Johnny Cash memorial in the maing at Dyess

Wednesday, February 1, 2006
Dyess Mayor Larry Sims meets with historians James Huff, Melton Emery, Jerald Burns, Everett Henson AJ Henson, and Carl Bailey. (Town Crier photo/Nan Snider)

Townspeople and historians met at Dyess city hall on Friday to establish a Dyess-Johnny Cash Memorial and make plans for a year of celebrations and fundraisers.

"We have been dreaming about paying tribute to Johnny Cash and the Dyess Colony and felt this was the year to do it with the release of the hit movie Walk The Line," said Dyess Mayor Larry Sims. "There is a lot of interest in Dyess right now, and the time is right to put Dyess on the map again. We have visitors drop by from all across the United States and have had very little to show them, to reveal the rich heritage of this town and the Cash family.

"A small group of townspeople met last week and decided to form a committee to pursue our dream of having a museum, library and city hall all located in the same building, with a special emphasis on Johnny Cash. We contacted area historians and people we knew were interested in helping get the project defined and underway. In our meeting on Friday we voted to make 2006 a special year and kick-off gatherings and fundraisers to raise money for the multipurpose structure."

The first site under consideration for the memorial is the old Dyess Colony administration building, built in 1936, when the colony was first established. The building was at the center of town with a colony commissary on the south side and a shop and cafe on the north, which was later replaced by a theater. The front facade of the theater still remains intact.

The administration building is owned by Charlie Stone. He is in the process of having the building appraised so the committee can consider the feasibility of investing in the renovation for the new city hall, library and memorial building. The purchase of the administration building will depend on the appraisal price. The second choice for housing the offices will be the old Dyess Elementary School building.

The commemorative plaque honoring W.R. Dyess sits in the landscaped semicircle in front of the administration building.

W.R. Dyess had just completed arrangements for funds to keep the rural schools open, and was returning from a trip to Washington, D.C., when he was killed in an airplane crash on Jan. 14, 1936. Dyess had submitted the original plans for the colony to national E.R.A administrators, securing federal funds to form Dyess Colony. He served as administrator of the Works Progress Administration at Dyess Colony.

"Our city was named after Dyess for his valiant efforts in working to establish the colony project," Everett Henson said. "All of us who lived here were like a close family, and still are. We have taken pride that Johnny Cash is from here, along with many other members of the Cash family that have such great musical talents. We have wanted to pay tribute to the city of Dyess and to Johnny Cash for years, and this just might be the year to get it underway."

"Mrs. Elenor Roosevelt came to visit Dyess Colony in 1936," A.J. Henson said. "She had driven to Memphis in her own car and drove out to see the colony. She shook hands with about 2,500 people that day and went to the cafe and ate with the Bob Holland family. We were so pleased our town had gained national attention. We have done that again with the fame of Johnny Cash and the movie."

A tentative date of July 8-9 has been set for a special Dyess school reunion, with emphasis on fund-raising events for the memorial.

"We talked with Raymond Covey, with USDA Rural Development, and he told us of the possibility of the town applying for the Community Financing Program," Sims said. "This program offers loans and grants to rural areas, with more money available in loans and grants. The grant program guidelines require a certain eligible amount per city, and Dyess would be 35 percent grant eligible. This means if our project costs $100,000, we would be eligible for a grant up to a maximum of $35,000. This could be a great help."

"We are hoping that Tommy Cash, Johnny's brother, can come and host a musical concert fundraiser to benefit the memorial," A.J. Henson said. "Tommy is a very talented singer and songwriter, in his own right, and has a beautiful voice. He has a busy schedule, but we plan to make every effort to work in a date for him to come here and help us with our project."

"We all have fond and often funny stories to tell about Johnny Cash," said childhood friend James Huff. "We all walked these roads together, went to school together and shared each others happy moments and sad moments. We will all be able to take pleasure in this memorial and have a place to display collections we have been holding on to for a lifetime."

"The Hensons lived just across the road from the Cash family," Everett Henson said. "He is quick to point out on an old city map where their houses were, when they all lived uptown. We weren't across the street, as there were no streets, they were just roads back then. We were self contained here in Dyess and had everything we needed. There was a hospital to the southwest, the school to the northeast of the circle, a commissary, a cotton gin, a canning building where ladies came to can their garden produce."

"I recall going to the Dyess Colony Hospital to have my tonsils taken out when I was just 10 years old," Mary Slack said. "I had all the confidence in the world I was in the best place ever for the surgery. We had such pride in our town and the farming community. We were especially proud when one of our friends made good out in the world."

"I spent a lot of time over at the Ray Cash house," Carl Bailey said. "Mrs. Cash sure knew how to keep us in line, as she had four boys of her own. She would say 'boys' real loud and firm and we stopped in our tracks. There were seven siblings in the Ray Cash family, which included, Roy, Jack, J.R. (Johnny), Tommy, Louise, Reba and Joann. The kids were good students and went to church regularly. They took part in sports and town activities. Most of all they were all hard workers. The music part was just an extra, a gift."

"I am not from Dyess, but my husband Don was," Patsy McClain said. "I know how much this memorial will mean to you. After John Grisham's "A Painted House" was filmed in Lepanto, we formed a Lepanto Area Citizens for Progress Committee and were able to secure the movie homestead and place it on a permanent location as a tourist attraction. We are all a part of the Delta byways and can help one another. Your memorial will be a great tourist attraction too, as people are so interested in Johnny Cash."

"We hope to establish a city website soon," Mayor Sims said. "Woody Atkinson has offered to help us with that. We just have to get the word out about Dyess and this memorial."

Jerald Burns of Palistine and Melton Emery of Caraway worked as extras and prop suppliers for the "Walk the Line" movie and agreed to serve on the memorial committee and help with organisation and fund raising.

"We are members of the Painted House group and have been just where you all are right now," Burns said. "You may consider printing tee shirts for the school reunion promoting the memorial. People always like having something to take home with them."

Memorial committee members consist of Mayor Larry Sims, chairman; Lisa Wroten, secretary/recorder/treasurer; A.J. Henson and Tommy Cash, public relations officers; other members, O.B. Gladden, J.E. Huff, and Carl Bailey, and other valuable volunteers.

Dyess historian Robert Henson summed up the feelings of residents in his rendition of "You might be from Dyess, Ark.....if

You ever heard town refered to as "Center."

You can name everyone you graduated with.

You know what pump water tastes like.

You have gone to an Owl Show.

Know what "CCC" means.

You knew every dog in town by name.

You have ever laid by a crop.

You could see a serial, cartoon, newsreel and feature movie, get a Coke, popcorn and a candy bar for 25 cents.

Your school let out for funerals.

You could go to school bare foot in the summer.

Ever went skinny dipping in the blue hole.

You drag "the Circle."

Ever lost a shoe in the gumbo.

You ever rode a cow.

You remember crowding around the radio for "The Lone Ranger" or "The Shadow Knows."

You remember when dinner was lunch and supper was dinner.

Remember cow itch vines and Johnson grass.

Remember sleeping in unheated bedrooms.

You ever had a quilting frame suspended from your ceiling.

Had a car that you always had to push to get started.

You remember doctors that made house calls.

Ever drank cool water from a gallon glass jug wrapped with burlap while standing in a cotton patch.

Vacation meant going to see relatives.

Everybody in town either waves at you or tips their hat.

Ever bathed in a number 3 wash tub on the back porch.

You laugh because you remember it all and wish just for an hour you could go back to the Dyess you grew up with. Perhaps we can.

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