Pocket Park Dedication becomes Kitty Lester show late Thursday morning in Hope
A little Place Called Hope magic made its appearance at Thursday morning’s dedication of the Pocket Park, a location on Hope’s East Second Street that has been redone over the past three years into an outdoor block party, meeting place and musical venue as Hope native, Grammy nominee and television actress Ketty Lester arrived to grace the ceremony. 

The event began at 11:00 a.m. with Hope Mayor Don Still beginning the proceedings by thanking the park’s supporters and looking forward to potential future additions to the town.  “Lot of hands were involved with this project. I think it turned out great. I want to thank everybody for coming out today. One thing I'm excited about, the City Board voted last week to put a deal on the ballot in November to build a rec center with a new swimming pool and other improvements, indoor pool, outdoor pool. You'll be seeing a lot of information about that. I'm looking forward to seeing Hope grow. And this is just one thing.” 

Mayor Still was referring to a decision supported unanimously Tuesday by the Hope Board of Directors to place on the ballot the question of whether, for a one-cent sales tax added, residents will support or decline plans to build a new fire department headquarters to replace an older one, build an aquatic/recreation center and make several upgrades to Fair and North Side Park facilities. 

“I want to just thank everybody, especially the Downtown Network, for adding the planters, the tables and the benches. … What a good association. People ask me, ‘What's going on downtown? … First thing I talk about is downtown. You have to come downtown. There's no empty buildings anymore. There's a lot of businesses down here doing well. The park down here, the Hub, a lot of changes in the last five, six years, and it's something to be proud of,” Still continued. 

The president of the Downtown Network, Barbara Noble then spoke, explaining that more work on the Pocket Park won a vote that took place at last year’s A Taste of Hope event. “The installation of these planters and tables and umbrellas and mural are all a part of what the winning vote was about that night. Many have contributed time, money and in kind, donations to make this pocket park a reality,” she said, naming the City of Hope, the Hope Advertising and Tourism Promotion Commission and Hope Rotary and naming about half a dozen sponsors of Taste of Hope. 

Next to speak was Brooke Fleming, exterior design consultant for Main Street Arkansas, an agency within the Arkansas Division of Heritage which, according to its mission statement “provides technical assistance, resources, and ongoing education to local programs.” 

Fleming thanked the large turnout for coming and said, “I heard something a little bit ago when I got into town that I am truly amazed by, and it proves your leadership and Hope as one of our downtown Main Street communities. What I heard is this statistic that five years ago, you had a 65 percent vacancy rate downtown, but today that percentage is around five. That is evidence, guys, of your commitment to your city, your commitment to Main Street, to preservation, to your town that you all love, and that is something that is our goal at Main Street.” 

She then presented Noble with a $5,000 grant awarded to the Downtown Network. “We are proud to offer this money each year, and you can obviously see it is very well spent. So thank you for your efforts,” Fleming said. 

Member of Downtown Network Rebekah Moore, in introducing Ketty Lester, who has been in town the past few days visiting friends and family and signing copies of her self-titled 2020 memoir Tuesday at the Henry C. Yerger Museum, listed some of her accomplishments. “She is a Yerger High School graduate. Round of applause for that too. She spent a little time in the music industry, has a Grammy nomination. Give her a round of applause for that. And then she also spent a little time on the prairie, the Little House on the Prairie, and then she wandered over to Days of our Lives. She made quite a few movies. So we are so thankful that she chose this weekend to come home for many, many reasons,” Moore said. 

The 89-year-old Lester, originally born Revoyda Frierson, to a farm family said, “It's a pleasure for me to be here today. I finished Yerger High School in 1954 and Miss Neoma Yerger was my teacher, and she would say if there was a play or a singing and I didn't do it,  she would say, ‘You  better get your excuse.’” Lester said she and her sisters were often called upon when singing was needed. 

“I am from a big family,” Lester continued. “And my daddy's best friend was the hardware store owner, and that's Attorney Robert LaGrone and he helped my daddy to vote. When I started walking for voting, I didn't know what I was walking for, and I said, ‘What are we walking for?’ I said my dad had been voting since I was nine.” She added that when election days arrived, her father drove his wagon to town to participate. 

Lester explained that when she graduated, she did so at the same time as her sister Maddie. This presented a problem in that Lester had won a scholarship to Philander Smith but Maddie had not and Lester still wanted to take care of Maddie. “I said, ‘Mama, who's going to take care of Maddie?’ I said, ‘Where is Maddie going?’ And she said, ‘Don't worry about it. I'll take care of that.’ She always took care of everything. And when it came down to it, I went out to the park and I was thinking, ‘Now I've been taking care of Maddie all these years. Who's going to take care of her? Now I've got to make a way to get Maddie with me.’  So I went back in the house and I told Mama, ‘I think Mattie and I should go to the Army like Haywood and Cotrel,” who were their other brothers. 

As it turned out, neither had to go to the Army, but both moved to San Francisco to stay with Cotrel. There Lester went to the City College of San Francisco.  She knew she had to find a job there and described a phone call she placed to a University of California Berkeley professor who she had worked for a previous summer. “I said, ‘Is the job still open?’ He said, ‘Well, when do you want to start?’ I said, ‘I'll start tonight if you can open the door so I can get in.’ He said, ‘No, don’t come tonight. Come on Monday.’ I came on Monday, and it was me, Phyllis Diller and Maya Angelou. We kept that place open for about a year and worked together.” That place was San Francisco's The Purple Onion.

The Purple Onion opened another club in Hollywood. That’s where Lester made her name as a singer. “That's the way it went. It wasn't what I planned. It's something and I was I say it's God's will. I say I'm blessed. Maybe some people wouldn't think of it that way, but I do. I have been a Christian since I was born,” Lester said. 

“I'm a sick person now,” she continued. “I have epilepsy, I have the old folks tremor, I have high blood pressure. I have a lot of things, but I don't stop. When you stop, you die. I'm not ready to die yet, Lord, I'm ready to keep going. So I'm glad to be here to meet you.” 

Lester went on to thank her cousins for helping her get around in Hope, a place she said has changed so much it is hard to recognize for her now. She described going to Barry’s Grocery for a large peanut patty, missing the Checkerboard Café and getting her first job in Hope so she could afford her candy habit as a young girl. 

Then Angelica Manzanares, Membership Manager/Ambassador Coordinator at Hope-Hempstead County Chamber of Commerce, came up, bringing an important piece of paper and an item of apparel. Barbara Noble took it up and then said, “We do want to present you with a certificate of appreciation on behalf of the Hope Downtown Network. We recognize, appreciate and applaud Hope's own hometown hero Ketty Lester, from the love of community to your inspirational and outstanding accomplishments, we honor and thank you for giving hope and encouragement to many people throughout your life's journey.” Lester thanked Noble. 

As Manzaneres presented Lester with a t-shirt promoting the 48th Annual Hope Watermelon Festival, which starts August 8th, Hester said her father Arthur Frierson had grown a prize-winning watermelon for the 1942 festival, but alas the family had not been able to sample it. “I thought I was forgotten in hope, but I'm grateful that you know who I am,” Lester said as the event ended.