Thompson Honored, Announces Grant for HPMEC
Thanks to the efforts of State Senator Robert Thompson of Paragould, a major expansion project is planned at Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum and Educational Center in Piggott.
A check presentation ceremony was held Monday afternoon on the grounds of the local museum, as university officials honored Thompson for his ongoing service to ASU and its Arkansas Heritage Sites program.
Thompson recently was instrumental in obtaining a $100,000 grant for HPMEC, with the funds earmarked for an expansion project involving the educational center. The center, which serves as the educational facility at the site, has served the museum for a number of years but has been deemed too small for future growth. The grant money will allow the enclosure of the carport-patio area at the rear of the building, converting the space into a meeting area which will greatly increase the usable floor space.
"I think the Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum and Educational Center is the perfect convergence of education, economic development and tourism -- and it is so important to Piggott and Clay County," Thompson said of the local facility. "Since I've joined the Senate I've done everything I can to ensure continued funding. Of course today we're here to announce a $100,000 grant from the state for additional improvements to the facility."
For the last six years, legislative funding has been received largely through Thompson's efforts. Working with other area senators and representatives, Thompson has secured more than $3 million for the overall Arkansas Heritage Sites program and was successful in amending Arkansas State University's budget in 2009 to create the first permanent operating funds for the sites. In addition, Thompson has directed funds specifically to the Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum and Educational Center for special needs.
According to the lawmaker, who also spent time as a State Representative, the job has not always been an easy one in the current economic climate.
"It's been very difficult, but of course in recent years we've been through one of the deepest recessions in our country's history and a lot of educational institutions have pulled back from these types of programs," he explained. "It has taken a commitment from the Legislature, from Arkansas State University and local officials to continue to seek funding for projects such as this."
Thompson also noted that despite long term funding in the ASU budget, other monies will be needed for future growth and upkeep.
"It also takes capital improvement money for additional construction and improvements to existing facilities, so we need to continue those efforts as well," he said.
"We could not have this site, or any of the other ones, without the support of Senator Thompson," noted Arkansas State Chancellor Tim Hudson. "He's been there from the start and continues to invest in the heritage of this region and how it connects to future generations, so we're very appreciative. Our heritage sites are Arkansas treasures and his commitment and support have been critical to their ongoing success, as well as to the development and growth of our Heritage Studies Ph.D. program."
Hudson also pointed to Thompson's help as the ASU Heritage Site program has grown.
"We started here in Piggott, but have moved out to other sites in the region," Hudson added. "Of course our biggest project of late is working on the Johnny Cash boyhood home in Dyess -- again, in an effort to preserve these historical artifacts so they can help tell the story of this history to future learners. The process of doing this is quite complicated, so we've developed an entire research program around that which now tracks scholars from all across the United States."
The Chancellor also had high praise for Dr. Ruth Hawkins, director of Arkansas Heritage Sites for ASU.
"Every good project needs a champion, and she is absolutely a marvelous champion," he said. "And she has converted the practical issue of preserving heritage sites into an academic pursuit. That has led to a wonderful combination and one of the most distinctive programs we have at Arkansas State."
Hawkins also had words of praise for Thompson and the efforts he has put forth in support of the museum during his time in office.
"Since Robert Thompson went into the Senate in 2007, every legislative session has been a tough one," Hawkins observed. "He has continued to be a staunch proponent and really led the charge for us. There was even a time when there was talk of closing the museum because there just wasn't enough support. But he told them, 'You will not close those museums -- they're just too important.'"
She also pointed to the lawmaker's efforts to secure long-term budget funding for the program, noting "he worked on getting our budget amended so we would have permanent funding, and then he actually got some permanent funding to put into that budget line, so we are extremely grateful to Robert Thompson for all he's done. Without his support, we would have closed the doors on all of our heritage sites."
The museum and educational center, which opened in 1999, was established through a private donation from Sherland and Barbara Hamilton of Rector, who were on hand for Monday's ceremony. The job was completed with leadership from former State Representative Richard Simmons of Rector in securing legislative funds and grants from the Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resources Council.
According to Dr. Adam Long, director of the HPMEC, the new support will have a major impact on achieving museum goals.
"We currently offer after-school programs for area students, adult writers retreats and other special seminars and workshops," Long said. "The long-range goal is to offer credit and non-credit classes, concurrent classes, and meeting and conference space in a facility on the adjacent former school grounds, dependent on funding and demonstrated community interest and need."
Hawkins added the funding comes at the perfect time.
"We have an education center which is heavily utilized with after-school programs, writers' retreats, seminars and programs and we've really just outgrown the space," she explained. "With the $100,000 one-time money we've received through Senator Thompson's efforts, we're going to enclose an area which was formerly part of a carport and convert it into a large room which could be used for meetings, banquets or any number of special events -- it's really going to significantly expand our educational programs."
Hawkins added there also are more plans in the works for the local museum, as funding becomes available.
"Our plan has always been to build an educational center across the street on the property where the Piggott School used to sit and to build it to look like a replica of the old three-story school building which was there when Ernest Hemingway was coming here," she explained. "Now whether or not we ever get to build that will depend on a number of things. First of all it will depend on the availability of funds, but it's also going to depend on demonstrated needs and interest. So we're going to have to show there is such demand in this community for this program that we can't use the existing space any longer and hopefully justify the need for a new building."
During her comments Monday afternoon, Hawkins also offered thanks to Paula O. Blackwell and Rodney Rouse for their efforts in gaining funding to purchase the former school property adjacent to the museum.
Thompson serves as state senator for District 20, which includes Clay, Greene and Lawrence counties, as well as part of Craighead County. He also serves as the chair of the Retirement Committee and vice chair of the Judiciary Committee, as well as being a member of the State Agencies and Governmental Affairs, Children and Youth, Rules and Joint Budget Committees and the Legislative Council.
He served a two-year term in the Arkansas House of Representatives representing District 78 from 2005-06 before being elected to the Senate in 2007. His wife Tori is a member of the newly-formed Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum and Educational Center Advisory Council.
For those unfamiliar with the local museum, the Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum and Educational Center in Piggott includes the barn studio associated with Ernest Hemingway and the family home of his second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer. Pauline's parents, Paul and Mary Pfeiffer, were prominent citizens of Northeast Arkansas and owned more than 60,000 acres of land. During the 1930's, the barn was converted to a studio to give Hemingway privacy for writing while visiting Piggott. Portions of one of his most famous novels, "A Farewell to Arms," and several short stories were written in this studio.
Both the home and the barn studio were named to the National Historic Register in 1982. The properties have been renovated, focusing on the 1930's era. Areas of emphasis for the museum and educational center include literature of the period, 1930's world events, agriculture and family lifestyles, family relationships, and development of Northeast Arkansas during the Depression and New Deal eras.
HPMEC is located at 1021 West Cherry Street in Piggott. Tours are offered on the hour from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturdays. The museum is closed Sundays and on major holidays.
Those who want more information may visit the HPMEC website at hemingway.astate.edu or call (870) 598-3487.