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Rossville Community Center may be your choice of venue

Nancy Parsons
April 22, 2014

The News & Reporter

The old brick building was once a learning center.

In some ways, it still is.

The Rossville Community Center at 4631 Great Falls Highway served as a school in the early 1900s.

When the DeWitt Cloud and Rossville Schools consolidated in 1915, students began to attend the building on S.C. Highway 97 about three miles outside the town limits of Great Falls. The building was constructed as a grammar school but its students later combined with other schools in the Great Falls area.

According to “Chester County: A Pictorial History – A Bicentennial Celebration” by Ron Chepesiuk, the first school built in the Great Falls District was located in the Rossville Community near Old Ragsdale Place and remained in use until 1924.

In 1947, the building became known as the Rossville Community Center and members of the community began to gather on a monthly basis. In 1948, ownership of the building was transferred from the Trustees of Great Falls School District 6 to the Rossville Community Club.

Over the years, the building was used as a Head Start center, which it was for a number of years after one of the Great Falls school buildings burned.

The Rossville Volunteer Fire Department got its origin in the building in 1964. At one time, Clemson Extension Service held home demonstration meetings in the building. Ann Jacobs taught clogging classes at the center and the building is the designated voting area for voters in the Rossville precinct.

“There was square dancing and other activities over the years,” said Marvin Gibson, a member of the Rossville Community Center board of directors. “There were games, singings, carnival type events and 4H met here. The building was used in the community for a lot of years.”

There has always been a board of directors to oversee activities and discuss maintenance of the center, Gibson said.

The Gibson Family Reunion was held at the center for four years with 2006 as the last year the family gathered at the location.

The family reunion, Gibson said, was a driving force in his desire to see the building revitalized. He said the building needed upgrades and he wanted to see it restored.

The board opened the building for fundraisers and bluegrass bands took the stage from 2004 to 2008. Gibson said 200 people showed up for the musical events.

When Roberta Bankhead Wood retired from teaching at Lewisville Elementary School, she decided to get more involved in the community and the center.

“I have fond memories from my childhood at the center that made me want to save the building,” Wood said.

Wood got a contractor to look at the building and was shocked at the $100,000 restoration estimate.

“It was a little overwhelming,” she said. “But we saved the building. So many aren't saved.”

Wood said the board of directors tried to get a 501c3 tax exempt status but the paperwork involved was overwhelming. She said it wasn't until Gibson took charge that the non-profit status was obtained and the board was able to move forward with plans for the building.

The board of directors began holding monthly meetings in the late 1990s. The Rossville Community Center received its only funding from meals sold at the meetings. Guest speakers were brought in to provide educational and beneficial programs. A senator, a probate judge, updates on community watch programs and other topics have lined the agenda.

The Rossville Community Watch was formed at the center in response to a large number of break-ins about three years ago, Gibson said. The first meeting was attended by over 60 people. Community Watch updates continue to be shared at meetings.

Wood knew that at $7 a plate, it would take a long time to raise enough money to make any noticeable renovations to the center.

Wood is president of the Rossville Community Center. Millard Smith is vice president, Ann Jacobs is secretary and Mary Nell McKenzie is treasurer. Past President Buddy Baker serves on the board with Mike Beer, Marvin Gibson and Margie Gwin. Board members serve three-year terms and officers are elected annually.

“This board spearheaded the project to renovate the building,” Gibson said.

Gibson said upgrades began three years ago and are being done in increments.

Gibson first wanted to replace the leaking roof on the building. He saved the old tin roof and sold it as salvage to help pay the cost of a metal roof.

“It was very tough to repair the roof,” Gibson said. “We couldn't fix anything until we fixed the roof.”

Gibson and a helper began work. Gibson worked at no charge but his helper had to be paid.

Termites had caused damage to the floor in the grand room but the damage has been repaired.

“We needed a new roof, floor repairs, painting and new plaster,” Gibson said.

“If Marvin had not done it free, the building would not have been saved,” Wood said. “There's still a laundry list of other work that needs doing.”

A lot of people donated and purchased supplies for renovations, Gibson said.

“All in all, a lot of good stuff has come from the renovations. A lot of people have come to see what has been done to the building,” Gibson said.

Because he has done so much work and spearheaded restoration, the stage has been named “The Marvin Gibson Jr. Stage,” Wood said.

Wood said many of the original board members were husbands and wives who have since passed away. Their deaths have taken a toil on efforts to keep the building open,Wood said. The current board is hoping the younger generation will step in and continue the efforts began by their parents and grandparents.

“We hope to bring in the grandchildren of people who were here years ago,” Wood said.

Membership at the Rossville Community Center is open to anyone who lives in the area or has original family ties.

If you're interested in joining the center, attend one of the meetings held the first Monday of each month at 6 p.m. Board members prepare the meals and charge $7 a plate. If you plan to attend a meeting and eat dinner, call a board member so enough food can be prepared. Cooks normally plan for 30 to 35 people.

The building can be rented for birthday parties, anniversaries, class or family reunions, wedding receptions and other events. There are two small rooms and the grand room with a stage that can be used. The kitchen area has not been renovated. No alcoholic beverages are allowed on the premises. If you'd like to know more about renting the building, call 482-3089 and leave a message.

“The building is definitely in a lot better condition than it was and the board is trying to make more and more improvements,” Gibson said.

The Rossville Community Center has been featured in South Carolina Living, a publication by the electric cooperatives of South Carolina.

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