Our Cleveland and Bradley County hometown stands at the threshold of such potential thanks to the forward thinking of three insightful members of our community who continue to safeguard our future by deepening their footprints of commitment. Each is leaving a prominent legacy — one in health care, one in education and one in commercial enterprise.
We speak of Forrest Preston, longtime CEO of Life Care Centers of America who once planted a seed in the mind of Lee University leaders that connecting the growing four-year school to downtown Cleveland would benefit the community as a whole.
We speak of Dr. Paul Conn, 26-year president of Lee University whose tireless work over the years has doubled the school’s enrollment, quadrupled its budget and brought new meaning to public-private partnerships within the realm of community service.
We speak of Allan Jones, chief executive officer of Jones Management and Check Into Cash, whose long string of civic endeavors — including the long-ago rescue of the old and dying Village Mall — have continued to take Cleveland’s history and thoughtfully transition it into our present in order to embrace a softer, yet progressive, future.
Thanks to this trio of leaders, a dream that was given its first breath decades ago now stands at the doorstep of reality. Beginning now, and over the next couple of years, Lee University will begin a massive redevelopment of the former First Baptist Church sanctuary — which the school bought in June 2010 for $5 million — in order to create a state-of-the-art music performance hall. Included in the growth plans will be the construction of a new academic building and the demolition of aging structures from our past such as the old JCPenney, Woolworth, Cole’s Drug Store, a former drive-in bank building and the old Corn Apartments, the latter of which were owned by Jones.
Several aging, small houses between the core of the Lee campus and the new construction also will be razed. Where new structures are not built, Lee University will design beautifully landscaped lawns and green spaces, a trademark of the school’s developmental philosophy.
Jones’ donation of property, and a substantial financial gift, are the final piece in the visioneering puzzle that will connect Lee University to our prospering downtown.
Preston planted the seed. Conn nurtured the dream and tenderly shaped its growth. Jones bridged the final valley of doubt by making the physically impossible possible.
It is fitting that Jones’s gift will be remembered in the naming of the music center to Pangle Hall in honor of his wife, Janie. “Pangle” is her maiden name and now a nickname for which she is known by most.
New development, especially when it is altering or displacing memories from a community’s past, must be carried out with deepest respect. Lee University has pledged such a diligence.
Little in life is more beautiful than a dream whose reality excites the imagination and blooms hope for a new and better day.
Downtown Cleveland’s welcoming of this Lee University outreach is such beauty.
We have three to credit for its approach.
We have many to thank for its arrival.