By a beautiful fall Wednesday morning, the day of 264e The anniversary of the United States Marine Corps and the eve of Veterans Day, the grand opening ceremony for new Sgt. Elga Lee Roberts Jefferson County Veterans Service Office was underway.
Jefferson County Judge Gerald Robinson had a vision when he realized years ago that a new building was needed.
âIn the old building it was a dilapidated facility as the bathrooms and the air conditioning and heating weren’t working most of the time,â Robinson said. “Half the time the internet was down, which was crucial for the office and the building just didn’t allow us to serve our veterans the way they should.”
With more than 4,000 veterans in Jefferson County alone, Robinson said he wanted to honor them by providing them with a safe haven. At the time he didn’t know how it would be done, but he said he prayed about it and God answered.
âI had the opportunity to meet the guys from P3,â Robinson said, mentioning a real estate development company. Through this meeting, he discovered a private government partnership through which the county could rent buildings.
As the crowd of 200 grew with city, county and state dignitaries as well as veterans, family and friends, their attention was drawn to the 5,191 square foot building at 114 S. State St. named after the late Sergeant Roberts, a Veteran of Operation Desert Storm.
The ceremony began with the Watson Chapel High School JROTC Flag Detail Team raising the flag and the moving performance of the national anthem by Anthony Royal. Reverend Steven E. King, pastor of St. Paul Baptist Missionary Church, blessed the occasion with prayer.
The mistress of ceremonies was Michelle Harleston, a retired former US Air Force actress, model and master sergeant who resides at Pine Bluff. Attorney General Leslie Rutledge greeted the crowd and paid tribute to the veterans.
âI know the kind of injury Pine Bluff has,â she said. “I also know it’s because of this injury and the people of Jefferson County are the reason we stand in front of this beautiful building today to give back.”
Robinson, a veteran himself, was overwhelmed with the joy and happiness to see his vision come to fruition.
âThis day represents a memorial and dedication to the men and women who have had a great impact in all of our lives,â he said. “This building represents partnership, collaboration and execution.”
Roberts and Robinson were good friends. They were members of the same unit located at Pine Bluff and served together in Operation Desert Storm.
“Upon his return from foreign soil and upon his return home, his life was cut short,” Robinson said of Roberts. “What better way to remember him than by giving him a building for his legacy.”
The facility also honors veterans with a memorial in the inner courtyard recognizing all of the Arkansas soldiers who gave their lives in a war and museum space named after former county sheriff and veteran Edward “Boe” Fountain.
âThis building is recognition for those who have served our country, our county and our city and it shows that we respect you,â said Robinson. “This building is in the service of veterans, a museum to remember our past and a memorial to those who made the ultimate sacrifice.”
Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington recounted on October 5, 2020, when the vision was just a heap of dirt as they gathered for the groundbreaking ceremony.
âJudge Robinson and the Quorum Court have shown us how to run cases quickly,â Washington said. âWe know this would not have been possible without the partnership and work of the Quorum Court and the group behind this building, the P3 Group.
Washington said the installation will proudly stand at Pine Bluff for many years to come as an expression of gratitude.
âOften our veterans seem to be neglected, our veterans often seem underserved,â she said. “It will change and it will give them recognition, this building will give them appreciation, and it will provide the services that were long overdue.”
Dee Brown is the CEO of P3 Group, the country’s largest developer of minority public-private partnerships. Brown said they were happy to have been the developer for designing, building and funding the project.
âToday is not only a big day for Jefferson County, Pine Bluff, it is a big day for the state of Arkansas and should serve as a beacon of hope for communities around the world as well. who are underserved and have not been able to provide resources and facilities, âsaid Brown, noting that great things can happen when the public and private sectors combine their resources.
Brown said 85% of the project was managed by local contractors and suppliers.
âIt’s something that we strive to achieve on every project – leaving the dollars in the community so that those dollars can be reinvested and help the community grow,â Brown said. “I have no doubts that this project will serve as a catalyst for other projects in this city, this community and this county.”
Simmons Bank Regional Community Chairman Daniel Robinson said that when Simmons Bank was approached with the opportunity to support the community, especially their veterans, they knew they wanted to be involved.
âSimmons Bank is honored to provide philanthropic support for the health and well-being of our Veterans,â said Robinson. âWe believe in a philosophy of the best together and by working with each other we provide a dedicated space to provide service and honor our Veterans who have dedicated their lives to serving our country. “
Colonel Patrick S. Daulton, Pine Bluff Dockyard Commander, was the keynote speaker who spoke about the soldiering profession that is “inherently dangerous” and how a young person with a bright future can come back under such circumstances. bad and disastrous mentally, physically and emotionally.
âYears and decades of constant deployment and training come at a cost,â said Daulton, adding who said soldiers learn to perpetuate fear, stress and anxiety. “The men and women in the military and the veterans are doing absolutely amazing things, but it is in the short term that ends up having a price to pay.”
Daulton said that is why the Bureau of Veterans Services is important, because it will provide all the help veterans may need.
âYou step into the service and learn to immensely reserve the physical, moral and spiritual strength to help you get through the present, but all the time you are developing interest in your body, your legs and your hips, accumulating every day, âDaulton mentioned. “The good works that are going to take place within these walls are there for that purpose – for the veterans and for the surviving members of their families.”
May Catherine White Neal, Roberts’ only sister, spoke on behalf of the family. More than 30 family members showed up for the historic occasion, including Roberts’ daughter, grandson and brothers.
âIt is a pleasure and a sadness in my heart to talk about my brother after 30 years,â she said. “What a real honor to be at the inauguration of a building that bears his name.”
Neal said his brother loved his community and his country. He also worked for the Arkansas Police Department and Correctional Service.
Neal said she was surprised a year ago when she found out the building would be named after her brother and seeing the building was heartbreaking.
“He has been gone for 30 years, but now his unborn family members will be able to walk around and say he was their parent,” she said. “I just wish he could be here to see it.”
The family of the sergeant. Elga Lee Roberts celebrates the grand opening of the Jefferson County Office of Veterans Services named in her honor in the presence of Jefferson County Judge Gerald Robinson and Dee Brown of the P3 Group. (Pine Bluff Commercial / Eplunus Colvin)