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2012 September 17 - 12:00 am

Ark. College Names Building For Ailing Former Congressman

WEST MEMPHIS, Ark. (AP) — Former U.S. Rep. Marion Berry said a new alternative fuels research center dedicated in his name can help the struggling Arkansas Delta, as he made a rare public appearance since undergoing treatments for a brain tumor and cancer last year.

Friends, former staffers and family praised the former congressman as the Mid-South Community College dedicated the new Marion Berry Renewable Energy Center. Berry, who retired from Congress because of health problems, said he hoped the $9.5 million facility could help transform the east Arkansas region he used to represent.

“If you’ve driven through the Delta, and everybody did today to get here, you know that we’ve got lots of room to grow and not very much success,” Berry said as he toured the building. “This is a gem we can build on.”

Berry, who represented east Arkansas’ 1st District for seven terms, underwent surgery last year to remove a brain tumor and later was diagnosed with lymphoma. His family has said his cancer has been in remission since last year.

“I’m feeling all right,” Berry, 69, said after the ceremony. “I don’t get out very much, but I’m getting along pretty good.”

Berry said he believed the center could help transform the region’s economy.

“If we develop the resources that we’ve got and then there’s absolutely no reason why we cannot be the center of the universe when it comes to building an economy, no matter what it’s based on,” Berry said. “This has been a passion and a vision that many people have had over the years, in fact, long before I was ever around.”

The college said the new $9.5 million facility will serve students pursuing careers in transportation, agriculture and heavy construction industries. It also will support research in biofuel production. The 35,120-square foot center includes laboratories to analyze biofuels and engine cells that will test the effects of biofuels. The labs include full-scale trucks that are used to recreate road conditions to test the fuels.

Glen Fenter, the college’s president, said the center would help “move eastern Arkansas to the forefront of this conversation nationally” when it comes to the development of alternative fuels.

Retiring Rep. Mike Ross and Attorney General Dustin McDaniel praised Berry’s work in helping the region. McDaniel, who said he once planned to write a book about Berry, said the former congressman was willing to fight to bring resources to the mostly rural district.

“They wanted every dollar that he put into the 1st District in their districts, but they didn’t get it because we had Marion Berry bringing it to us,” McDaniel said.

Ross, the state’s only Democratic congressman, said Berry was able to help the region through the earmark process.

“I can tell you that without earmarks, places like Mid-South Community College are going to lose because you’re competing against large colleges from all over America that have got some high-dollar grant writer and some high-dollar lobbyist based in D.C.,” Ross said. “You didn’t need that when you had Marion Berry on the appropriations committee and when we had earmarks. He was doing that for you.”

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