BLOUNTVILLE — Former Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey grew up working on a Sullivan County farm, and in a way he closed the book on his 24-year political career Saturday in the name of Sullivan County farmers.
During a dedication ceremony, Ramsey contributed the final $50,000 left in his campaign fund to pay for the completion of the large commercial kitchen at the newly christened Ron Ramsey Agriculture Center located at 140 Spurgeon Lane near Tri-Cities Airport.
Before a crowd of county and state dignitaries, as wells as family and friends, Ramsey dedicated the contribution to wife Sindy, whom he described as his best friend and the “wind beneath my wings.”
“For 24 years, I was in the legislature and the last 10 as lieutenant governor,” Ramsey said. “This lady here hasn’t stood behind me. She stood right beside me.
“She has run my business, and I’d like to say that she ran the business and I showed up on Saturdays and had auctions. She did all this behind the scenes. She didn’t like the limelight, to say the least. She’s my best friend. That song “The Wind Beneath My Wings” — she’s the wind beneath my wings. She’s my hero.”
But Ramsey was quick to point out that neither his $50,000 contribution nor the $3.5 million already invested by the state will be enough to complete the facility or sustain it in the future and make it economically viable.
Although the facility’s primary use will be providing space for local agricultural programs, it will also be marketed as a convention center and event venue available to the public.
“This is a regional facility for everybody from Greene County to Johnson County, Hawkins County — the whole area can use this,” Ramsey said. “It’s something that has been lacking, and I talked to the governor about this and he helped us secure the funding. We’ve got about $3.5 million in it now, and we need another million to finish the arena in the back. I think when we have that, we’ll have a facility second to none for agriculture purposes and to lease out to the public.
“I want to stress that I want this to be sustainable and not something we have to keep putting money into. In order for that to happen, we have to rent this facility and make sure it’s used, not just a few days a month, but every day per month that we can. It will be available for rent with a commercial kitchen, audio-visual equipment that will rival anything around including MeadowView. This is a facility that anyone can use for a business meeting, a wedding reception, class reunions, family reunions. We want this facility to be used.”
A few of the programs already slated to use the facility are the Master Beef program being taught there. Farm to fork events are already scheduled. The Sullivan County Cattlemen’s Association will meet there, and 4-H groups will use the commercial kitchen for home demonstrations. When the arena is completed, it’s expected to be used for equestrian events and a wide range of other potential activities.
The property has 10 acres, the completed convention area is about 10,000 square feet and the arena which is under construction at the rear of the facility is about 40,000 square feet.
The new building opens with the University of Tennessee and Tennessee State University Sullivan County Extension Office as its primary tenant.
The entire right side of the new center features office space, classrooms and other amenities. The new center also features a 300-seat conference area.