The ongoing effort to reopen the Bassett Community Center got a boost last Thursday when the staff of Bassett Furniture’s Information Technology (IT) Department spent the day hard at work cleaning the shuttered facility.
The team spent the day weeding flower beds, painting the front entrance, pressure washing chairs, cleaning the boiler room, planting grass, and performing other tasks to help move the center’s renovation efforts along, while wearing shirts emblazoned with the Bassett name and the slogan, “the difference it makes” (a play on words, referencing the IT department).
The work is part of Bassett’s long legacy of giving back to the community, said Andy Doss, Bassett’s manager of business intelligence and application development, who also serves as Bassett’s unofficial historian.
Bassett leadership “likes to participate in some sort of project” each year, though doing so has been difficult the past few years due to the pandemic, he said. “We all had been aware of the need down here,” and agreed to spend their community service day working at the center.
While not everyone working that day grew up in the area, Doss said some had memories of coming to the community center when it was open. He recalled taking swimming lessons in the pool.
The community center itself is “a byproduct of the leadership, back in its day, felt like it was important that the company gives back to the community in some way. That’s a driving factor for us too in what we’re doing here. It’s our way of representing Bassett Furniture to give back to the community as well,” Doss said.
“You’ve got guys like J.D. Bassett and (current Chief Executive Officer) Rob Spilman, (and) the community’s really important to them, and they pass that down to the rest of the company. It’s really part of our DNA that Bassett gives back to the community,” Lead Business Analyst Mark Woomer said.
Doss recalled an interview J.D. Bassett, Jr. gave at the grand opening of the community center in June 1960. In it, Bassett spoke of his father, J.D. Bassett, Sr., who told him and W.M. Bassett (who the center is named after), that they should always strive to give back to the community: “Share the fruits of your labor, and ours, with the people in all walks of life regardless of the job they might have held.”
That spirit of giving back “is still going to this day,” Woomer said.
“There’s a big hope that, even though it’s just a few of us, we can make some kind of a difference today, and maybe our example will be followed by some other folks too,” Doss added.
A number of others were on hand that day to serve the volunteers a hot dog lunch and to show their support of the revitalization efforts. Among them was the 7’ 8” former Harlem Globetrotter George Bell, who came from Durham, N.C. to cook the hot dogs.
Bell said he came as a favor to Michael Jarrett, one of the organizers of the event, and a member of Save the Bassett Community Center.
Del. Wren Williams, R-Stuart, and his legislative aid, Addison Merryman were plating the hot dogs cooked by Bell, as Thatcher Stanley from the office of U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Salem, poured drinks.
Williams said Bassett was probably the biggest community in his district in Henry County, and he wanted to come to support the area.
“I’ve driven past this plenty of times, and I like to see what’s going on now and the improvements that are being made,” he said. “It’s very exciting, and I’d love to be able to help in any way I can at the local level, but also at the state level.”
As just one example, Williams said he could possibly provide state assistance with matching funds for federal dollars to assist with asbestos abatement. “You never know. You can at least ask,” he said.
Henry County Sheriff Lane Perry said that his daughters sometimes came to play in the center’s pool before the facility shut down. The possible reopening of the center would be “super for our area” to have a place “where young people can come—like the sign out front says, no alcohol, no drugs—it encourages athleticism. It’s an older generation investing in a younger generation. It’s nothing but a positive. I applaud their efforts to get it back up and running again.”
Sharon Shepherd, deputy director of the Martinsville-Henry County Chamber of Commerce, said the center is a chamber member, which means the organization can help inform the public about what’s going on with the reopening effort.
“There are so many people in our community here that have memories of the Bassett Community Center and may now know that this is going on, so we can certainly help promote and hopefully get enough people involved that the center gets back to what it used to be and what everybody remembers as such an important part of the community,” she said.
“It’s like it’s coming back to life,” she said as she surveyed the ongoing work effort.
Jarrett offered his thanks to those who volunteered their time at the cleanup.
“Bassett Furniture has been a very strong supporter of the community center for many years,” he said, and to have people from the company interact with his group was a wonderful experience.
“They did a ton of work,” he said. “After the dust settled, at the end of the day, we were very impressed with the things that got done.”
He said his organization hopes to have the pool reopened this summer. As previously reported, the group hopes to have the indoor facilities ready to welcome the public sometime in 2023.
Donations to the Bassett Community Center’s revitalization effort can be made online at https://gofund.me/59f456eb or by searching for Save the BCC Pool on GoFundMe.com. Donations may be mailed to Bassett Community Center, c/o Bassett Furniture Industries, P.O. Box 626, Bassett VA 24055.