Civic center project manager still pursuing architecture at age 90 | Giving

Many in the valley remember when the Berglund Center was opened and known as the Roanoke Civic Center — home to circuses, ice hockey, basketball games, concerts and other events.

John Cone Jr., however, recalls the details and hard work that went into erecting the public arena prior to its October 1971 opening.

He was project manager for the civic center and will celebrate his 90th birthday, which is Friday, with a party of family and friends Saturday at Berglund’s Performing Arts Center.

Although the architect Cone refers to the civic center as his legacy and one of his major construction projects, he’s also known for speaking out on environmental issues.

Cone — now an associate with HDH Associates PC in Christiansburg, father of three, grandfather to “a bunch of grandchildren” and husband of eight years to Fern, “who has a whole tribe of her own” — has no retirement plans.

Cone shared memories of the civic center, and of the difficulties encountered as the arena was being built on Williamson Road. The complex now includes an auditorium and other amenities.

“The civic center is the reason I came to Roanoke. I was looking for new grounds,” explained Cone, who was born in Larned, Kansas, and spent most of his life in New Hampshire and Vermont.

Cone developed an interest in architecture from his father.

“When I was 7 years old, my dad graduated from two colleges in Kansas and Michigan and then went to the University of Massachusetts. He worked and then went to Yale. He would bring home work and sit at a drawing board” — impressing the youngster.

Cone also noted that his maternal grandfather, the acclaimed poet Robert Frost, left a great impression and influenced his interest in nature and the environment.

“Grandfather did a lot of lecturing as a poet … and my mother accompanied him,” he said….

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