Kays House restoration complete

(Source: KAIT-TV)
(Source: KAIT-TV)

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - It was an exciting day at Arkansas State University on Thursday.

University leaders, community members, and former Governor Mike Beebe gathered together at ASU to celebrate the completion of the restoration of Kays House.

Ruth Hawkins, the executive director of Arkansas State University Heritage Sites, said the house is an important part of campus history.

"This house was built in 1936," Hawkins said. "It was the home of our first president so it's a wonderful opportunity to share our history and heritage with our students and the community."

Chancellor of Arkansas State University, Kelly Damphousse, said they did a wonderful job restoring the home to its former glory.

"When I first came to campus, it was just being renovated," Damphousse said. "I was really jealous because I've always wanted to live on campus and I'm a little jealous about his location. I have not seen it til today, the renovation itself. And I'm just blown away by the care that was taken to bring it back to its former luster. It looks fantastic."

The Kays House will be the Arkansas State University Heritage Sites office and eventually include historical exhibits of President Kays, Sen. Hattie Caraway, and former Gov. Bebee.

"This is the home of the first president," Damphousse said. "It will now be the office of for the first Governor of the state of Arkansas that came from Arkansas State University. So, having Governor Beebe be here today, but also have the replica of his office here means a lot to us because we're so proud of what he's done. Not just for Arkansas State University, but for the entire state of Arkansas. We're proud of him and his accomplishments, one of our best and well-known alumnus."

Beebe said they did their homework in order to recreate his office.

"They took countless pictures of where everything was set the day I walked out of office," Beebe said. "It's here. It's all here. Recreated just like the day I walked out. It's virtually identical."

"This is exciting because it's a chance for us to come back to the heart of campus," Damphousse said. "This is the place where our first principal and then our first president lived. He lived here even after he retired from being president here. It is also symbolically because it's the heart of our campus. I think a lot about what he would think if he walked out and saw how different the campus has become since he left here."

Hawkins said the project mattered to a lot of people who worked hard to make it a reality.

"This whole process was led by retired faculty and alumni," Hawkins said. "It was our faculty and alumni that really spoke up and saved the house from being torn down. Then the house was given a reprieve and we were given the opportunity to raise funds to restore it. The faculty, retired faculty, and alumni just really stepped up and made donations. . .about $200,000 worth of donations. We received three grants from the Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resources Council."

"Projects like this are projects that are done by passionate people," Damphousse said. "People who care about something bigger than themselves and it takes a lot of people to get something like this done."

Beebe said ASU has been an important part of his life.

"It's very gratifying," Beebe said. "Of course, I've said more times than I can remember at more event here than I can remember that my love for ASU goes back to the 1960's, when I started as a student in 1964. All of the things that have happened in my life with regard to my professional career were the direct result of what this place meant and what this place meant to me."

Damphousse said having the Heritage Site office on campus is a great opportunity.

"It's almost too well kept a secret," Damphousse said. "The high quality of museums and the restoration programs we have all up down Crowley's Ridge Heritage sites. So, having the offices for our Heritage site programs here in this building where people will come through here will give us an opportunity to show people what we've done all up and down the upper delta to restore and tell people the history of this great part of the country."

Beebe said he appreciated ASU and all the work they did.

"It's a landmark for the university," Beebe said. "It was the first president's house and we're using it in the fashion that's real nostalgic as far as I'm concerned. And I'm very grateful to ASU for it and hopefully, students and others visiting the campus will have the ability to come in and look at it and see what it looked like when their alum was Governor."

The Kays House was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in May 2014.

It is also one of the three oldest structures on ASU's campus.

For more information or to make a donation, you can reach them by calling (870) 972-2803.

To learn more about Kays House, click here.

For more information about Arkansas State University, click here.

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