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'Small-town ambience'

During a covered-dish dinner at the Jonesboro Fire House Museum and Community Center last month, Carol Roberts joked that his wife, Amanda, became a "Gone With The Wind" expert, because her father used to operate a movie theater in town decades ago.

The former Jonesboro resident kidded his wife joking that the 1939 film, in which Clayton County and Jonesboro were featured locales, was the only movie she saw when she was growing up.

"You paid a dollar, and all they ever showed [at her family's movie theater] was ‘Gone With the Wind,' She saw it 37 times!" Carol Roberts joked.

"I did not!" Amanda Roberts quickly interjected, adding that the movie really only had a three-month run at the theater.

Her husband then quietly snuck in another zinger: "She knows every line [in the movie]."

Jonesboro is not a large town. It had a population of 4,724 last year, according to U.S. Census Bureau data, but its residents and leaders say the fact that Jonesboro is a small community explains why the city is so near and dear to their hearts. As a result, the city plays host to several events, designed to bring residents together in an atmosphere of camaraderie.

Mayor Luther Maddox said the effort to bring the community together is part of the "small-town ambience," that he said is important.

"It is the glue that bonds the city together," he said. "You might see somebody somewhere, and speak to them, and you're like, ‘Oh yeah, I saw you at ‘Jonesboro Days,' or whatever. Those kinds of things are what builds the community spirit. It's the whole backbone of the city ... The benefit is just a good quality of life ...

"It's something that can't be bought."

One example of Jonesboro's community-building events is the city's monthly covered-dish dinner, which has been at the Jonesboro Fire House Museum and Community Center, at 103 West Mill St., since 2007. The dinner is always held at 6 p.m., on the Thursday after the Jonesboro City Council's monthly business meetings (which are held on the second Monday of the month).

Attendees, many of whom have lived in the city for decades, reminisce about days gone by, and swap several "remember when ..." stories.

Amanda Roberts said Jonesboro is "a very small town, but it's got a big heart." She explained that one of the things she likes about the dinners, in particular, is "just seeing everybody that I know, that I don't see any other time."

Carol Roberts quickly added: "We see people here that we don't see anywhere else."

Katherine Smith, a long-time resident, who runs the city-owned community center as a volunteer, said the covered-dish dinner is designed to get neighbors to get out of their homes, to come together, to sit down and to socialize in a small-town atmosphere.

"It's just for the community," Smith said. "It's just a wonderful way for people to get together in the community, and talk, and [engage in] fellowship, and meet new folks ... That's what we're striving for, a real close community."

On the Thursdays when there is not a covered-dish dinner at the center, there are BINGO games that begin at 6 p.m. There is line dancing (at a cost of only $5 an hour) on Tuesday nights. The center also hosts a live country-and gospel-music band on the first Tuesday of the month.

Also, at the community center every spring, the city hosts its annual "Jonesboro Days" event, during which former residents come back to see friends who still live in the city.

The center can also be rented out for events such as weddings, graduation parties and anniversary celebrations, Smith said. The rental costs include a $200 deposit for everyone, and hourly fees of $25 per hour for Jonesboro residents, and $50 per hour for non-residents, she said. She added that the center has a small library, with approximately 1,000 books that residents can come and check out.

Smith said she is looking at making karaoke night –– which the center holds on rare occasions –– into a regular event. "I just think it [the center] is important for the community, because of the fellowship, and the fun we have here," she said. "I think the community needs somewhere to meet, and have fun."

In another community-building effort, city officials recently lured the Clayton County Extension Service's annual farmer's market to a location across the street from the community center, in downtown Jonesboro, from a location on the town's northern edge. The twice-a-week, summertime market opened on June 25.

Jonesboro resident, Martha Daniel, 80, said a lot of the people who come to community-building events are individuals who have lived in the city all of their lives. Daniel, who was sitting with Carol and Amanda Roberts at last month's covered-dish dinner, said she is one of those lifelong residents she is talking about.

"It's just a good town, and it always has been," Daniel said. "Even new people that move in, they're welcome, and they're part of us ...When it was a real small town, if somebody new came to town, it thrilled us, and they were welcomed."

At one point during the recent covered-dish dinner, Daniel and Carol and Amanda Roberts began talking about the places where they hung out together when they were youths. "What was our meeting place?" Daniel asked.

"It was the drug store [on Main Street]," Amanda Roberts replied.

The Roberts, who still live in Clayton County, albeit outside Jonesboro's city limits, said they like coming back to the city for its community-oriented events, to see old friends.

"It's like homecoming," she said. "It's just hometown people, and you like to see them."