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Johnny Cash Boyhood Home steering committee meets to assess project progression


JONESBORO, Ark.– Members of the Arkansas Steering Committee of the Johnny Cash Boyhood Hometown Project met last week in Dyess, Ark., to discuss progress to date on the Dyess Colony restoration, fundraising status, furnishings needed for the Johnny Cash Boyhood Home and implementation of a strategic plan for economic and entrepreneurial development in the Mississippi County region.  

Under the supervision of Arkansas State University, the Dyess agricultural resettlement colony, established during the 1930s as part of the New Deal, is being resurrected and restored. Dr. Ruth Hawkins, director of Arkansas Heritage Sites, is guiding the project that, as a tourist attraction, should bolster the community and its economy.

Prior to the meeting in Dyess, the committee members toured the administration building and the Johnny Cash boyhood home. Participants included Mike and Marsha Gibson (committee co-chairs), Dr. Deidra Hudson, Derek Bowman, Kyle Cooper, Dr. Len Frey, Elista Istre, Moriah Istre, Glen Williams, Debbie Williams Plyler, Robert Williams, Mary Slack, Al Stoverink, David Handwork, Dyess Mayor Larry Sims, Charles Stoner, Aaron Ruby, J.E. Huff, Helen Huff, Jamie Darling, Beth Wiedower, Paula Miles, Christy Valentine and Dr. Hawkins.

“The resurrection and restoration of the Dyess Colony will inject enthusiasm and interest in Mississippi County,” said Mike Gibson of Osceola who serves as vice chair of ASU’s Board of Trustees. “The projected economic impact and generation of new jobs, as well as an increase in tourism, will pump dollars into the region.”

Mayor Sims indicated that Dyess has made significant progress in developing the necessary infrastructure for visitors, including a new water system, community clean-up, improvements to the community center, and entertainment programs and activities for the increasing number of tour groups already coming to Dyess.  Visitorship is expected to increase to approximately 30,000 annually after the Johnny Cash boyhood home opens.     

“The restoration of the Johnny Cash boyhood home is nearing completion and is beginning to look like the original home,” said Hawkins. “With the valuable help of Johnny Cash’s brother, Tommy, and his sister Joanne, we are now working to provide the necessary furnishings to the home to make it look like it did when the Cash family lived in it.”

Both Cash siblings have closely followed the restoration project and described the furnishings, from tables and kerosene lamps to linoleum and feed sack curtains.

However, the restoration project is more than the Cash home. The historic administration building at the agricultural resettlement colony will house museum exhibits, and the former theater will be rebuilt as a visitor and welcome center.  

ASU recently received a challenge grant of $500,000 from the National Endowment for the Humanities to assist in restoring and reconstructing the colony buildings, bringing the total raised to date for the $3.2 million project to $1.87 million.   

Other major funding has come from the Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resources Council and the Johnny Cash Music Festival that has been held on the Arkansas State campus the last two years. Cash’s daughter, Rosanne, and his son, John Carter, along with promoter Bill Carter, have spearheaded those efforts by inviting friends in the music industry to participate and perform in the two concerts. Those include Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, George Jones, Dierks Bentley, The Civil Wars, and more, including members of the Cash family.