Grocer donates site to lake

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 17, 2006

LAKE ST. JOHN &8212; At the moment, the Lake St. John Preservation and Recreation District is missing two things: a board of commissioners to run it and a place for them to meet.

The former will be taken care of by the Concordia Parish Police Jury and the parish&8217;s legislative delegation, while the latter, well, Tom Bell is seeing to that.

Bell, the owner and proprietor of Lake St. John Grocery, is in the process of giving the site of the former grocery to the district for use as a community center.

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&8220;I&8217;m going to donate it to the people of the lake; the community sorely needs it,&8221; he said.

The building, which sits two buildings down from his current store, was built by his father, Thomas B. Bell, in 1963. He put a new roof on the building in 1980.

&8220;The structure and the roof are fine,&8221; Tom Bell said. &8220;The inside is going to take some money to fix up.&8221;

That sounds like a pretty good deal to Donna Maroon, the chairperson of the Lake St. John Flotilla Committee.

&8220;I think it&8217;s going to be great for the lake,&8221; she said. &8220;It would take us until whenever to raise the money to buy land and a building on our own. I think the community will be willing to help us do whatever we need to complete it and keep it up.&8221;

Currently public meetings concerning the creation of the district have been held at the Lake St. John Community Baptist Church.

Aside from a place for district meetings to be held, the community center would be available for other community events such as weddings, anniversary and birthday parties and senior citizen activities.

&8220;I think it&8217;s a wonderful thing and a great idea,&8221; Bell&8217;s stepmother Effie said.

Effie Bell&8217;s first husband, Earl Chambers, owned the wooden shop next to the store Thomas B. Bell built.

Tom Bell said he is working with a lawyer, William Rowe Jr., on the details of the gift. Deeding the land and the building to the district is one option; giving it directly to the people of Lake St. John another. Rowe has a house on the lake.

The board of commissioners, which would have to agree to accept the gift, will probably not be seated before February. At its next meeting, the Police Jury will whittle the 15 names nominated by Maroon&8217;s flotilla committee and the lake&8217;s advisory committee &8212; which Tom Bell chairs &8212; down to 10. State Sen. Noble Ellington and Rep. Bryant Hammett will then select the final five.

Bell said the gift was neither meant to influence, nor was contingent upon, the composition of the unpaid board.

&8220;After 32 years of (unofficially) helping run the lake, it&8217;s time for other people to get more involved.&8221;