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February 1, 2014

New arts center director plans to help boost Ada’s profile

Ada — 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.

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