The little things 

Public-private partnerships let ponies ride, dogs run, travelers rest.

click to enlarge PULL OF A PARK

Cancer sufferers, college students and families in need were the beneficiaries of tens of millions of philanthropic dollars in Arkansas the past year. Education got a boost with the $100 million University of Arkansas fund-raisers pulled in to add to school endowments; the $239.6 million UAMS has raised to build a new hospital and enlarge its cancer research facility promises a brighter future in health care for the state.

But they also serve who throw cake walks to help build a hostel in downtown Little Rock, recycle cans and sell naming rights for carousel ponies, throw swim parties for dogs to fund the city dog park and persuade government to lend a hand. Their projects are not going to cure disease or change the direction of someone's life — they may not even involve a lot of money — but what they offer all can enjoy.

Grassroots fund-raising can be a slog. It took 16 years to complete the $1 million Over the Jumps Carousel restoration project that put the 1924 ride's 40 painted horses and the works that drive the undulating track back in business.

The names of the painted horses — such as “Breezy” (as in Osborne), “Bailey” (Dr. Ted and Virginia Bailey), “MarjemandI” (John and Marjem Gill), “Civitas” (as in the Civitan Club), “Harvey” (as in Couch, from Entergy), and “Lil E. Tee” (from a thoroughbred owned by Cal Partee), for example — provide clues to the gifts that helped rescue the one-of-a-kind carousel, a fixture at War Memorial Amusement Park from the 1940s to 1991.

Friends of the Carousel — whose state and executive boards have seated 60 members over the years, including David Martinous, the great-nephew of one of the carousel's former owners — went around and around. They nearly came to a stop at one point, but thanks to the persistence of board members, the generosity of other private individuals and non-profits, help from the state and city, and the enthusiasm and ingenuity of restorers, engineers, machinists and the like, children were riding the Over the Jumps Carousel at the Little Rock Zoo in late October.

Former state Sen. Mike Kinard of Magnolia took the first strides toward saving the carousel, getting a bank loan of $1,000 and working out a deal with owner Lloyd “Mokie” Choate in 1991. The preservationist group — including Dr. Hamp Roy, Marlena Grunewald and Joan Gould — ponied up another $4,000 in the next month and committed to raising $245,000 over the next five years. They were sure that “all we have to do is raise the flag up ... people in Little Rock will break down our doors to bring us money,” Kinard said.

The fund-raising started at a gentle walk, with a black tie fund-raiser in a tent downtown and Cans for the Carousel, which raised money through the sale of cans to recyclers, most of which came from the late preservationist Peg Smith, who flattened her haul with her car wheels and turned them in by the garbage bag full. Kinard got the legislature to include the carousel in the Department of Arkansas Heritage budget, which provided needed funds to pay for the restoration work by Rick Parker of Gentry, who stripped the 40 ponies of 30 layers of paint and restored them to their original colors.

The Pony Parents provided the majority of private funds by adopting the four lead horses for gifts between $25,000 and $50,000 each and the remaining horses at $5,000 (one is left to adopt), totaling more than $300,000. The $1 million raised also included funds from the sale of stationery drawn by Richard DeSpain and commemorative bricks (also still ongoing) and $75,000 from the Civitan Club, $125,000 from the defunct Friends of the Zoo, $250,000 from the state and $100,000 from the city, which purchased the carousel from the Friends.



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