A $100,000 donation to the Boone County Historical Museum will see the museum buy the old Harrison School AM/PM building and create the John Forrest Archival Center, named for the donor.
John Forrest met with museum director Toinette Madison and some museum board members last week to make the donation announcement official.
There is a room in the museum dedicated to Forrest’s late wife, JoAnn. It’s where people go to do research for various projects. JoAnn had been an avid volunteer and supporter of the museum. Forrest donated to create the room and he has supported the museum over the years, but the recent donation tops it all.
“This is my crowning achievement,” he said.
Toinette Madison, museum director, said that another grant, from the Arkansas Heritage Commission, will be used to buy more equipment to digitize records in the museum, such as VHS tapes and cassette recordings.
The archival center will house myriad records from the county’s past. Madison said they have history of all civic organizations in the county, as well as all clubs that have existed and may no longer be in existence, including garden clubs, ladies clubs, auxiliaries, even the defunct Main Street Harrison organization.
“So, we’ll be able to have a permanent home for all that stuff now,” Madison said.
Museum board member Ralph Gene Hudson said the museum also houses some books rescued from the courthouse when it burned in 1908, although some are charred from the flames.
Madison said the museum also houses a lot of other county records, so they can be more fully organized.
Hudson said he had been in contact with the school superintendent and the district will accept the museum’s offer of $75,000 for the building. He said the next step will be to take all the deeds covering the property to form a good legal description.
Madison said the center, once the purchase is formalized, will be open by appointment only as is done with some other such archives.
Forrest said he was born in the Bronx. When he was 3, the family moved to Manhasset, Long Island. He said that small town outside New York City was very exclusive and affluent.
“The only problem is we were broke,” he said. “So, that’s where I learned the value of money and investing.”
JoAnn worked for the Bell Telephone system and John worked for the Illinois Department of Public Aid. His brother, who had been a successful investor all his life, left him an inheritance and the family home in Manhasset.
When it came time for them to retire, they originally started looking to the Mountain Home area, where his niece, Dianna Cranor, lives.
Cranor said the Forrests moved to Arkansas so JoAnn would be closer to her because John thought he would be gone and JoAnn would have her niece nearby. That’s not the way it worked.
“And I’m still dealing with him,” Cranor said with a laugh. “And I like it.”
They couldn’t find any property they liked in Baxter County, so they looked to Harrison. They found four homes that they would have bought during that first day of looking first day looking at property. It took him four years to sell his house in Chicago, but as luck would have it one of those four properties was still available and they moved to Harrison in 1997. They had been married for 42 years when JoAnn died in 2005.
Madison said she accompanied Forrest to Kansas City in the recent past so he could donate his vast collection of Irish books to the Kansas City Irish Society. The donation was made in JoAnn’s name.
In fact, if the name Forrest sounds familiar there’s a good reason. Forrest made a sizable donation to the Ozark Arts Council in October 2006 in honor of JoAnn. The donation paid the loan taken out to build the annex on the back of the Lyric Theater, and a huge flagstone in the sidewalk in front of the box office bears their names.
After meeting with Madison and museum board members at the museum last week, they all went to the old AM/PM building to take a look. The interior is in good shape and there are plenty of cabinets still in place for storage.
“I didn’t know I had such good taste,” Forrest said with a smile.
The Boone County Historical Society will induct Forrest into the Boone County History Hall of Fame at the annual banquet on Oct. 28.
Ironically, Forrest will turn 86 on Oct. 27.
“At the banquet I’ll be an old man,” he quipped.