On Saturday, the Whitesville Road Track Facility was renamed to honor the former mayor of LaGrange, Chris Joseph. Joseph, who was instrumental in getting the Olympic quality track built, was surprised during Saturday’s celebration when Mayor Lukken announced the name change of the facility.
In June 1992, then Mayor Chris Joseph created “I Trained in LaGrange” program which was responsible for bringing hundreds of athletes from 42 countries to train in LaGrange before the 1996 Summer Olympics. Chairwomen of the program, Betty Fagundes and Helen Rice, were both at the track on Saturday to coordinate the ceremony to honor Joseph.
“What a wonderful day to honor Chris Joseph, who was visionary and the plan maker for ‘I Trained in LaGrange’ program 20 years ago,” Rice said. “Joseph, along with all of the volunteers, made it possible that even today we have Olympic quality facilities that can be used by the community. It really did take a village to accomplish all that we did.”
Speer Burdette, president and general manager of the Callaway Foundation, also was at Saturday’s dedication.
“This is very appropriate and overdue to honor Chris for all he did when he was mayor,” Burdette said. “The ‘I Trained in LaGrange’ program was such, that even 20 years later, we still have cause to celebrate.”
Joseph family members and friends, representatives from LaGrange City Council, LaGrange/Troup County Chamber of Commerce, Downtown LaGrange Development Authority, Troup County School System, the clergy and many who were volunteers for the program gathered at Whitesville Road Track Facility to take part in the Joseph celebration.
Jerrie Holmes was the public relations director for the then LaGrange School System and had been a member of the local Olympic planning committee.
“We had an Olympic ambassador program, where we designated one teacher from every school who then was trained so that they could go back to their schools and teach students and other teachers about the program,” Holmes said. “We also had a similar program for students, the entire community was involved in Mayor Joseph’s program.”
Lukken stepped up onto the impromptu stage, that was decorated with vintage tee-shirts from the “I Trained in LaGrange” campaign, and thanked both Fagundes and Rice for their parts in arranging the day’s celebration. He then spoke of Joseph’s role in the three-year project.
“This mission was started with one man’s vision. He began to believe that we could bring the 1996 Olympics from Atlanta to LaGrange. He began by recognizing that he had to first network with some of the most important people of the world, the IOC and those in Atlanta , to convince them that LaGrange had what it takes to bring the Olympics here to us. He then had to talk to the community.” Lukken said.
Lukken explained the process that followed to include Callaway Foundation, City of LaGrange, Troup County, LaGrange College, corporations and the many volunteers that were needed to bring in the funding and plans for such a major undertaking.
“That man is Chris Joseph,” Lukken said.
At that point, Joseph, who also was on stage, still did not understand the real reason for the ceremony. Lukken then asked Joseph to speak on some of the history of the “I Trained in LaGrange” program. Joseph told of the process that had resulted in the construction of the athletic facilities and even how LaGrange became part of the Olympic Torch path.
“Let’s all step over here,” Lukken said and moved off stage to a fabric-covered structure. “Let’s do a countdown, shall we, … 3, 2, 1.”
At that point, Rice and Fagundes removed the fabric from the new “Chris Joseph Olympic Track” dedication plaque. Slowly, clapping along with the audience, Joseph then realized the real reason for the day’s celebration.
” I don’t know how all of you kept all of this a secret. This is a tremendous tribute and I surely appreciate it,” Joseph said. “More importantly, I appreciate the memory everyone has, it makes me feel like we did something really important for the community.”