Woodmen Center ‘officially’ opens with a standing room only ceremony

Bryan C. Hanks

Kinston Free Press

July 26, 2012

Although hundreds of memberships have already been sold for the new Woodmen of the World Community Center, Kinston Mayor B.J. Murphy may have made the most poignant purchase. In front of about 500 people at Thursday’s ribbon-cutting for the new center, Murphy handed his family application to WOW National Director Danny Rice.

“I wanted to show the community it’s time to embrace this project,” Murphy said of his gesture, which received a wave of applause. “We need to commit to this, even more so than we already have. Our community has to help with their memberships so we don’t have to worry about the future of this project is going to be. We need to invest in this now as private individuals, family members, military members or employees at different companies.

“We want to make sure it’s a success.”

Thursday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony was certainly a success, which took place in front of a standing room only crowd in the center’s Harvey Family Gymnasium.

Kinston’s Sue Ellen Maddux has been a part of the project since its inception. She headed up the steering committee for the Woodmen Center and admitted she was “emotional” when she witnessed the ribbon-cutting.

“I’m so excited for our committee and everyone that has worked so hard for this to happen,” Maddux said. “Most importantly, though, I’m excited for the citizens of this community. We have something here to be really proud of.”

The center was built as part of a public/private enterprise; the WOW invested most of the money in the $13 million project, along with some sizable private donations and a combined $1 million from the city of Kinston and Lenoir County.

“This is proof that local government can work with private enterprise,” longtime Lenoir County Commissioner Chairman George Graham said. “When that happens, great things can happen for a community.”

The public is getting its money’s worth, Murphy said.

“The taxpayers in Kinston and Lenoir County have something to be very proud of today,” Murphy said. “This will help us retain our employers here and will also recruit other employers to our community. We’re certainly grateful for the investment by the Woodmen but also the funding by the other sources.”

Rice said the completion of the Woodmen’s vision couldn’t have happened without the support of citizens in Lenoir County.

“This was a vision for a lot of people,” Rice said. “The Woodmen had a vision to have a pilot program and the city had a plan for a community center. … Without the public/private partnership, it wouldn’t have happened for either party, but this is proving it’s a win-win situation for everyone.

“The community support has been incredible. We’re frankly overwhelmed at the turnout today and the response to memberships already.”

WOW President and CEO Danny Cummins, who is based in Omaha, Neb., said he was impressed with the facility, especially in the speed in which it was built. The Lions Industries Water Park is still under construction; an official opening day for it has not yet been established.

“This is the end of a thought and vision that came forth four or five years ago,” Cummins said of the Woodmen Center. “This allows the community to have a center that they can use.”

The hero of the day, though, was Kinston Parks and Recreation Director Bill Ellis, who spearheaded the project. He received a standing ovation that lasted about 45 seconds when he rose to speak on the dais.

“This is a great day for all of us,” Ellis said after the ceremony. “It’s going to be a great place and we want everyone to come out and take part in it.”

Bryan C. Hanks can be reached at 252-559-1074 or at bhanks@freedomenc.com. Follow him on Twitter at BCHanks.