Tuesday, May 06, 2014

TOP STORY >> Recycling center gets new name

Managing editor

Jacksonville’s quintessential volunteer and volunteer extraordinaire, Ron Newport, was honored last week when city fathers named the recycling education park on Marshall Road in his honor.

Newport, who will be 84 in July, is Jacksonville’s father of recycling.

“Ron was instrumental in getting recycling up and going in Jacksonville,” Jim Durham, the city’s director of administration said.

The recycling effort seemed to be a natural offspring to Newport’s work with Keep Jacksonville Beautiful, which he founded.

Of having the recycling park named in his honor, Newport said, “I was really, really thrilled. It was a total surprise.”

“It was my concept,” said Newport, who began dreaming of and planning the recycling complex in 2006. Newport, a native of Kentucky, moved here with his wife, a Hot Springs native, in 1997 when he retired. The couple celebrate their 64th wedding anniversary May 9.

Newport talks up Jacksonville in a big way, “Looking into the future,” he says, “five years from now, Jacksonville is coming into its own. Look at what we’ve got, the shooting range on Graham Road, the land at I-440. The mayor is low key, but he surrounds himself with good, supportive people.”

Newport’s ‘concept’ evolved into a full-fledged center replete with a sculpture-filled educational park with stations of signs marking the basic materials and tenets of recycling — plastic, paper and cardboard, rubber, electronics, household chemicals, yard waste and aluminum.

“When recycling began here, it was a little shack. Now there are 15 big containers plus drive through recycling during weekdays,” Newport said. “There has been a tremendous increase in visitors,” he said pointing out the educational programs for visiting school children.

While he was being interviewed for this article at the recycling center last week, 150 children were visiting from Bayou Meto Elementary School and taking an entertaining, educational tour. It was just one of many such tours.

Newport is particularly proud of the whimsical sculptures dotting the park, a family of giraffes from recycled metal — park mascots Scrappy, ScrapAnnie and little Scrappy.

The trio, donated by the late Lonnie Turner of Ozark, were named by a class of first graders from Dupree Elementary in Jacksonville. A graceful metal Swan, reminiscent of Leda and her swan, by Fenton Shaw of Conway, and a joyful singing twosome named Glee, dot more of the landscape.

Newport has a long history in community volunteerism and stewardship. He recruited members for Keep Jacksonville Beautiful, was a long-time volunteer at the Jacksonville Senior Center, was a finalist for AARP’s volunteer of the year in 2012, was a delegate for CareLink in the last biennial Silver-Haired Legislature and was named an Outstanding Citizen of Arkansas by Gov. Mike Beebe.

Recently, he has been spearheading the Jacksonville Library’s acquisition of an $80,000 piece of metal sculpture in a collaboration with Arkansas artist Alice Guffey Miller of Monticello and Marvin Lindley’s Jacksonville High School students. The piece is expected to be completed next year, according to Newport, who was also instrumental in twin eagle sculptures, which have been placed at city hall and the police and public safety building on Marshall Road.

Getting back to Keep Jacksonville Beautiful, New-port said, “I was asked to put together a package and the timing was perfect. The city council, advertising and promotions commission, even code enforcement all picked up and came together. The Jacksonville Garden Club has been a long-time supporter.”

He also mentioned support from Alderman Bill Howard, former Alderman Bob Stroud, former Rep. Mike Wilson, and Donnie Farmer, the group’s treasurer.

Of Newport, Wilson said in an email, “I see his work and ‘fingerprints’ all over town, particularly the murals. I would observe that his work has been extremely dedicated and pursued for the benefit of all of us, pretty much by himself. We’re lucky to have a guy with such a good eye for the arts, and our community is better for his efforts.”

Reiterating those comments was Mayor Gary Fletcher, “It was under his leadership that Keep Jacksonville Beautiful took off expanding and developing from picking up litter to art and culture we now see around the city. I can’t think of anyone so worthy to recognize and pay tribute to than Ron Newport and I want his legacy to carry on for decades to inspire others.

“Those who truly make the greatest contributions and impact in our society many times are everyday citizens following their passion. They want the world to be a better place than they found it. That’s Ron Newport,” the mayor added.