By: Michael Campbell, News Editor
MCKENNEY – The skies above Old School Road in the Town of McKenney were a perfect mixture of blue with hints of white clouds as a warm breeze blew as dozens of people assembled for a special moment in the history of Dinwiddie.
Last Tuesday, members of the late Robert and Betty Ragsdale family were joined by the county’s board of supervisors and others as they cut the ribbon on the new community center bearing their parents’ name, opening the doors to a new parks and recreation facility in Dinwiddie’s southern end.
This project was incredibly personal for those involved, a fact shared by those who spoke at the grand opening ceremony Tuesday. At the podium, the Ragsdale family and county staff alike gave personal stories of the couple who had their lives tragically ended in an automobile accident in Aug. of 2005, all of which centered around Robert and Betty’s commitment to the community.
After their death, the Ragsdale family, along with family friend Clifford Carnes donated the former Alleen Clothing factory to Dinwiddie County with one stipulation: the facility must serve the community.
Despite the economic downturn that impacted the nation during The Great Recession of 2009 that forced the project to be tabled in lieu of maintaining general county operations, the Robert and Betty Ragsdale Community Center remained at the forefront of the county, with all involved wanted to see the facility reach the day where the events of last Tuesday could occur.
Just over a year after the first architect renderings were released to the public, the Ragsdale family and Clifford Carnes were flanked by smiling members of the community as those renderings became a finished product for the Robert and Betty Ragsdale Community Center.
“The building you see before you represents the vision of the Ragsdale and Carnes families and the Dinwiddie Board of Supervisors’ response to a community need, along with lots of work from county staff resulting in a facility that we can all be proud off and will serve the residents of Dinwiddie County for years to come,” Board Chairman Harrison Moody remarked to attendees.
The center is designed to host a variety of diverse classes, programs, and events and, along with the events, the community center will serve as the home for the McKenney branch of the Appomattox Regional Library System and the town’s Virginia Cooperative Extension location.
During his remarks, Dinwiddie Parks, Recreation, and Tourism representative Rayfield Vines, III discussed the importance of expanding recreational and cultural opportunities across Dinwiddie’s 500-plus square miles.
“McKenney residents and those from the surrounding areas traveled to Eastside Community Enhancement Center and the sports complex for activities,” he remarked. “Following a series of community meetings, a plan was devised to renovate this facility into a community center that would serve this community well.”
“I am proud of the finished product,” Vines said.
For daughter Charlotte Ragsdale, the center is a symbol of her parents’ enduring commitment to their community.
“My parents were very involved in the community,” she shared. “My mother was actually very involved with the library and my dad was always everything, so this was really wonderful when this did work out that we were able to make this community come together for the library for the extension office, for all the activities for the children adults seniors. It’s absolutely beautiful.”
As people walked in to tour the facility, a portrait of Robert and Betty was prominently featured near the front door, offering visitors a warm welcome to the center. Among those visitors was Dinwiddie County Administrator Kevin Massengill, who offered his own childhood stories of his interactions with the Ragsdale family. As he walked along the hallways and corridors of the building, Massengill reflected on a project he considered to be “personal.”
“For me, this was very personal because I knew what the family stood for and knew what they wanted to have accomplished, so we wanted to make this project personal and wanted each person who comes inside, just like I did growing up, to know that Ragsdale passion and care for your fellow man is captured inside this building,” he shared.
Massengill admitted there were challenges along the way due to economic conditions beyond the county’s control, but the goal to finish the project never wavered.
“When you look at the donations, we saw a significant drop in the economy during that time and we saw the project take a little longer as a result,” he said. “Some projects come easy, but this one, we really had to make sure we spent a lot of time making sure we had our finances right, but, on a personal and professional level, this is a wonderful facility that will be enjoyed by the town of McKenney’s residents and the whole county for many, many decades.”
The Robert and Betty Ragsdale Community Center is open Monday through Friday from noon until 8 p.m. and Saturday from noon until 5 p.m. Private rental hours will begin Jul. 1 during the same listed hours.
A number of donations were made to the community center over the course of the project, including naming rights to rooms and facilities at the center and part of the donation marker program.
Ballroom, Ragsdale Building Supply – $5,000
Stage in the ballroom, Ft. Lee Fed. Credit Union – $1,000
Main circulation desk, Bank of McKenney – $5,000
Seniors lounge, Walter R. and Carlene S. Wagner – $1,000
Conference room, The Crittendon Family – $1,000
Sunnyside Craft Room, Stepping Stone Academy – $1,000
Aerobics and fitness studio, Sylvia Taylor Epps – $1,000
Virginia Cooperative Extension Center, Lloyd Meade Harrison, Jr. – $5,000
Copper Leaf: (Donations of $100-$499)
Sandra J. Wagner, Susan Wagner-Carrington and W. Scott Wagner
Southside High Class of ’58
Mr. and Mrs. J. Michael Orrell
Louis A. Collins, III & Tammie J. Collins
Caleb Collins, Joshua Collins & Jacob Collins
Dr. Herman Lundy
In Honor of Jace Mariana Wall by Meagan S. Haire Wall
In Honor of Daire Isabella Wall by Meagan S. Haire Wall
In Honor of Cade Jameson Wall by Meagan S. Haire Wall
Mary E. Ragsdale
Bronze Leaf: $500 – $999
Silver Leaf: $1,000 – $4,999
Ft. Lee Federal Credit Union
Walter R. & Carlene S. Wagner
J. Baxter Bailey
The Crittendon Family
Stepping Stone Academy
Sylvia Taylor Epps
Gold Leaf: $5,000 – $9,999
Bank of McKenney
Ragsdale Building Supply
Lloyd Meade Harrison, Jr.