As hotel prepares to open in Macon, Centreplex workers reflect on life, jobs

When Macon’s new hotel opens Tuesday, a lot of longtime city employees will enter the private work force.

You may not know many of them, but they’ve rolled out your welcome mat for years — some of them for decades.

Now they’re off the city payroll and onto Noble Investment Group’s. That’s the company that built the hotel adjacent to the Macon Coliseum and Wilson Convention Center. Noble will oversee operations at the coliseum, the convention center and the City Auditorium downtown, which are collectively known as the Centreplex.

That might seem like a minor change. About 45 full-time employees and a pool of more than 150 part-time ones will get their paychecks from somewhere else.

But when you’ve spent a long time in the welcoming business for a city, something like this can be a big deal. The Macon City Council honored Centreplex employees during its meeting last week.

Here’s a look at a few of the Centreplex’s longest-serving employees.

Regina McDuffie

Regina McDuffie’s first memory of the Macon Coliseum was when she was 10 years old. She and her sister wore matching homemade outfits to see the Jackson 5 in concert.

It never occurred to this little black girl in a still segregated city that one day she’d manage the whole building, not to mention the city’s famous copper-domed auditorium or the Wilson Convention Center, added to the coliseum in 1996.

Come to think of it, it took a while for all that to sink in for the grown woman, too. A music man from Macon had to point it out.

“I didn’t realize the significance of me actually running this building until Little Richard was here,” McDuffie said. “And he looked at me and he said, ‘Never in my lifetime would I think that somebody black would be running this building.’ ... I felt really proud.”

McDuffie’s been with the city 21 years. She started in the purchasing department, moved to finance and served as budget officer for nine years. She’s spent most of her time with the city as general manager at the Centreplex.

But under former Mayor Jack Ellis, she pulled two separate stints as the city’s chief administrative officer.

She was heavily involved in the city’s negotiations to build the new hotel and will remain the general manager of facilities for Noble. Asked what she sees when she drives to work each morning and sees the hotel come into view, McDuffie said she sees “potential gained.”

“People always say we have so much potential,” she said. “But I see that potential gained.”

Linda Ray

Linda Ray saw Elvis Presley perform here in 1977 and rode a circus elephant in 1987.

She’ll be 62 in December, and her day job is answering phones in the Centreplex’s administrative office. For many Macon visitors, her voice is one of the first they associate with the city.

She works among pictures of James Brown and “Holiday on Ice,” the first show at the Coliseum when it opened in 1968. She came here as a bookkeeper in 1976 and worked in the box office, too. One day, someone asked if she’d like to ride an elephant from the Macon train station to the coliseum.

Of course she said yes, and rode bareback. It was on the local news.

“If they were to ask me again, I would,” she said with a laugh. “I’ve been pleased with my job all these years.”

The circus sort of runs in her family. She said her grandfather was a roustabout and met her grandmother one year when the circus came through town.

Grandma wouldn’t let him leave.

Ray plans to keep doing the same job for Noble that she did for the city. She said it’s “a little scary” to change employers, but she’s excited.

“I look at it as an adventure,” she said.

Don Jackson

When Don Jackson showed up at the coliseum, the heating and cooling system was pretty much shot.

“They said, ‘Hey, if you can get everything going, then you’ve got a job,’” he recalled last week.

He must have gotten everything going, because he’s had a job for about 33 years. As the building engineer, he’s responsible for pretty much everything in the coliseum.

“I was told, once you come through this door, this is yours,” he said as he crossed from the Centreplex’s administrative offices and into the coliseum. “Don’t bother me, take care of it.”

That was an adventure. Jackson, now 57, said he didn’t have a lot of drawings, showing where electrical wiring was in a given wall, for example. So he figured it out. Over the years, he hasn’t seen a lot of shows, but he was part of them pretty much every time someone flipped a switch.

“I still like the oldies,” he said. “The Allman Brothers, Wet Willie. I like doing the country shows. ... Most of them are just regular people.”

Asked what he thinks about going to work for Noble now, Jackson said “everyone seems nice.”

“I kind of like the idea, but I don’t know how I’m gonna like working for a hotel group,” he said. “I’ve stayed in a hotel.”

Earnest Clark

Earnest Clark slowly made his way around the coliseum floor last week, looking for any loose trash that might need to be picked up.

Trade show workers and visitors in town for a convenience store show bustled by.

“I’ll tell you one thing,” he said. “It’s a nice place to work. And the thing I enjoy about it is meeting people.”

After 22 years, the 69-year-old janitor has had plenty of opportunities. He saw the Ringling Brothers circus here. He saw B.B. King. He saw some gospel singer whose name he couldn’t remember, but “that lady could sing.”

Clark likes the religious events best. He said he loves it when the Seventh Day Adventists come to town. He smiles as he sweeps things up, one small spot at a time.

“In my 22 years, I tell you,” he said, “I just love people.”

To contact writer Travis Fain call 744-4213.