By Sharon Dowdy
University of Georgia
Most ribbon cutting ceremonies aren’t held on Saturday nights, but the official opening of the new dining hall at the Rock Eagle 4-H Center Dec. 13 wasn’t a typical ceremony. The long-awaited and much-needed $10 million facility was built for 4-Hers. The ceremony was for them, too.
“We could have had the ceremony on a weekday, but we wouldn’t have had more than 500 4-Hers at Rock Eagle then for fall forum,” said Arch Smith, Rock Eagle director and associate state 4-H leader. “And, after all, this is for the kids, so they should be a part of the dedication.”
Located just outside Eatonton, Ga., the center hosts more than 70,000 visitors each year.
State 4-H Leader Roger “Bo” Ryles took many trips to the state’s general assembly to lobby for a new dining hall. For affect, he once carried a pair of red suspenders worn by former Gov. Herman Tallmadge.
The original dining hall was built in 1955, during Tallmadge’s administration, he said. With more than 14 million meals having been served there, it desperately needed major improvements.
A feasibility study by the Georgia General Assembly agreed.
“Representative Richard Royal toured the old dining hall and saw water leaking under the walls and the rusty boiler and fans blowing on the electrical box to keep it cool,” said Ryles. “Former 4-Hers like Representative Bob Smith and Georgia leader Lonice Barrett helped us shepherd the support we needed to see this new dining hall become a reality.”
During the dedication and ribbon-cutting ceremony, Bob Smith recalled his days as a 4-Her attending camp at Rock Eagle.
“Rock Eagle is a special place and the best just got better with this new dining hall,” he said. “I remember taking my first shower and seeing my first dishwasher at Rock Eagle.”
Current 4-Hers have lent their support, too, said Arch Smith.
“When we first started talking about the need for a new dining hall, Daniel Gordon gave me a donation,” he said. “This was a college student who handed me $20 because he wanted to see this project happen. That’s the kind of support our facility has across the state from 4-Hers from all generations.”
The hall is 50,000 square feet and seats 1,200 visitors in one large dining room. The room can be separated into four smaller ones. The building has an executive 25-seat dining room and a 100-seat banquet room.
The dining hall will continue to cater to the visitors who come to the UGA-run center for summer camps, church events, environmental education programs and conferences.