By Steve Fellers
One by one, nine Group Living Inc. clients approached the microphone, said a few words of thanks, and were then escorted to a ribbon stretched among nine plants prepared for hanging. Each client then cut a piece of the ribbon, accepted a plant, and walked to his or her new condominium to hang the plant.
The symbolic gesture brought an end to the grand opening ceremonies at Lucas Gardens in Arkadelphia Friday afternoon.
Lucas Gardens is a 10-unit condominium complex for Clark County residents with developmental disabilities. The nine new homeowners will have an on-site supervisor to assist them.
A large crowd braved the mid-afternoon heat to witness the official opening and dedication of the facility on South 7th Street.
Former U.S. Sen. Dale Bumpers was the ceremony’s guest speaker. He praised the efforts of Group Living and its director, Jane Lucas. “Jane, your work here is indescribable,” he said.
“All people are entitled to be treated with dignity,” Bumpers said, in regard to the clients. “It’s (Lucas Gardens) a real tribute to you and your community.”
Bumpers served two terms as Arkansas’ governor, and then served four terms as a Democratic U.S. senator. He joined the celebration 25 years ago when Group Living Inc.’s first group-living residence was opened in Arkadelphia.
The ceremony began with a the unveiling of a portrait of Frances McLean, the late Group-Living co-founder. Artist Rita Earles joined Hattie Janek, Lucas and Bumpers for the unveiling.
Janek paid tribute to McLean. “We all miss her wisdom and humor,” she said.
Following a performance by the gospel singing group “A Fellowship,” Don Egger explained how the facility got its name. He stressed that Lucas “didn’t know a thing” about plans to name it in her honor. “We got the ball rolling and everyone agreed,” he said. “The time to honor Jane is long overdue.”
Egger has a son who is a Group Living Inc. client.
Project developer Dennis Mills acknowledged all involved in the planning of the facility, then a congratulatory letter from former President Bill Clinton was read.
After Bumpers talked, officials cut a ribbon officially opening Lucas Gardens. Many visitors remained to tour the facilities.
“This is beyond our wildest imagination,” said Penny Ferguson, legal guardian to 41-year-old Dan Northern, a new Lucas Gardens homeowner. “Dan was at my house on moving day. When I reminded him that he would soon be moving into Lucas Gardens, he clapped his hands and said, ‘Yes. And my buddies are moving in too.’ This is so wonderful for him.”
The nine new homeowners are: Northern, Reggie Peacock, Kathy Smith, Gary Egger, Jimmy Shaw, Sammy Landers, Randy Lee, Donna Lee and Marsha Halbert.
Lucas Gardens also includes a community building, which includes a kitchen, bathroom and a large open area. A plaque will be placed on the community building, commemorating the dedicaton of the complex in honor of Lucas.