A.W. Todd: Banquet hall, senior center, farmer’s market pay homage to state agriculture commissioner

PROGRESS 2023: What’s In A Name

Since 2002 the A.W. Todd Centre has stood has a testament to the lifelong efforts of its namesake – Arvel Woodfin Todd – to champion the needs of his native county.

As recorded by the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce, the A.W. Todd Centre Building Authority was formed in 1998 to plan the creation of the Centre. Construction was funded by $400,000 secured by Todd in 1994; $200,000 secured by one time senator Roger Bedford; $200,000 appropriated by Commissioner of Agriculture Charles Bishop; $134,000 in a no-interest loan from the Farmer’s Market Association; and other funds set aside by the city of Russellville and the Franklin County Commission.

So who was the man who inspired such a building to be constructed and named to honor his legacy?

Born in Belgreen in 1915, Todd was a passionate champion of farming and agriculture in Alabama. He earned his agricultural science degree in 1940 from Alabama Polytechnic Institute – now Auburn University – and after a few years in business and entrepreneurship, he took his first step into the political arena, elected to the Alabama Senate in 1950.

It was his career and achievements in politics that perhaps distinguish him the most. He was also elected to the state House of Representatives and served 12 years as Alabama Commissioner of Agriculture  and Industries – the youngest person to be nominated and elected to the position and the only person in Alabama history to have served three terms in the office, according to a 2002 Franklin County Times special section in his honor. Before the A.W. Todd Centre in the early 2000s, Todd was also responsible for securing funding for a Coliseum in Russellville, one of six such facilities across the state, with a state-appropriated $50,000 in 1958.

His political career inspired Russellville Mayor David Grissom, who got his own start and interest in politics sparked by his activities at Alabama Boys State while in high school. “Mr. Todd was a customer of ours at the car wash, and I used to wash his car often,” Grissom explained. At Boys State, “you can run for offices, from governor on down. Because of my relationship with Mr. Todd at the car wash on Saturdays, I decided I was going to run for commissioner of agriculture, like Mr. Todd was.”

Grissom sought advice from the hometown hero – “He well informed me. I took a lot of notes” – to plan his campaign. “I did not win the election, but I ended up being the assistant commissioner of agriculture,” Grissom said. “That was probably my beginning of being interested in politics.”

Todd has his own experience with a disappointing election result, with an unsuccessful campaign for Alabama governor in 1958. Although he ultimately missed the Democratic nomination, Todd was well supported at home, with huge turnouts at his campaign rallies and 61 percent of the vote in Franklin County. He ran on ideas for industrial growth, an expanded education program and a continuing commitment to agriculture. He pledged himself to “maintaining our Southern way of life,” as record by an FCT article at the time. “We are people of good will, and people of good will can work out their problems, no matter what those problems might be,” Todd is quoted. In another article, “I promise you I will bow my head each morning before entering the executive office and ask our great Creator to give me help in solving the problems of that office in a Christian way.”

Todd passed away in 1996, leaving behind him a long legacy of commitment to his state and to his hometown – one that will not be soon forgot, if only for the sake of the community gathering place that bears his name and bears out his love for Franklin County.

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