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Saving the Kays House: New committee, new plan

Published: Monday, February 11, 2013

Updated: Monday, February 11, 2013 17:02

kays house

Caitlin LaFarlette, Photo Editor

The Kays House sits on University Loop between two future sorority houses. Several community members and faculty members have joined forces to save the historic building.


Nestled among the newly constructed sorority houses along Aggie Road, the Kays House sits back from the street amid a glade of trees and shrubbery. For some people, the former residence of ASU’s first president is a minor construction inconvenience; but for others, the house is an irreplaceable beacon of history and heritage.

The newly formed Save the Kays House Committee aims to preserve that heritage, by both restoring the house and making use of the facilities it offers by dedicating different sections of the house to offices, meeting rooms and historic exhibits.

Committee chair Clyde Milner, professor of history and director of the heritage studies doctorate program, has been spearheading the efforts to save Kays House. Since the committee’s inception last April, its primary goals have been to raise both awareness and funds for the preservation of the historic site.

Awareness efforts kicked off Jan. 25, with the first “Coffee for Kays” gathering at the Milners’ home.  “It’s a time for guests to come, ask some questions, have some coffee and make a pledge,” John Hall, psychology and counseling professor and Kays House committee member, said. He has yet to attend a coffee meet and greet, but likes the idea because of the relaxed atmosphere and open question format.

A pledge brochure has also been designed and printed, and is being distributed during coffee gatherings, committee meetings and everyday interpersonal contact. Some committee members take the brochures and deliver them to their colleagues, friends and coworkers, according to Hall.

Chair Clyde Milner stresses that the committee is not a one man show.

“We’ve got a lot of great people working on this,” Milner said. “Interestingly enough, on the committee there are about five faculty, but we’ve got a lot of people from the community and alumni. Easily, the majority are alumni community members.”  

The Save the Kays House Committee does boast very influential local figures, including a former state legislator, board members of the ASU museum and faculty senate, local political leaders, architects, the retired editor of the Jonesboro Sun and a member of the Keep Arkansas Beautiful commission.

“These are all people that love ASU, the history of the university,” Milner said.

Paula Miller, committee member and director of the Arkansas Heritage Sites, sees the diversity of the committee as having incredible potential.

“We all have different strengths. That’s what makes it so great,” Miller said. “There are just so many people that are interested in this. All of us are very involved in the community, so all of us are taking brochures out to organizations that we are involved with.”

According to Clyde Milner, the awareness efforts are paying off. “We’ve already raised over $30,000 in the first week,” Milner said.

That puts the committee well on their way to their first goal, $100,000 to fix up the Kays house exterior. “We’re just getting started,” Miller pointed out. “We just launched these efforts a few weeks ago, so that’s a good sign that we are almost a third of the way to our first goal.”

The first phase of the restoration efforts will be improvements on the exterior of the house, paying particular attention to protecting it from further decay from water or weather damage. This will be in addition to adding new landscaping and fixing the exterior to the standards of its more modern sorority counterparts.

“Now that the (Kays house and the sorority housing) are all here together, there’s the sense that the scale is right, they enhance each other,” Milner said. “A lot of people comment on that,” Milner said.

Phase two would be to restore and refurbish the interior of Kays House.

“It’s a president’s house, there’s a lot of room and there’s a lot we can do with it,” Milner said. “The idea is that it’s a very useful space, for offices, for students, both upstairs and in the basement. There’s some very useful public space for all kinds of things up on the first floor.”

The tentative plan is to use the first floor as a public area, featuring historic exhibits and heritage kiosks, assign the heritage studies and Delta Scenic Byways offices to the second floor, and use the basement for archiving or workspaces.

The majority of the first floor would be public heritage-history displays, educating visitors on the importance of former ASU President V.C. Kays as well as his relationship with Hattie Caraway, the first woman senator in the United States Congress. “There could be other important exhibits there about other key people in terms of Arkansas state, it could be a sort of Arkansas State heritage house as well,” Milner said.

As per the proposed plan, the heritage studies and Delta Scenic Byways offices would be moved from their current location in the Library building to the second floor of the Kays House.

“Right now we’re in the heart of campus, and a lot of people would give their eye-teeth to be in the heart of campus,” Miller, of Arkansas Heritage Sites, said. “For us, many of the people we deal with are people from off campus, people from other communities that we’re working with on restoration projects. So for them it’s much easier to come to some place that’s on the outskirts of campus.”

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