Ralph Bishop: Rec center name emphasizes former mayor’s commitment to community

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Ralph Clayton Bishop was born July 17, 1933 and died Feb. 15, 2000. In his 66 years he left his mark in the city of Russellville – perhaps most visibly as the namesake of the Ralph C. Bishop Community Center.

“Parks and recreation was organized under his administration, back in the mid-70s, and the park board was set up and a full-time director hired,” recalled Jackie Bradford, who served as the Parks and Rec director from 1976-2005. “He was all about recreation. He really got the department formulated in the early 70s, and it just blossomed from there.”

Bishop served one full term and one partial term as mayor of Russellville – from 1972-1976 and then again from 1984 to 1986, when he resigned to take the open position of electric board director.

According to city hall records, the Parks & Rec Board was created Nov. 5, 1973. Bids were received for the construction of what became the Bishop center Sept. 22, 1975. One bid from W.W. Dyar & Sons was received and rejected, and the council advertised for bids again. Oct. 20, 1975, a bid from W.W. Dyar & Sons was received and accepted at $136,000; a negotiated bid amount was accepted Nov. 10, 1975 for $116,000.

In a paid political advertisement in July 1984, Bishop’s campaign took the opportunity to assure the community he was “a good neighbor and an honest, God-fearing man. He’s also a good organizer, capable of making important decisions, and he’s not afraid of hard work. The last time he was mayor, his energy and know-how stacked up more firsts than our city has ever seen, including the first city budget, industrial park, full-time fire department, sewer system, traffic study, and recreational center. Ralph has proved his heart and his loyalty are here.”

Following his service as mayor and electric board director, Bishop was appointed a U.S. marshal. He also served his country in the U.S. Army in Korea.

He was married to Dorothy Lee “Dot” (Caver) Bishop, who many remember fondly as a school teacher. He had two sons, Ralph Clayton Bishop Jr. and Christopher Lee Bishop, and four grandchildren: Clayton, Will, Noah and Olivia.

Bradford said although the community center was constructed during Bishop’s tenure, with funding Bishop helped procure, it wasn’t until later that the center was named for him.

“We just called it the community center for years and years, and finally the mayor and council renamed it as the Ralph Bishop Center,” Bradford said – “rightfully so,” he added. “It should have been named after him. I can’t think of anybody else they should have named it after other than him, for all the work he put in.”

Although today Russellville is served by two community centers, the Ralph Bishop Center was the first – and only, for awhile. At that time as now it housed the Parks and Rec offices. The facility offers open play time for those wishing to use the gym as well as provides a space for organized rec sports. During youth basketball season, for example, it’s busy three nights a week, filled with young athletes and their fans.

“Without it we just couldn’t have basketball leagues, and we also play volleyball,” noted current Parks & Rec director Donnie Flanagan. “We host a lot of programs for the children.” Flanagan said probably 700 or more children in the City of Russellville play one or more of the youth sports offered by the department. Pickleball will also soon be offered at the Bishop Center.

The center is also available for rent by the community and is often used by local civic groups – the Civitans meet there every Tuesday – and for adult programs.

“Recreation is birth to death,” Bradford pointed out. “We had Golden Gloves boxing up there. There’s been wrestling up there. There’s been all kinds of stuff.”

As to how Bishop would feel to see his name on the community center, Bradford just chuckled.

“You had to know Ralph. He was a character,” Bradford said. “He turned out to be a great friend. We went to Auburn games together … I got along with him real well. You knew where you stood with him. He was a man who, when he spoke, you listened to him. You know he was serious, and he meant what he said.”

Bishop was laid to rest in East Franklin Cemetery.

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