By STEVEN NALLEY
In 1966, Clayton Village had no running water; A.D. Johnson, Lewis Roberson and John McGee wanted to do something about it.
On July 26 of that year, the group founded the Clayton Village Water Association, with President McGee, Vice President Roberson and Secretary-Treasurer Johnson serving as its only three board members. While McGee died some years ago, Johnson and Roberson continue to serve on the board to this day.
The CVWA honored Johnson and Roberson at its annual meeting Tuesday night, with commemorative trophies, gifts and a standing ovation from other members present.
Going into the meeting, Roberson and Johnson were unaware the recognition for their service was on the agenda. Willette McClain, general manager with CVWA, said she wanted to surprise the two.
“I talked to the (current) president, J.M. Burkes, and the other board members about it, and they thought it was an excellent idea,” McClain said.
McClain said she had planned to honor the two for the past two years, because she has been unable to find any evidence of something similar being done for the CVWA founders before. McGee died before she joined the association in the ’90s, and McClain said she wanted Roberson and Johnson to be recognized for their service while they are still alive.
“I just thought that you should give a person their flowers while they live,” McClain said. “Mr. Roberson is over the age of 80, and Mr. Johnson is over the age of 75. They’re like silent giants. They do so much for the community.”
Johnson said he and others in Clayton Village had to bring three or four 10-gallon milk cans full of water home from work at Mississippi State University each day. Sometimes, he said, he would get the water from a fire hydrant near an ice plant on campus.
“I did that for four years,” Johnson said.
Roberson said he, too, brought water home in 10-gallon cans, and he was grateful to at least have a truck to do so with.
“People tore up cars hauling water,” Roberson said. “It was tough.”
The first CVWA meeting to determine local interest in running water was held at First John Missionary Baptist Church, where the group still meets to this day. Johnson said the interest of a certain number of people was needed to qualify for a loan for running water, and while gathering interest proved difficult at first, 31 people ultimately signed up. This qualified CWVA for a $100,000 loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farmers’ Homes Administration.
“You wouldn’t believe it, but some people wouldn’t even sign up,” Johnson said. “Number one, they didn’t believe we were going to get the loan to get the water systems started, and some of them just didn’t want running water. They had a pump or a private pump or a well or something or a system that they just got water out of, and they didn’t sign up.”
In those early years, Roberson said he, Johnson and McGee were not only the sole board members, but also the sole staff. Roberson said he had to learn how to operate a water meter, among other things, from seminars with the Mississippi Rural Water Association and American Waterworks.
“We didn’t think about it,” Roberson said. “People needed water, and we were just trying to get water. We fixed leaks and ran meters. Everything that needed to be done, we did it until the later years.”
In the years since 1966, McClain said, CVWA has grown from 31 members and one ground well to more than 1,400 members, two elevated tanks, two stand pipes, three ground wells and thousands of feet of water lines in 2011. Johnson said the entry of small businesses and apartment complexes into Clayton Village enabled CVWA to grow.
The gifts that Roberson and Johnson received included customized MSU jackets from Springer Engineering, gift cards from Linda Hampton, Abigo Incorporation and Thomas, Kerby and Brown, CPA, and a monetary donation from Wade’s Plumbing, all of whom are associated with CVWA, McClain said.
“Thanks to all the vendors that helped make that moment possible,” McClain said. “I was very pleased with the turnout and everything. I’d just like to thank everybody that came out to the annual meeting, to make the annual meeting a success.”
Johnson and Roberson both said they were grateful for the recognition and completely surprised to receive it.
“It really threw me for a loop. I had no idea,” Roberson said.