forming a citizens’ group to see what the public would accept and he was also peace maker at times between the urban development department and city hall.
“In that time, you could do anything you wanted. There was no zoning and no rules,” he said.
The city received $7 million in urban renewal funds and put up the canopies around the square. Lois Swaney Shipp was on the canopy committee – charged to design the canopies and to keep everybody happy. The city had to take down the existing business canopies, put down the brick sidewalks, and then erect the metal canopies that exist today.
“Mr. Yarbrough, the editor of the newspaper, said to the effect: ‘Urban renewal is like communism taking over the city.’ One lady, Mrs. Leonard Miller, refused to move out of her house when the city bought up all the houses around hers.”
It was Owen’s job to convince her to accept a new home on Maury, which eventually she did.
“She said, ‘My gosh, this isn’t bad,’” he said, when she went over to look at her new house.
Community Development Block Grants, a more competitive process of obtaining federal funding, was a product of the Reagan administration. Owen said Ruben Pegues, a senior at Rust College, was hired to work with economic development.
Owen attended the Catholic school up to the eighth grade and in 1960 studied one year in Indiana in the seminary before coming back to finish high school at Holly Springs.
He said it is the door-to-door experience he gained while asking residents of Holly Springs what they wanted for the city that taught him how relationships build successes.
“And relationships was what built Holly Springs in those days,” he said. “We had renegades in those days. We call them the CAVE people, now – Citizens Against Virtually Everything.”
When Owen went to Arkansas, Houston Nutt arrived to coach the Ole Miss Rebels football team. It was not easy to root for the Rebels when working and living in Arkansas, he said.
“I am wearing my Ole Miss alumni pin,” he said, pointing to his lapel. “Thank goodness. Hoddy toddy!”
As a young man, Owen said the guys would meet for coffee and breakfast at the Hitching Post.
“It was where everybody gossiped about everybody, and then moved on to football talk.”
He said he likes the new slogan “All Kinds of Character” – that there were some big characters back then, too.
“You can’t explain the beauty Holly Springs has unless you see it,” he said. “Montrose is my wife’s and my dream house. Jorja (Lynn) and I grew up together. She did well. The characters in Holly Springs – we could write a book about it.”
He said his job at Ft. Chaffee Crossing “is my going-out job.”
Holly Springs has more potential right now as the “jewel in the crown of North Mississippi,” he said.
“This town has more potential than any place I have been anywhere, including where I live now.”
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