For many of the 69 years it has been in existence, Delta Council leaders have traveled to the campus of Delta State University in Cleveland, Miss., to hold their mid-year board of directors meeting and other annual events.
This year, the directors met in a facility that is practically across the street from the Council's offices in the Stoneville, Miss., agricultural research complex. The new facility, the Charles W. Capps Jr. Entrepreneurial Center, promises to be the site of many such meetings in the years to come.
“All of this started as a small vision out here under the pecan trees,” said Vance Watson, vice president of the Division of Agriculture, Forestry and Veterinary Medicine at Mississippi State University, who welcomed the directors to the Capps Center on Nov. 23.
“We were trying to figure out a way to keep the fish cookers from getting wet, and it just kind of grew from there,” said Watson, referring to those preparing the catfish luncheon that traditionally has been served to farmers attending the Delta Research and Extension Center's field days in August.
The Stoneville complex houses a number of ag research organizations, including Mississippi State's Delta Research and Extension Center; the Jamie Whitten Southern States USDA Agricultural Research Service building; the USDA Cotton Ginning Laboratory; the Thad Cochran Warm Water Aquaculture Laboratory, and the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta Water Management District.
Talking about the number of people he meets from other countries who say they've “been to Stoneville,” Watson said the 4,300-acre research station attracts about 12,000 visitors per year.
Until now, however, the largest meeting facility in the complex was the DREC's B.F. Smith Auditorium, which seats fewer than 100.
The 15,000-square-foot Capps Center, which is located in the pecan grove next to the DREC headquarters building, can seat 400 people in its main auditorium. It also houses a state-of-the-art long distance learning center and smaller meeting facilities.
Capps, a 32-year member of the Mississippi House of Representatives and chairman of its Appropriations Committee, helped secure some state funding for the $2.5 million center. But the center was a joint effort, according to Watson.
“Following the 1994 ice storm, it was decided that some of the money received from timber salvaging would be used for infrastructure improvements,” said Watson. “Chip Morgan (the Delta Council's executive vice president) and others have also worked with Sen. (Thad) Cochran and his staff to obtain funding from Washington.”
Watson said the university couldn't think of a person more deserving of having the facility named for him than Capps.
“Rep. Capps has shepherded the message of the Delta with the fidelity that comes only from one who is a son of the Delta,” said Mississippi State University President Charles Lee, speaking at the dedication ceremony for the facility in October. “We want everyone who uses this building to be reminded that leadership truly can make a difference.”
The Stoneville Experiment Station was created by an act of the Mississippi Legislature on Feb. 29, 1904.
The original station, which Watson said had been described as a “worn-out plantation,” consisted of 200 acres purchased at a cost of $15,000.
Although it would become one of the largest and most respected agricultural research complexes in the world, the Stoneville Experiment Station almost was short-lived, Watson told the Delta Council directors.
The station almost faded into history when Mississippi Gov. Theodore G. Bilbo vetoed the funding bills for three of the experiment stations in Mississippi, including Stoneville. Fortunately, the legislature appointed a committee to study the situation.
“When the committee members came to Stoneville, they were so impressed by the station's fine crop of oats and work that was being done on a new way of binding the oats that they recommended that the legislature fully fund all three stations,” he said.
“So you might say that a piece of binder twine held this station together.”