Ed Rice Community Center anchors Frayser

Frayser’s Ed Rice Community Center serves the neighborhood from a site that once served as a pauper’s graveyard for Shelby County.
More than 50 years ago in 1965, the city of Memphis built Frayser’s Ed Rice Community Center. Upon Frayser’s annexation by the city the community center was dedicated to Ed Rice in 1982 by Mayor Wyeth Chandler. Ed Rice was a prominent landowner in Frayser, soldier and chief lieutenant of Mayor E.H. "Boss" Crump.

Prior to the center being built the land was a pauper’s graveyard for Shelby County between 1890 and 1965 and is host to 30,000 deceased. Of those, 15,000 are stillborn babies and the other 15,000 being indigents who didn’t have relatives or resources for proper burial.

In 2007 through a collaborative effort consisting of the Frayser Inter-Faith Association, Frayser Community Association (FCA), and Ed Rice Community Center, the Frayser Memorial Garden in the trail area of the center was established to recognize and acknowledge the 30,000 deceased buried beneath the grounds.

Today, Ed Rice Community Center is directed by Osie Lewis and assistant director Britney Burse. The center is located at 2907 Watkins along one of the main gateways to Frayser and “on one of the nicest pieces of land in Frayser,” Lewis said.
The plot features a walking trail, a pool and tennis courts, and is centrally located.

Lewis has been the director since 2000, and served as the director of the North Frayser Community Center for four years before that. Lewis has worked in Frayser for 20 years, and is the only director in history to work both Frayser centers.

Given his experience at North Frayser Community Center, the city asked Lewis to become the director of Ed Rice, which at the time he reluctantly agreed to do. His reluctance came from Ed Rice being a much bigger operation with more programs and people, but same pay.

Throughout the year Ed Rice averages about 450 people a day. The summer season is peak season when the center averages between 500 and 600 people, given the addition of camp kids. Then it drops to roughly 500 or less in the fall, then 450 in the winter, before picking back up in the spring.

Ed Rice Community Center offers a vast array of programs focusing on sports, recreation and education.

One of the many sport programs offered is Judo. The Frayser Judo Club has been operating for 43 years and was formerly headed by CC Wilkinson who recently retired. The club meets on Wednesdays and Saturdays with a regular attendance of 30 people.

According to Lewis, Ed Rice Community Center also has very good basketball team which has won many competitions, including the first Memphis Grizzlies competition. The team has also retired many jerseys and numbers, with players going on to play for schools such as University of Kansas.

The center also hosts the Mighty Marchers and Majorettes. Furthermore, three festivals are held annually: the Spring Festival, the Fall Festival and Block Party for Peace.
This summer the center is working with the Literacy Council of Memphis to assess children’s reading levels and have contoured programs to bring the children up to par.

"Camp is for having fun, but you gotta keep the mind active," Lewis said. "It’s all about mind, body and soul."

Moreover, the community center has an ongoing reading program sponsored by Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. So far over a thousand books have been collected at the community center and are available for anyone to read.

The center has a garden program in collaboration with Grow Memphis and Girls Inc. named the William Byrne Memorial Program, which is named after the late Dr. William Byrne. The Net Learning Center has also been dedicated to Byrne. The Net Learning Center used to be an office for many of the organizations in Frayser, and Byrne himself. Now it features 10 computers loaded with various programs for children to come and learn.

 A lot of adults utilize the community center also. Ed Rice has a large young adult population between the ages of 21 – 30. Most come for the free play and organized sports. The American Indian Group has a volleyball league that comes and play every Tuesday and Thursday evenings.

“This fall we are going to create senior volleyball, and basketball league,” Lewis said.

The community center is very much an anchor of Frayser and acts as city hall for many of the organizations in the neighborhood.

Read more articles by Joram Mondie.

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