The only thing that would stop the annual Lonoke Area Chamber of Commerce Chili Supper/Auction set for later in February, "Is if there is ice and snow on the ground," executive director John Garner declared at the Feb. 6 Chamber meeting.

The winter storm that struck days later led to postponing the event to March 1, 5:30 p.m., at the Lonoke High School Gina Cox Center. "We will not lose any of the fixings for the chili," Garner said in the announcement.

Chamber president Leanna Rich presided over the meeting, held at the Lonoke Depot.

Guest Speakers were Renee Robison, director of the Grand Prairie Center at Stuttgart; Baptist Medical Center - Springhill vice president Steven Webb with Arkansas Health Group CEO Will Rusher.

Webb and Rusher spoke of the changes being made at the Lonoke location. Rusher said that in one form another, they have been at Lonoke for 19 years. The past six months have been marked with discussions on how to best meet the needs of the community and Baptist Health, as well as other health providers.

"We are excited to present what is now going to be almost a medical community," Rusher said. The group will be adjacent to the former Baptist Health facility location.

Rusher said a mobile facility is being used while renovations are done in the former family clinic. When ready, the building will house the ARcare facility and the Baptist therapy unit will be next to ARcare, Rusher said.

"We want you to know that we, at Baptist Health, are committed to this community," Rusher said.

Robison told of the facilities available for the community at the Center. The Center’s origin is in a tornado that struck the area and the resulting rebuilding in the area, Robison said.

The $15.4 million auditorium and convention center is on the Stuttgart campus of Phillips Community College of the University of Arkansas, at 2709 Highway 165 South. The costs were met through various means including bonds, the state, and donations from the corporate community, Robison said.

"We want to make sure that you the Grand Prairie Center is there," Robison said.

The 63,000 square-foot building features conference rental space available to businesses as well as civic, social, cultural, and educational events. There are banquet rooms, classrooms, a meeting room and a conference room. The center is available for meetings, festival events, and other functions.

The Center’s facilities can be used for bridal showers, wedding receptions and weddings, family or class reunions, and other large functions.

"On any given Saturday or Sunday, we are the baby-shower/professional dinner capital of the Grand Prairie area … It is a very economical place for a meeting when someone needs to have one," Robison said.

The Center also features a performance series. Upcoming performances include: The Miracle Worker, March 11, 7 p.m.; Sleeping Beauty Act III, March 29; BJ Thomas, April 19; and Rockabilly Reunion, May 31.

Robison said she could be contacted by email at rrobison@pccua.edu, or by telephone at 870-673-4201, ext 1896.

In other matters, Rich announced Robin Ketchum of the Wade Knox Children’s Advocacy Center as the Chamber of Commerce Everyday Hero. Ketchum was chosen for her work at the Wade Knox Center and numerous volunteer positions. Ketchum began as a volunteer at Wade Knox Center when it began in 2005. She has since become a full-time victim advocate, and active in education outreach to Lonoke County students.

Ketchum is also president of the Lonoke Century League as well as Club Woman of the Year. "She is selfless in giving to her employer, her community, her friends and her family," Rich said.

Chamber executive director John Garner told of progress on several construction projects in Lonoke.

The new Interstate 40 interchange is still five to six months from completion, Garner said. Weather continues to be the "holdup" for work, he said.

The next stage will be the opening of the new bridge to traffic, allowing for demolition of the current bridge and approaches, Garner said. Not until the existing bridge has been removed can the entrance and exit ramps be completed, he said. The dirt from the old bridge would be used to re-fill the "borrow pits" formed when dirt was used to build the new bridge approaches.

The new Waffle House Restaurant is also five to six months away, Garner said.

However, the new Hampton Inn is soon to open, Garner said. "It’s really a good-looking hotel," he remarked.

More than 200 items have been provided for the annual Chamber Chili Supper/Auction, Garner said. "We have … several unusual items for the live auction."

Thoa Van, owner of City Nails, was accepted as a member.