Valdosta Daily Times

Local News

August 21, 2009

New arts center honors Harris

ADEL — Carolyn Harris brought the Cook County schools and the community together for decades. A new facility named in her honor will continue this tradition.

On Sunday, Cook County opens its new high school and the Carolyn Harris Performing Arts Center. The center is part of the new Cook High, but it will also be a center for the community. Next weekend, the multi-talented Lowe Family will perform at the center. This fall, the center will host Theatre Guild Valdosta’s “Driving Miss Daisy.”

The building combines many of the forces in Harris’ life: the arts, education, the community and Cook County.

Carolyn Harris’ accomplishments touch upon all of these factors.

She and the late Sallye Bennett, who will also be honored during Sunday’s opening ceremonies, founded the Cook County Council for the Arts in the early 1990s. Harris served as the council president from 1993-2007.

For decades, she served as the community-school coordinator, establishing long-standing partnerships between people, businesses and organizations in the community with the school system.

Harris spearheaded the creation of the Cook County Educational Foundation, which raises funds and awards scholarships to Adel-area students. In the mid-1980s, the fund started with two scholarship recipients, said Dr. Mary Sue Ward, a former Cook County school principal. By 1991, the foundation awarded 10 scholarships. Earlier this year, the foundation awarded 38 scholarships, totaling $86,000.

The foundation has given more than 600 scholarships through the years, totaling more than $1 million, said Mike Dinnerman, the Cook County Commission’s vice-chairman. A longtime family friend, Dinnerman is scheduled to honor Harris during Sunday’s ceremony.

“She had been on a mission since the early ’80s to get a scholarship started,” Ward said. “... She has done so much for Cook County.”

Harris’ abilities to raise scholarship money and lead so many projects has been helped by the community’s inability to tell her no.

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