POPLARVILLE – Pearl River Community College officials hefted golden shovels here Tuesday, Oct. 11, to ceremonially break ground for the Ethel Holden Brownstone Center for the Performing Arts.More than a decade in the planning, the facility will showcase PRCC fine arts programs and provide a state-of-the-art venue for performances by local, regional and national groups.Construction on the $10.4 million center is set to begin early next month by Mac Construction of Hattiesburg.This is not going to be a box with seats in it, said Archie Rawls, chairman of the PRCC Department of Fine Arts and Communication. It going to be a first-class facility.With a capacity of about 1,000, the center will include state-of-the-art lighting and sound equipment along with gallery display space.Approximately $4 million of the construction cost came from the estate of Ethel Holden Brownstone, a native of the Whitesand community and a 1931 graduate of Pearl River County Agricultural High School.I think it wonderful, said her niece, Sandra Holden Thomas of Sandy Hook. I think Aunt Ethel would be happy theyre dedicating this building to her.Her aunt was very generous to her 10 siblings and their families, Thomas said.And friends, too; it wasnt just the family she thought about, added Ethel Ladner of Carnes, a niece by marriage. She was a good Christian lady.After high school, Ethel Holden moved to New York City and found a job as a window dresser at Bloomingdale, where she met Lucien Brownstone. He was in the garment business and eventually owned 26 men clothing stores around the country. The couple had no children. A Wall Street investor, philanthropist and patron of the arts, Brownstone will established two charitable trusts which inherited his estate when he died in 1970.The income from both trusts went to his wife with the provision that she could designate heirs to one of the trusts. She left a fourth of the trust proceeds to Pearl River Community College, a fourth to charities and teaching hospitals in New York City and split a fourth between Whitesand Baptist Church in Pearl River County, Sand Hill Baptist Church in Carnes and Calvary Baptist Chuch in New York City.Ethel Holden Brownstone died in 1996 and Pearl River was notified of the gift in 1997, said Martin Smith, PRCC Board of Trustees attorney. The trustees of the other trust contested the will, leading to a week-long trial in New York City followed by an appeal to the New York Supreme Court. PRCC finally received $4.7 million in 2003.It been an intriguing event, Smith said. We appreciate Miss Ethel benevolence. This is a wonderful day. This facility is going to be such an asset to the community and the college.The center auditorium will be named the Martin and Dolores Smith Auditorium.Martin and Dolores Smith have been part of the fabric of this institution for many, many years, said Dr. William Lewis, PRCC president.Both are alumni of the college and Dolores Smith taught business for 40 years. Martin Smith also represents the City of Poplarville and served 20 years in the state Senate.In addition to the Brownstone gift, funding for the center includes a $350,000 Building Fund for the Arts grant from the Mississippi Arts Commission, funds from the Lamar County Board of Supervisors and the college Hurrricane Katrina insurance settlement. The hurricane destroyed the Moody Hall auditorium, which had been the performance venue.This was a great need for the college, Lewis said. The Board of Trustees in their wisdom made the decision to use the bulk of this gift to support the arts. This is a most significant building. This has been a long project – more than 13 years have gone into this. Were here today to celebrate.
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