- Last Updated on 05:19 PM 10/07/12
- BY The Gazette-Virginian
The Banister, Staunton River and Sunnyside Missionary Baptist Center Board of Directors held its Founder’s Day service Saturday afternoon at the Meadville Center.
During the service, a brief history of the Banister, Staunton River and Sunnyside Missionary Baptist Center was highlighted starting with its original formation in the late 1970s.
Often referred to as the Meadville Center, the center was made possible after the late Professor Caleb Robinson, a native of Comfort Hill in Jamaica, West Indies, donated the land.
Steadfast efforts of many persons who made up The Halifax and Pittsylvania Religious Association, which were created for the purpose of continuing the affairs of the McKinley, Halifax and Pittsylvania Association, contributed to the center’s formation.
Just prior to his death, Robinson called together some area religious leaders, including local pastor and minister, the late Rev. E. G. Williams, and told them he was donating 11 acres of land in the Meadville community of Halifax County across from New Zion Baptist Church, to the counties of Halifax and Pittsylvania for the purpose of having an educational/recreational building constructed.
Following Robinson’s death, a deed was prepared in the name of the three African-American Baptist Associations, namely, Banister, Staunton River and Sunnyside.
Plans to carry out Robinson’s wishes began to take shape when a group of ministers and other Halifax-Pittsylvania leaders met, organized and petitioned the State Corporation Commission of Virginia for Incorporation.
The organization was chartered as a corporation, and a certificate was issued on Sept. 16, 1975 in the name of The Halifax-Pittsylvania Counties Educational and Recreational Organization, Incorporated, better known as the Meadville Center.
Williams was elected first president of the board of directors.
Next the board of directors decided that a building should be erected, about 90 feet by 50 feet to accommodate 400 to 500 people.
The board voted to apply for a loan with Fidelity National Bank of Halifax in the amount of $90,000, with a repayment plan of $11,000 to be paid each November.
The board appointed a building committee, a finance committee and a program committee.
A groundbreaking ceremony for the beginning of construction took place on May 1, 1977, and the initial work on the building began shortly thereafter.
Progress on the building continued, with African-American brick-layers from both Halifax and Pittsylvania counties volunteering to do much of the masonry work.
The building was finally completed in June 1978 and was dedicated in ceremonies held on Sept. 10, 1978 with Dr. Martin Luther King Sr. of Atlanta, Ga., father of slain civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., as featured speaker.
Several groups or organizations were put together in an effort to raise funds to assist in the repayment of the loan. The Save the Children was a loyal supporter of the project.
Thanks to donations and the community, each yearly payment deadline was met. The first board of directors met on the third Saturday of each month, and members made personal donations in an effort to keep the lights on, the building heated or cooled and to pay the telephone bill.
The Rev. Williams remained as the board of directors president until his resignation on Feb. 24, 1979. Upon receipt of Williams’ resignation, the board, with a unanimous vote, immediately elected Lazarus Bates as its new president. The board, under the leadership of Bates, along with the Save the Children, the Tri‑County Ensemble, the Recreation Committee and many, many others struggled to make the yearly payment.
Then the late Dr. H. R. Surgeon, moderator of the Sunnyside Association and pastor of the Greater Brandon Chapel Baptist Church of Alton, called the moderators of the other two associations together concerning the outstanding debt on the center properly.
With Dr. Surgeon’s insistence and persuasion, the three moderators devised a plan whereby all 64 churches in the Banister, Staunton River and Sunnyside Missionary Baptist Associations would assume the responsibility for completing or paying off the remaining indebtedness on the loan, which amounted to each church in the three associations paying a sum of $809.96. This proposal was finally accepted and signed in July 1989.
The loan was finally retired or cleared and a “note-burning” ceremony or service was held at the center on Nov. 16, 1991 with Bates and the late Rev. Pink P. Wimbish, moderator of the Banister Association, the Rev. Robert P. King, moderator of the Staunton River Association, and Dr. H.R. Surgeon, moderator of the Sunnyside Association, participating.
The guest speaker for the occasion was the Rev. Haywood Robinson, pastor of Diamond Hill Baptist Church of Lynchburg.
A few weeks following the note burning ceremony, a new board of directors was selected comprised of 12 members; four from each of the three associations, and the late Rev. James L. Thomas, pastor of the Great Dan River Bethel Missionary Baptist Church. The Rev. Thomas remained as president until his untimely death.
The new board drew up a constitution and a set of by‑laws by which the building was to be governed.
The name of the corporation was changed to Banister, Staunton River and Sunnyside Missionary Baptist Center, Incorporated.
The Articles of Corporation were completed and approved on July 17, 1993.
The Rev. Michael Williams was appointed program committee chairman, and Deacon Harvey Dillard was selected as the director.