Carver Recreation Center celebrating 60 years of service to the community

Sue Guinn Legg • Aug 11, 2018 at 9:30 PM

Carver Recreation Center is preparing to celebrate its 60th year of service to the community with a weeklong series of anniversary events planned for Sept. 16-22.

Center Director Herb Greenlee, whose connection to the rec center predates the 1958 construction of its first building, shared the history of the center and invited the community to join in the celebration of its growth.

Before the first Carver Recreation Center building was built on property donated to by Gump family for a city park, organized recreational opportunities for residents of the surrounding neighborhoods were limited to a small building in the Carver Housing Development. Known as “the Little Rec Center," the building’s offered a billiards table and little else.

The original Carver Recreation Center was a two-story, 16,000-square-foot building built alongside the Surjoi Swimming Pool, a wood-frame, above ground pool that had occupied the property since 1939 and for many years had been operated as private, “whites only” pool.

With construction of a recreation center, the pool was cemented in and opened to the public. Greenlee, whose began his 55 years of employment with the city at the age of 8, cleaning up and selling concessions at the pool, recalls the pool was 11 feet deep and had both low- and high-diving boards. The original recreation center adjoined the pool on a lot located near King Creek and Jackson Street, where the the current Carver Community Gardens are planted, and pool sat where the current rec center parking lot is located.

The full-service recreation center complete with a gymnasium was a vast improvement over the little recreation building down the road in Carver and quickly became “a true community center” for people of all ages. As the years passed its history of segregation faded to a memory and was eliminated as more and more people of all backgrounds came to enjoy its offerings.

In 2005, 47 years after its first opening, the current one-level, 16,000-square-foot Carver Recreation Center was built above the King Creek floodplain, where a flood had destroyed a $100,000 gymnasium floor only two years earlier.

In conjunction with the new construction, the city purchased additional property and expanded the park from 10 to 17 acres. It now covers the entire block between West Watauga and West Unaka avenues and Jackson and West Market streets. Its outdoor amenities include a playground, a paved and lighted basketball court, a multi-use playing field, a walking trail, two picnic pavilions and a community garden with a small greenhouse.

The new playground at Carver Park has been under construction for more than a year and is expected to open within a few weeks. A dedication ceremony for the park’s recently resurfaced outdoor basketball court is also planned for the near future. And next week, the center’s after-school program, that provides daily tutoring, snacks, meals and enrichment programs for about 75 children and youths, will kick off a new school year.

In addition to sports and youth programs, the recreation center also hosts a variety of intergenerational, multicultural events throughout the year, in addition to the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Service Day events for which it has become well known. In recent years, Greenlee said, Carver has become a more culturally diverse with Asian, Muslim, Latino, African and other ethnic groups leasing the facility for banquets, dinners and other events.

To celebrate those six decades of growth, Carver will begin its anniversary celebration Sunday, Sept. 16, with a 3 p.m. dinner for the community’s clergy, media representatives and Johnson City officials, who will read a proclamation declaring Carver Recreation Week in Johnson City.

On Monday evening, Sept. 17, the center will host an Basketball Yesteryear Tribute featuring the induction of six Science Hill High School state champion and state runner-up teams and their coaches into the Carver Sports Hall of Fame.

On Tuesday evening, Sept. 18, the center will host a similar tribute in recognition of the city’s Little League baseball, softball, basketball, track and field, swimming, wrestling, boxing and skating organizations and athletes and coaches, as well as each of the four directors who have guided Carver over the past 60 years.

On Wednesday, Sept. 19, the center will conduct a Community Memorial with a balloon release in remembrance those connected to the recreation center who have died, followed by a reception with refreshments.

On Thursday, Sept. 20, the center will host a dinner for the Science Hill High School football team with guests speakers and tributes to SHHS alumni Aubrayo Franklin and Van Williams, who both went on to play in the NFL.

On Friday, Sept. 21, the center will conduct a half-time tribute to Coach Bob “Snake” Evans, a Science Hill alum whose coaching career at the high school spanned more than three decades.

On Saturday, Sept. 22, Carver will top off its anniversary celebration with a community festival and cookout with hot dogs and hamburgers and all the trimmings — baked beans, potato salad, desserts, ice cream and other treats prepared by area churches and donated by area businesses — live gospel and rap music, prize giveaways and more. The festival will begin at 10 a.m. Everyone is invited and donations are welcomed.

More information about the celebration may be obtained by calling Greenlee at the recreation center at 423-461-8830.