The 50th anniversary celebration of the dedication of Greers Ferry Dam not only celebrated history, but made history on Thursday as thousands of spectators arrived to witness the historic event. President Bill Clinton topped the list of distinguished speakers honoring the 1963 dedication of the dam by President John F. Kennedy and the impact the dam has had not only on the county but also the entire state.
Crowds began arriving early and by 10am traffic was backed up and moving at a snail’s pace across the dam to gain access to the JFK overlook. Visitors were shuttled to the ceremony from overflow parking for those that opted not to park and walk. Children from schools across the region were bussed in to witness the event.
By the time the event began at 11am, the JFK Overlook was filled to the brim with people, both young and old. Many of those present were at the original ceremony and were thrilled to be able to relive those memories 50 years later.
Heber Springs Mayor Jackie McPherson kicked off the ceremony with an introduction of the guests, including the presentation of colors by the ROTC detachment from ASU-Jonesboro. Braylon Mitchell of the University of Arkansas led the Pledge of Allegiance followed by an invocation led by our own Brother Tommy Toombs of First United Methodist Church in Heber Springs. McPherson then introduced Colonel Cortney W. Paul, Commander of the Little Rock District of the Army Corps of Engineers. Paul spoke of the important role the dam has played for the Corps both in 1963 and today.
Following Colonel Paul was Governor Mike Beebe. Beebe spoke of his fond memories his visits to the area, specifically the Little Red River, over the years and expounded on the importance of legendary Arkansas Senator Wilbur D. Mills. “He was the kind of person you could walk up to on a street anywhere in the state and say ‘Hey Wilbur!’ and he’d stop and talk to you,” said Beebe. Mills friendship with Kennedy was one of the most important factors in Kennedy’s decision to come to the dedication in 1963. “President Kennedy was prophetic when he talked about coming back and flying over 10 years later or 20 years later and seeing the progress this investment had made for our people. We are all beneficiaries of it, not 20 years later, not 30 years later, but 50 years later, and I would argue with you that it’s just begun and this growth will continue for generations to come.”
A roaring cheer followed Beebe’s speech as President Bill Clinton took the podium. Clinton praised Beebe as an outstanding bipartisan leader for Arkansas and highlighted his ability to reach across party lines to put the good of Arkansas above partisan politics. Clinton recalled one of his last visits to the area when he and Senator Dale Bumpers arrived to help rededicate a bridge that had been destroyed in a tornado. Clinton also talked about Kennedy’s success in reaching across party lines to “get the show on the road.” “If you read President Kennedy’s speech, you realize that he was obsessed with trying to honor the future. You realize that he believed that between WWI and WWII we had a depression and we drove the world into a second world war because we neglected that,” said Clinton. “Because we thought everything would just take care of itself and we could just go about our business and have our fights and pursue our own interests. Kennedy knew that the way to avoid that in the future was finding a way to come together and build a common future. The real great test of our time is whether we can build a common future of shared responsibilities and shared prosperity or whether we’re going to build a common future of constant conflict with nobody finally saying ‘how can we get the show on the road’” Clinton’s advice to current government officials regarding the government shutdown was to follow Kennedy’s example and “get the show on the road.”
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The crowd gave a roaring ovation for President Clinton as he closed the speech and introduced Former Speaker of the Arkansas House of Representatives Cecil Alexander. Alexander spoke of the importance of the dam and it’s impact through the years. As the closing speaker, Alexander pointed towards the future of the region with the possible building of the proposed water garden, which would be a continuation of the legacy of Kennedy in the area from its original 1963 vision.
For photos of the event, see pages 2A, 7A, and 8A. Photo galleries and video will be available for viewing at www.thesuntimes.com by this coming Friday.