Robinson Tract Kings: Neighbors Cecil, Tina and the Community Center

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By WILLIAM PAINE

william.paine@southwesttimes.com

“We’re just two spokes in the wheel,” said Cecil King. “That’s the beauty of our group. There’s a lot of spokes and everybody really contributes. It makes it exciting to do a community project because our people want to help.”

The group that Cecil King speaks of is the Robinson Tract Community Center, which is both a building and a 501C3 nonprofit organization.

For the past 12 years Cecil King has held the office of president of the Robinson Tract Community Center and his wife Tina King has acted as Secretary of the group.

I met the Kings at the annual trash pickup/kids fish free event, which is sponsored by the Robinson Tract Community Center. Twice a year members of the community gather together to collect trash along the 14 very rural miles of Robinson Tract Road.

The springtime cleanup is followed by a kids fish free event where a horseshoe section of the North Fork of Peak Creek, that runs through the King’s property, is dammed up and stocked with fish. The creek is stocked with Rainbow Trout through donations to the Robinson Tract Community Center for this purpose.

“We’re just trying to create a sense of engagement and pride in our community with activities like the fishing and trash pickup,” said Tina King. “Then we do fruit baskets and food baskets in November.”

“We honor our older population at Thanksgiving and we take at least 25 fruit baskets to some of the older people in our community,” added Cecil. “Even the ones that have no monetary needs, we just gave everybody a really nice fruit basket to say ‘Hey, we appreciate you and we appreciate you being part of our community.’”

The couple also goes to 233 houses in the Robinson Tract community to distribute the center’s newsletter.

The Robinson Tract Community Center is a 45 x 80 foot, one-story building situated along Robinson Tract Road.

This building, along with the T.G. Howard Center near the Calfee Training School, was given to these communities as a donation from the Radford arsenal in the 1950s.

Back in those days, the community center served as a hub for various community organizations including the 4H Homemaker Extension program and the Ruritan Club.

As time passed, though, these organizations utilized the building less and less.

“When we moved here, I didn’t even know what they were doing in this building,” said Tina. “It wasn’t very active.”

Robinson Tract residents Olaf and Judy Howard kept things going at the center in the leaner years by holding yard sales to keep the building maintained.

According to Cecil King, Laurence and Betty Knuckles moved to this section of Pulaski County a dozen years ago and took it upon themselves to pass out letters to every house in Robinson Tract. The letters asked for help in revitalizing the community center.

“We had a fairly good turnout,” said Cecil. “Lawrence went to James Hardy and got Hardy Board to re-side the building.”

This also marked the beginning of Cecil King’s tenure as president of the Robinson Tract Community Center. Over this time, King has overseen several major improvements to the community center. They have refinished the floors, replaced of all electric systems, installed a new furnace, replaced all the windows, installed an air conditioner, remodeled the bathrooms and started remodeling the kitchen.

“This was paid for through fundraising and we want to give a shout-out to the Richardson Foundation,” said Cecil. “We asked them for donations four times and they helped us all four times. We paid 60%, and we’ve been able to get 40% of the cost of a project from them.”

The Robinson Tract Community Center is equipped with all new tables and chairs, as well and is said to be able to seat 100 people comfortably.

“The purpose of the community center is family oriented,” said Cecil. “We want families to rent this to be together and do activities. Already we have eight families rented it for December.”

There are important stipulations, however. Neither alcohol nor smoking are allowed inside the building.

“We actually had a group in here that was associated with the police that brought alcohol,” said Tina King.

“And we had to not let them rent it again,” said Cecil. “Can you imagine one of the police units in our county can’t rent our building?”

Though they’ve lived in the Robinson Tract community for a quarter of a century, the Kings are not native to this part of Pulaski County. Cecil King is from Snowville and met Tina, who has lived “in many different places” when he was a Dairy Science student at Virginia Tech and she was studying nutrition at the University of Tennessee.

The couple married in 1981and moved to Pulaski.

“We lived in town on 14th Street,” said Tina. “We loved it. We had wonderful neighbors but my husband’s a country boy and he’s always wanting to get out to the country.”

“She’s been a pretty good boss,” said Cecil. “Occasionally I get my way.”

When they first came to town, Tina found a job with the Montgomery County Department of Social Services, but soon found work with the New River Valley Agency on Aging.

“I’ve worked about every job in the agency,” said Tina, who attained a degree in Public Health from Virginia Tech along the way.

These days, Tina King acts as the Executive Director of the New River Agency on Aging, which is a government cooperative with board members from Giles, Floyd, Montgomery and Radford. She has held that position since 2006.

“We’re an umbrella group over New River Valley Senior Services, which is a private nonprofit that does our transportation services and meal deliveries,” Tina continued. “They do the operational part of Pulaski Area Transit. I’m over the Agency on Aging, which is the fiscal agent that manages the funds and gets the bills paid. Within the aging part of that, it’s managing and developing programs that meet the needs of our older citizens”

All told, Tina King oversees more than a dozen formal programs.

After graduating from VT, Cecil King spent two years working as a herdsman for a local farm. He then worked a seven-year stint at a company in Iowa.

“I didn’t want to get promoted because I didn’t want to live in Iowa, so I quit and became a competitor with them,” said Cecil.

He founded King Agricultural Products, a company that developed nutritional supplements for livestock.

“I developed vitamin and mineral supplements and told you how to feed your animals,” said Cecil. “I fed beef, mama cows, feedlot cattle, sheep, goats and dairy. I tried to optimize their health and improve their pregnancy rate and assist them and improve the farmers’ profitability.”

Three years back, Cecil King retired from King Ag. Products but still keeps sheep and cattle at their Robinson Tract property. Cecil founded the NRV Sheep and Goat Club along with two other fellas in 2015 to promote sheep and goats in Southwest Virginia, which keeps him quite busy.

“My phone rings all day,” said Cecil. “We’re up to 227 farms. I’ve had three calls already today from sheep and goat farmers. We can make more progress cooperatively than we can being the lone ranger.”

Tina enjoys cooking, hiking and biking and having company over occasionally, including the couple’s daughter, Laura Beth Parnell, who is now 35 and lives in Hillsville. Their standard poodle Peaches keeps things lively.

The couple are clearly dedicated to the community center and their Robinson Tract neighborhood.

“It’s quiet,” said Cecil. “There’s very little crime and people are willing to help each other … and people work. They have good values here. Like our board members. One of my pet peeves is people that love to volunteer to build a resume but they really don’t do anything. With the officers and the members of the community club and just plain members … they work. They participate. Everybody pitches in.”

Until recently, members of the Robinson Tract Community Center met once a month but meetings have lately been suspended because of concerns about the spread of the coronavirus. These meetings will, no doubt, resume as soon as it’s been deemed safe to do so.

To be a voting member of the Robinson Tract Community Center, one need only attend one meeting a year or take part in four activities. New members are welcome and there are no dues.

“We’re inclusive,” said Tine. “We’re open to anyone out in the community that wants to get involved. So as Cecil goes out and delivers those newsletters, he’s trying to spread that message, too.”

“People around here want to see everybody else happy,” said Cecil. “So that’s the that’s the beauty of this little community. They want to see it succeed.”

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