Wednesday, February 22, 2017 - Updated: 8:37 AM
Friends and family of Tony Ellis are hoping to recognize how much he meant to the community with a greenhouse at Lyon County High School.
Rae Wagoner and Becky Kinder work with Ellis' wife Debbie at the Kentucky Soybean Association office in Princeton. Like many who knew him before he suffered a sudden fatal heart attack last summer, Wagoner and Kinder saw Ellis put into action his devotion to his family, work and community.
To help honor his memory, the two set an aggressive goal: raising at least $40,000 by May for construction of a greenhouse.
Wagoner said having the minimum funding will allow the district to hold a ceremonial groundbreaking before Ellis' twins Avery and Allison graduate high school. Tony and Debbie's oldest daughter Anna graduated in 2013. Anna served as manager for the basketball team.
"It's ambitious but absolutely doable," Wagoner said. "So many of these seed companies and equipment dealers have grants and funds set aside for things like this. These programs are already in place, it's just making those contacts."
Wagoner and Kinder have spent recent months reaching out to national and regional agricultural businesses in hopes of finding project sponsors.
Kinder has been reaching out to groups and researching availabilities that might make the goal reality. They haven't solicited support locally, but were approached recently by baseball and softball boosters hoping to help raise funds.
Mandy Carney, whose son Taylor is a teammate on the Lyons and American Legion Post 68 Aces with Avery, said the baseball and softball teams are selling t-shirts to raise funds for the greenhouse.
They plan to hold a Green the Grandstands on March 14 at the Lee S. Jones Park during a baseball-softball double header.
Ellis was known by many for his support of the baseball and softball programs.
Avery and Allison will play for the Lyons and Lady Lyons this year as seniors.
"We're selling green t-shirts for the March 14 games," Carney said. "We want everybody to wear them to the home games. Avery and Allison are both playing this year as seniors. It will be an emotional night."
Lyon County Schools Superintendent Russ Tilford said the board authorized establishment of the Tony Ellis Memorial Greenhouse fund in December.
"Tony Ellis was very supportive of so many causes within our community," Tilford said. "However, agricultural was so dear to his heart. Supporting agriculture education, specifically the greenhouse project, in his memory seemed like a fitting tribute.
"Specific greenhouse design will depend largely on the donations received. It has been many years since there was a functional greenhouse as a part of our agriculture program. We are excited about the opportunities a greenhouse would bring our students."
While Wagoner and Kinder have focused their efforts for support outside Lyon County, they welcome any help.
"I'm thrilled that they've come on board," Wagoner said. "We've got a lot of great causes for our young people, but our population and businesses can only support so much."
If organizers are able to raise funds, they're hoping it will be enough to build a permanent glass and metal building usable by local agriculture students.
Wagoner said size and design plans depend on how much money is raised, but they hope to build something more durable than a plastic hoop house.
The building will allow students to learn about planting and cultivating outside of a textbook.
It could eventually allow them to generate funds through plant sales. Wagoner said she hopes plant sales could become self-sufficient and a benefit to local FFA members.
"Tony was a really modest guy," Wagoner said. "He was the kind of guy that if he saw someone out on the ball field in need of something, he'd just take them togo get it and never say a word. Becky and I wanted to do something in his memory that's agriculture related.... Tony really blessed this community. We're glad we have a way to honor his memory."
Anyone interested in purchasing a shirt should phone Carney at 270-625-2085 or Bridges at 270-625-3384.
Shirts must be ordered by Feb. 28.
Shirts may also be ordered at Akridge Ace Hardware in Eddyville or through the high school office.