Dr. Reginald Claypool Neblett had been in Owensboro exactly 15 minutes when he went on his first case. His first stop in town was a drugstore, while he was asking the pharmacist for directions, a man came in urgently calling for a doctor. His friend had been shot in a fracas down the street. With his words, “I’m a doctor,” Dr. Neblett picked up his bag and followed the man.
Dr. Reginald Claypool Neblett and Mrs. Hattie Louise Neblett established residence in Owensboro, KY in 1930. He was the only African American Doctor during the early 50s in Owensboro after his two predecessors, Dr. Amos Cornelius and Dr. Clay E. Simpson, Sr. had died. Dr. Neblett practiced with Dr. Simpson in the Porters Building during his first 12 years in Owensboro. He became the first black member of the Daviess County Medical society and the second to join the state medical society.
On her first day in Owensboro, Mrs. Neblett, an elementary and home economics teacher, recognized the need for providing a safe haven, and programs for black youths, which would help decrease juvenile delinquency in the community. With the steadfast support of her husband, and the cooperation of several interested local citizens, she took steps to put her ideas into effect, and the center started in the basement of her home.
In 1936, a field representative of the National Recreation Association, Mr. E. T. Atwell, gave invaluable service and counseling in the formation of a temporary organization. A permanent organization was established in March of 1936 and known as the Community Recreation Council. Members of the original corporate body included Mrs. Hattie L. Neblett, Dr. Reginald C. Neblett, Mr. William L. Weaver, Mr. Stirman Wheatley, Mr. L. R. Jones, Mrs. Merle Thruston, Mrs. Evelyn Agnew, and Mr. Paul Lewis of the First Owensboro Bank and Trust Company.
Active members of the organization were Mr. Junius Valentine, Mrs. Ella Valentine, Mrs. Gertrude Talbott, Mrs. Ethel Hall, Mrs. Grace Hayden, Mrs. Tillie Payne, Mrs. Elizabeth Slaughter, Mrs. Laura Doss, Mrs. Eula Danzy, Mrs. Lula Warner, Mr. C. D. Davidson, Mrs. Ozetta Sleet, and Mrs. Mary Lee Hayden Wilhite.
Mrs. Hattie Louise Neblett was elected president of the organization in 1936 and held the position until 1973.
From 1936 until 1942, the Council met in various churches and schools to plan youth activities to improve their physical, cultural, educational, and moral welfare, and rehearse for its annual Community Chorus Recital. For 25 years music lovers looked forward to this musical program. It was during these years that Mrs. Mary Ruth Shiver, Mr. Robert Woolridge, and Mr. Earl Dean Kuykendoll gave considerable aid to the recreation movement as workers in the statewide Works Projects Administration, (WPA Project) the work program for the unemployed.
A campaign for funds to purchase a building to house the recreation program was launched in December of 1940, and fourteen hundred dollars ($1,400) was donated. The well-structured old John Massie tobacco warehouse on the North West corner of Fifth and Elm streets was purchased in 1942 for thirty-two hundred dollars ($3,200) and renovated by having two wooden stories razed and other necessary improvements made.
The building was unchanged until 1967 when the first floor in the rear of the building was converted into a modern nursery-the West End Day Care Center. In 1980, this Day Care Center, operated under its own Board of Directors, was relocated to a well-equipped new building across the street at 802 West Fifth.
The Center building provided a meeting place for organizations of a social, religious, and civic nature. During World War II it furnished sleeping quarters and a USO for visiting soldiers who came from nearby camps.
In 1972, the Board of directors consisted of Mrs. Hattie L. Neblett, Dr. Reginald C. Neblett, Mrs. Ella Valentine, Mrs. Mary Fisher Morris, Mrs. Maggie Williams, Mr. James Curry, Mrs. Josephine Holman, and Mrs. Addie Talbott.
Four persons were granted life memberships on the Board of Directors in 1974 because of their long years of dedicated service. They were Mrs. Hattie L. Neblett–40 years, Dr. Reginald C. Neblett–40 years, Mrs. Ella Valentine–40 years, and Mrs. Mary F. Morris—30 years.
In 1973, former Mayor Waitman C. Taylor, his officials, and General Electric provided $6,000 to bring the building into temporary compliance after the local and state building inspectors declared the structure to be out of compliance with state codes. A capital funds drive was launched, after contacting numerous local, state, and federal fund sources, and foundations, former Senator Marlow Cook notified the organization of funds that were to be distributed to the cities.
In 1975, Mayor Jack Fisher and the Community Development Advisory Committee voted to contribute $225,000 for the renovation of the building over a two-year period. Due to inflation and other reasons, the total cost of the improvements was approximately $350,000.
The program was temporarily relocated at 802 West Fifth Street in the former Cozy Bar on December 29, 1976.
In May 1978, the community center received the prestigious Jane Addams Medal from the National Federation of Settlements and Neighborhood Centers. Dr. Reginald C. Neblett and Mrs. Hattie L. Neblett, as the founders of the center, won the award over nominees from 30 other states, and they were honored as “Outstanding Leaders in the Service of Humanity.”
A special meeting of the Community Recreation Council was held on May 28, 1979, to amend the Articles of Incorporation changing the name. The members voted to change the name of the corporation from Community Recreation Council, Inc. to H. L. Neblett Community Center, Inc.
On June 10, 1979, the beautifully renovated building was dedicated. As a token of appreciation to Mrs. Hattie Louise Neblett for her vision, dedication, and leadership, the Center was renamed as the H. L. Neblett Community Center.
For many years, the center was the only facility of its kind in the community. But as the years rolled on and times changed, the center expanded its role accordingly, reaching out to people of all races and ages with a wide variety of services.
June 1, 2005, after four years of fundraising, and selling bricks for the walkway of the new building, the Center broke ground on a $2.98 million, 24,000 square foot complex, on the same location. In January 2004, U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell announced that he had secured $3 million in federal funds for the project.
The all-new H. L. Neblett Center’s grand opening “Living the Vision” was celebrated, and sponsored rooms were acknowledged, on May 31, 2006, through June 11, 2006.
The Center is governed by a Council and Board of Directors. It is funded by the United Way, daycare, state funds, donations, fundraisers, and grants. Currently, in the new building, expanded daycare services and more programs are offered, for senior citizens, young adults, and youths with a computer lab, a game room, gym, health and fitness room with exercise equipment, and a very well-equipped kitchen.
Dr. Neblett suffered a second stroke and died on July 17, 1978. Mrs. Neblett died on August 26, 1993. They were nominated by lifetime board member, Wesley Acton, and received the 2010 Kentucky Civil Rights Hall of Fame Award, posthumously.
The efforts of Dr. Neblett and Mrs. Neblett earned them a prominent place in the history of Owensboro and the dream lives on.