Past, present future meet at Whitworth

Published 6:00 am Thursday, November 16, 2000

Three centuries came together at the Johnson Institute Wednesdayas Johnson descendants, arts school and community leaders gatheredto fill and reset the building’s cornerstone.

“This school represents three centuries of history, educationand culture,” said Dr. Vicki Bodenhamer, director of theMississippi School of the Arts, during a brief ceremony to placehistoric items in the cornerstone of the under-renovation buildingon the Whitworth College campus.

Dr. Harvey Fletcher Johnson, an attorney, legislator andMethodist minister, paid for the construction of the building andthen gave it to the Methodist conference, Bodenhamer said. Johnsonserved as Whitworth College president from 1867-1886.

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Examples used to symbolize the many years of learning included aphotograph of Johnson, a commencement program from the 1900Whitworth graduating class and several items detailing plans forthe future use of the campus as an arts school. In all, 17 itemswere placed in the cornerstone before it was sealed for posterityWednesday.

Johnson’s great-granddaughters, Phyllis Spearman, Joan Peytonand Jere Clark were the first to place items into thecornerstone.

Spearman said she was “extraordinarily proud” to be a descendentof Dr. Johnson and of the plans for the rebirth of thebuilding.

“It will serve as a repository for learning,” Spearman said. “Hewas dedicated to education.”

Peyton likened the school plans to recreating history.

“This was a viable school and it will be again,” Peyton said.”We’re proud to have it in our heritage.”

Clark, who now lives in Hattiesburg, said Wednesday’s event wasa momentous occasion, and she was happy to see Brookhaven and theWhitworth campus chosen at the site for the arts school.

“Brookhaven is such a warm, lovely community,” she said. “Itwill be a wonderful place for students to live and learn.”

The school is scheduled to open in August of 2002 with 60students. Depending on funding, plans are for it to be fullyoperational in 2005 with close to 300 students, plus additional”day students” who can commute to the campus.

Mayor Bill Godbold, who placed a key to the city in thecornerstone, said getting the Mississippi legislature to approvethe arts school was the first step toward restoring the campus. Thesecond step, he said, is the more tangible work that people can seeas the buildings are currently being restored.

“People realize they mean business now,” the mayor said. “We’rereally glad to see as much being done with the money the cityprovided.”

Godbold said the school was the result of many people workingtogether toward the goal.

In addition to local and state funds now, the mayor is hopefulthe legislature will approve more funding to complete the school. Aprivate fund-raising campaign is also under way to benefit theschool.

After the ceremony for participants to place items in thecornerstone, Bodenhamer summed up the occasion with a quotationfrom President John F. Kennedy, which was also placed in thecornerstone.

“Behind the storm of daily conflict and crisis, the artistcontinues the quiet work of the centuries, building bridges orexperience between people, reminding man of the universality of hisfeelings, and desires, and despairs, and reminding him that theforces that unite are deeper than those that divide,” she said inquoting the late president.