Central Louisiana’s Red Cross celebrates opening of new facilities

By Bill Sumrall
Everything Cenla

More than 70 people attended Thursday’s ribbon-cutting for the grand opening of the newly renovated Red Cross of Central Louisiana.

The Red Cross has relocated from England Airpark to the old Cotton Brothers Bakery building at the corner of Bolton Avenue and Elliott Street in Alexandria.

“This is truly an historic moment for the Red Cross,” said Gil McKee, chairman of the board of the organization.

“This is a true community building. We built it to be a community building, we want y’all back for more than just the grand opening,” McKee said.

Prior to the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Leann Murphy, CEO of the Cenla chapter of the American Red Cross, introduced Gene Cotton, the son of the original builder, and also introduced Stephen Owen and James Moody, the grandsons of Morgan Walker, who developed the Continental Trailways bus line also once located there.

Gene Cotton said the brothers who established the bakery hauled bread to those in Jena and Jonesville marooned by the 1927 flood, little realizing that more than 80 years later their bakery would become a disaster response center.

“I know they’re looking down with a smile on their face today and welcoming all of y’all here today for this opening, and I thank everybody who had anything to do with it, it’s a wonderful job,” Cotton said.
As James Moody stood by silently, Stephen Owen spoke for the Morgan Walker family about the establishment of the Continental Trailways bus line.

“This building represents a long life of service from the Cottons to the Walkers and now one of the greatest organizations in the world, the American Red Cross. It is with great honor, gratitude and pride that we stand here today and see the magnificent accomplishment,” Owen said.

Leann Murphy noted other well-known families and their foundations involved in reviving the site as a Red Cross center.

“This has tied probably more of the historic families of Central Louisiana together into a single project than any project that’s gone before it,” Murphy said.

“I would take a minute to try and thank everybody but I just cannot even begin to even name all the families that had a role in this,” Murphy said.

“So please know that, for whatever role you had in this, as a donor, as a volunteer, as a board member in the past … you’ve helped us put back together a building that never should have been lost and we’re so proud to be able to restore it,” Murphy said.

“Without us, though, this is just a building, it’s just a shell — it’s only when you and I join together and we put our resources and our expertise into it that this becomes the American Red Cross, so that we can help our neighbor, whether it’s down the street, across the country or around the world,” Murphy said.

Board members current and past then participated in the ribbon-cutting itself.
Afterward, Alexandria City Council President Roosevelt Johnson said that he thinks this is great for our region and Central Louisiana to see the Red Cross move into the newly renovated facility.

“This is a great expansion for this area, for the Bolton Avenue corridor — that’s something that I’m proud of,” Johnson said, also speaking as a past Red Cross board member.

Johnson also lauded an opening held earlier for the residential and commercial development at the old Dominique-Miller Livestock Market and the reopening of the historic Fire Station Number Four at Lee Street and Masonic Drive.

Alexandria Mayor Jacques Roy and Pineville Mayor Clarence Fields also attended the ceremony, along with several members of their respective city councils, including Harry Silver and Kevin Dorn.

Connie Augustine, who led Cenla’s Red Cross from 1988 to 2004, said the renovation was “a dream come true.”

“It’s been needed for a long time and we’re just so thankful that all of the right things came in place at the right time with the right leader, Leann (Murphy) was able to pull it all together, and a great board of directors and volunteers in the community to support her in that effort, as they’ve always done in supporting the Red Cross throughout the years,” Augustine said.

Glenda Stock, who served on the Red Cross board as chair for six years, said anytime an organization takes over a “forgotten” building, “needless to say, there’s an incredible amount of renovation to take place.”

Stock credited Steve Ayers and Petron LLC with taking on the renovation task “at zero plus cost” to allow the project to be affordable. The Canadian Red Cross and Magna Corporation also received credit for launching the renovation by donating $1.5 million.

In addition, Stock said this marks the beginning of revitalizing Bolton Avenue. “We’re proud to kind of be the pioneer, leading edge of, really, the SPARC program,” Stock said.

Sonya Wiley-Gremillion, director of the Rapides Parish 911 Center and Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, said, “The facility is outstanding, the historical value of it but then the services the Red Cross is going to be able to provide, just increases the value of it exponentially.”

Wiley-Gremillion said that, what she’s seen of the facility, it appears a lot of thought went into the layout and the floor plan, adding that it is truly “service to client concept at its best.”

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