Thomas Runnells has a track record of participating in community projects, starting with his involvement with Pontotoc County’s Relay for Life event in 1995.

Over the past 19 years, the Ada man has served on the Relay for Life board and played an active role at the First Christian Church, where he currently serves as moderator. Among other honors, he won the Ada Area Chamber of Commerce’s Volunteer of the Award in 1999.

Now, Runnells is using the skills he’s honed over the years to benefit another organization.

Runnells became the new director of the Ada Arts and Heritage Center in mid-January, following the resignation of former director Sarah Hilton.

The Ada News interviewed Runnells Friday about his background, the Arts and Heritage Center’s mission and the challenges that lie ahead. Here are excerpts from the interview, edited for clarity and length.

The Ada News: You spoke specifically about fund raising as one of your skills. Could you elaborate on that as far as what your background in that is?

TR: In 1995, the American Cancer Society brought in Relay for Life. I was part of that board of the Pontotoc County American Cancer Society, and we took it on. And we just have made success out of Relay for Life in Ada, Pontotoc County.

We jumped up in amounts. We were nationally recognized. And then they have a division where we won many awards for per-capita raising $200,000. And I was a very strong part of that.

AN: What do you see as the center’s mission?

TR: We just spent a little over $60,000 on renovating some walls that had these all over (cracks in the walls), putting a new roof on, putting a new copper dome on and painting. The rotunda is just absolutely gorgeous.

We can’t grow, but we sure can use the facility in the way that it’s meant. I was looking at some paperwork, and it was an old library at one time. Then they outgrew it, plus the building, so the library moved.

The city has done a wonderful job renovating it and keeping it in its original status. It’s gorgeous. People come in and, “Wow.”... I just see it being booked on a regular basis.

AN: What do you see your role in that mission as being?

TR: Keeping it booked. Fund raising. Raising money to pay for the projects that are going on within here.

We can and will have some functions here that will bring people here. And hopefully, by them coming here and viewing it, they’ll book it for whatever they want.

I plan on going to a lot of the service clubs and promoting the center. I would not mind going to some churches — not to steal their weddings, but they have functions too.

It’s endless, what we could offer — what we do offer — to the businesses. We can divide up some rooms. Meeting rooms. We have a kitchenette. So the facilities are here.

When a nice wedding comes in, a caterer can come in. They can set up a little buffet thing, whatever they want for nice weddings.

AN: What do you see as some of the challenges of your new position?

TR: As everybody knows in Ada, a lot of the buildings are old, and they require a lot of TLC. This is an old building, and the TLC that’s needed — that’s going to be the challenge, to keep this building ... We’ve got it looking great, with the money we spent just recently at the end of last year.

Just to keep it and facilitate it and promote it and let people know what we have here. Some of the people don’t know.

AN: What projects do you have lined up for, say, the next six months?

TR: Just to get out in the community. Promoting. Have some events that will draw some people in here that will recognize the opportunities, and book it.

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