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Man plans series of gospel concerts at Purvis schoolhouse

Built in 1936 out of farm labor, Purvis Community Center, or the old Purvis School House, has a following of people who are taking on a labor of love to keep up the old building and make it useful for the community.

Jefferson County resident Ralph McGahee, though he did not attend the school, only lives 10 miles down the black top from the infamous institution located in the Warren County panhandle.

A gospel radio disc jockey in Thomson and a school bus driver, Mr. McGahee has seen many of the southern gospel acts that have stepped through the school's doors. Mr. McGahee himself used to sing southern gospel music for 20 years, up until he had open heart surgery, the only thing that could slow him down in his love to serve the Lord.

"I sang in two groups over 20 years up until I had open heart surgery, but I promised the good Lord I would be faithful to Him," Mr. McGahee said.

When the center was built with farm labor by the community that surrounded it, it was a part of the Warren County School System up until the schools were integrated and the students were shipped to a bigger school in Warrenton.

"It sat there dormant for years except for an occasional homecoming or gospel sing," Mr. McGahee said. "We got the bright idea to form a committee. So a group of us went to the Warren County Board of Education and they agreed to have it leased to us for $1 if we would elect officers and use it as a community development project."

Mr. McGahee is currently the vice president of the group operating the Purvis Community Center. Around five years ago, the group was able to sell enough kaolin clay to expand the auditorium to fit 200 people that at one time could only handle around 100.

When the school was built in 1936, Mr. McGahee said it was state of the art, but the group is always looking for ways to keep the center from falling into a state of disrepair.

"We want to kick Purvis up a notch or two," Mr. McGahee said. "The only financial support we get is through donations and it is barely enough to keep our heads above water."

The Purvis Center will now play host to a Supper Club four times a year. Mr. McGahee said he feels it will be a real treat with an old fashioned barbecue that will cost hungry stomachs $8 for a plate or $5 if they do not want to eat and just want to listen to the southern gospel music that will be on hand each time.

"I love southern gospel music as good as I love to eat, and that is lovin' it," Mr. McGahee said.

The Supper Club will begin March 31, followed by dates June 30, Sept. 29 and Nov. 17. There are only 300 tickets on hand for the event and Mr. McGahee said they are going fast. For advance tickets, contact McGahee at 706-547-6767.

Currently, the center is still being used for family reunions, homecomings and other gospel sings. Mr. McGahee said they cater to a 12-county area in the CSRA and some places in South Carolina.

The 20-year disc jockey veteran said he remembered many times when the center had big southern gospel groups such as Heaven Bound, the Florida Boys and The Perry's.

"We were just having a good time," Mr. McGahee said. "We are trying to get it built back up. It's going good, but we want it super good."

On hand for the supper club will be the gospel group Harmony Boys Quartet, who have been singing praises to the Lord for 34 years.

Mr. McGahee said he also remembered when one of the former school teachers, known as Ms. Woods, wanted her funeral to be held at the place she once taught. With all the memories that lay in each board and brick throughout the school, Mr. McGahee and the group saving the school are looking to make new ones.

"When I was a little boy about six or seven, I listened to southern gospel singers. I loved that four-part harmony so good and I knew if I ever got the chance, I would sing southern gospel music. It took a liking to me and I took a liking to it. I could sit all night and listen to southern gospel music."

Now it seems through the Supper Club, Mr. McGahee will have his chance.

Web posted on Thursday, March 29, 2007

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