POPLARVILLE – The first event at the Ethel Holden Brownstone Center for the Arts at Pearl River Community College lived up to its billing as a grand opening.
It was a night for superlatives to describe the building and the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra’s performance alike.
Concert-goers left the $10.4 million center saying “great … incredible … awesome … fantastic.”
“It’s excellent,” said Poplarville City Alderman Byron Wells. “I am so impressed with this facility and so proud it’s in Poplarville, Miss.”
PRCC broke ground on the center almost two years ago to replace and augment the Moody Hall auditorium destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.
“The reaction from the guests and the orchestra and conductor was the highlight for me,” said Archie Rawls, PRCC’s fine arts and communications chair and director of the Brownstone Center. “Seeing everybody enjoy it so much and seeming to be truly appreciative that we were able to have something like this in Poplarville and at Pearl River … I’m so very excited about the great response from the community and what it means for the future.”
Approximately $4 million of the construction cost came from the estate of Ethel Holden Brownstone, a native of the Whitesand community and a 1931 high school graduate of Pearl River County Agricultural High School and Junior College.
“It’s wonderful,” said Ethel Ladner of Carnes, a niece by marriage and one of about 50 Holden family members attending. “It’s all so pretty. Lord, she would have loved it. Do you think she’s looking down watching us?”
A portrait of Ethel Holden Brownstone and her husband, Lucien, hangs in the lobby as does one of Martin T. and Dolores Smith for whom the auditorium is named. The college Board of Trustees named the auditorium for them in recognition of their many years of service to the college and the community, said Dr. William Lewis, PRCC president.
“Mrs. Smith was a member of the college business faculty for 42 years,” he said. “Mr. Smith was a long-time member of the state Senate, served as the first administrator of the Mississippi Supreme Court and has served for many years as the attorney for the PRCC Board of Trustees.”
Martin Smith represented the college during a challenge to Mrs. Brownstone’s will.
“Without his diligent legal efforts, this facility might never have been constructed,” Lewis said.
Following Lewis’s remarks, the extended Holden family gathered in front of the stage as PRCC Board of Trustees chairman Frank Ladner of Bay St. Louis cut the symbolic ribbon and dozens of cameras and cell phones flashed.
Sponsors for the orchestra’s performance were the Mississippi Arts Commission and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Orchestra conductor Crafton Beck had high praise for the Brownstone Center
“This room is as fine as any room in the state … that’s it,” he said. “Having a room like this in this community is going to change who we are over the longest term. In 15 years, our children, our students, some of us are not going to be the same people because of what we hear in this room.”
The schedule for the 2013-14 school year includes a lecture by well-known physicist Dr. Michio Kaku on Oct. 17, Christmas at the River by PRCC instrumental and vocal groups, Dec. 5; The Spirit of Harriet Tubman one-woman show, Feb. 25; The Legendary Count Basie Orchestra featuring New York Voices, March 28; PRCC Symphonic Band spring concert, March 31; Guys and Dolls, the PRCC spring musical, April 10-11; PRCC JazzCats and The Voices spring concert, April 24; and PRCC Singers spring concert, April 29. Ticket information can be found at www.brownstonecenter.com.
Frank Ladner, center, chairman of the Pearl River Community College Board of Trustees, prepares to cut the ribbon officially opening the Ethel Holden Brownstone Center for the Arts at PRCC. On stage with him are, from left, PRCC student Rachel Pierce of Columbia, PRCC President Dr. William Lewis, Brownstone Center director Archie Rawls, PRCC student Mallory Cumberland of Picayune and the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra. In front of the stage are members of the Holden family.
The audience waits in the packed house for the concert to begin.
Family of Ethel Holden Brownstone talk before the grand opening of the center. They are, from left, Cathy Ladner, Ethel Ladner and Wilhelmina Egger, all of Carnes, and Marie Holden of Carriere.
PRCC Public Relations photos