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saving the kays house
Story by Audrey Hanes, Photo by Amy Long

Although continued change and forward progression are behind much of Arkansas State University’s impressive growth and development, there are those who think that retaining and respecting the school’s history is just as important, starting with the historic home of ASU’s first president, Victor C. Kays, which is still standing on the Jonesboro campus.

Although the home was originally slated to be razed prior to the construction of the university’s new Sorority Row, the Save the Kays House campaign continues to gather momentum under the leadership of Dr. Clyde A. Milner and his enthusiastic steering committee. The house currently sits along Aggie Road, situated among the school’s five sorority houses.

“We should recall the wise saying, ‘If we don’t respect our history, we have no future,’” said Milner, a history professor at ASU who also serves as director of the Jonesboro campus’ Ph.D. program in Heritage Studies. “V.C. Kays is the founding president of what is now Arkansas State University and served in that role for 33 years. During the Great Depression, when the Arkansas legislature wanted to close the college, Kays, with the help of U.S. Senator Hattie Caraway … saved Arkansas State.

“A demonstration of his faith in the future of Arkansas State is the fact that in 1936, he paid for the construction of his own presidential home, the Kays House. It’s a beautiful, well-built, mock-Tudor structure with great historical significance not only for ASU, but for Jonesboro and the state of Arkansas.”
The university originally bought the house in 2004 to use as temporary faculty housing. Dan Howard, who was serving as ASU’s interim chancellor at the time, announced in May 2012 that the construction of on-campus sorority houses would require the removal of 19 older homes, including the historic former home of Kays. The announcement was met with protests from many faculty members, alumni and preservationists. In response, current Chancellor Dr. Tim Hudson and ASU System President Dr. Charles Welch agreed to spare the house for a period of time to allow fundraisers to prove that there was enough support to restore the home.

“Chancellor Hudson is very supportive,” said Milner. “We were given a year to demonstrate broad-based support and worthwhile plans for the Kays House; that has been done.”

Milner says that great progress has already been made when it comes to the house’s restoration. Although the total cost to stabilize and recondition the Kays House is estimated at upwards of $500,000, more than $55,000 in individual pledges has already been raised in coordination with the Office of University Advancement.

Paula Miles, the assistant director of Arkansas State University Heritage Sites and Arkansas Delta Byways and a vital member of the 35-person steering committee, has overseen the group’s recent mailing campaign to more than 6,000 alumni. She is also very involved with the restoration itself.

“Committee members met with facilities management personnel to do a general walkthrough of the grounds and house,” said Miles of the progress. “The exterior of the house was painted.  The house had one coat of very heavy paint and it was easily matched.  The window screens were repaired.  The gutters were removed but are stored in the basement for repair.  The windows were glazed and painted.  Three damaged or dead trees were removed, and all other trees were shaped.  The broken and uneven steps were removed and replaced to match the steps of the new sorority houses.  The original sidewalk was preserved.  A sprinkler system was installed, and all new sod was put down.”

She also noted that the interior of the home will be addressed at a later date. As it stands today, the house has been tested and is free of asbestos, the floors are in excellent shape, the modern kitchen has been removed and many of the original fixtures and details of the house are still there. Beautiful woodwork and a very solid staircase still exist, and custom interior shutters that had been removed were found in the attic. There is an original soapstone sink in the basement, and although the basement had some mildew, it has been removed and has not reappeared since uncovering the window wells on the outside.

If saved, the home will serve a wide variety of purposes for ASU students, faculty and visitors. The main floor will include a visitors’ center for Arkansas Heritage Sites with a special display dedicated to V. C. Kays. The large main room adjacent to the solarium also would be available to the public for gatherings, scholarly presentations, meetings, social events and other special occasions. The second floor of the house will be used for the offices of the Heritage Studies Ph.D. Program, the Arkansas Heritage Sites and Arkansas Delta Byways, as well as for meeting and project rooms. These offices would be moved from their current location on the seventh floor of Dean B. Ellis Library, thus freeing space needed for expansion of the University Archives. Plans state that the basement will be used as offices for graduate assistants in the Heritage Studies Ph.D. Program and for faculty members specializing in historic preservation who work for Arkansas Heritage Sites.

Hudson and his wife have already made pledges to save the Kays house, as have former Chancellor and System President Robert Potts. The Office of Alumni Affairs and the Office of University Advancement have played vital roles in the campaign, as well.

“Dr. Hudson sees the importance of heritage – in Arkansas, in the community and right here on our campus,” said Miles. “He is very supportive of our heritage preservation projects. The Kays house is one of them.”

“Arkansas State University has national and international recognition for the work of Dr. Ruth Hawkins and the success of our four off-campus Arkansas Heritage Sites at Piggott, Dyess, Tyronza and Lakeport Village,” added Milner.

The V.C. Kays House is our chance to have a significant heritage site on our own campus that will celebrate the history of Arkansas State University.”

For more information, email Milner at cmilner@astate.edu or visit astate.edu for a pledge form.

ASU Welcomes Sorority Row
By Audrey Hanes and Sarah Cone

Last month, members and alumnae of Arkansas State University’s sororities officially welcomed the much-needed addition of five new two-story houses on what is now Arkansas State University’s Sorority Row.

Although A-State fraternities have had houses on the Jonesboro campus for several decades, this is the first time sorority houses have been constructed on campus. Traditionally, women were housed in University Hall but have outgrown those facilities in the recent years. The houses of Delta Zeta, Zeta Tau Alpha, Chi Omega, Alpha Gamma Delta, and Alpha Omicron Pi are now set along Aggie Road. Twenty sorority women currently live in each home, and many more of the chapters’ members are enjoying using the public spaces on a daily basis.

“The homes were built specifically to meet the needs of the chapter women and offer a residence, public meeting space and a large chapter room,” said Director of Student Development and Leadership Martha Spack.

Spack says the new houses have also increased interest in Greek life at the university.

“Over the past several weeks, each chapter has been hosting recruitment practice, meetings for members, and functions for alumni in an effort to strengthen sisterhood,” she said. “The women are raving about the space and the new opportunities the houses are allowing the women to explore. This addition not only impacted campus beautification, but also improves the image of sorority life on campus.

“There was a surge of interest for sorority recruitment this year. We have a record number of women participants and expect to announce noteworthy new member classes for the five sororities.”

As part of ASU homecoming celebration activities, a formal ribbon cutting and grand opening ceremonies will be held on Oct. 12. For more information, visit astate.edu/greeklife.