February 2023

Page 1

Love never fails

I don’t recall when I first hung the artwork on my living room wall, but I’ve moved it to three homes since then. In large gold lettering, it reads, “Love never fails.” That’s a truism that I’ve tested through the high points and heartbreaks in my life, and I’ve been amazed by the power of love to give strength and happiness and, at times, to overcome hurts that could easily divide people.

Love is a strong motivator for all of us, and February is the appropriate time for our magazine’s theme to be “Love in the 501.” Each month I’m responsible for finding stories to support our theme, and it’s always easy to fill our pages with articles about demonstrations of kindness and good deeds in Central Arkansas.

Last year Conway City Attorney Charles Finkenbinder suggested David and Naomi Meeks for a story, and I knew that February would be a perfect fit. This couple opened their hearts and adopted two groups of siblings. When you have eight children who are six to 11 years old, your home is never quiet. And that’s just the way they like it!

Our Couple of the Month has been married 60 years, and Judy Zellner has this advice for new brides: “Marriage is not always a bed of roses. You won’t always like him, but always love him. I still think Bill is a cute 84-year-old — that helps.”

The issue has two special sections. One is titled “Seniors Living Well,” and the other will take you inside Conway Christian School’s new academic, arts and athletics complex. We also have a fascinating story on Jim Rasco, whose name is on the lobby of Hendrix College’s Wellness and Athletic Center. Rasco is an honoree of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame as well as a longtime board member of the respected organization.

Some people say they don’t believe in things they cannot see, but I do. I believe in the healing and hopeful power of love, just like I believe in oxygen and gravity. I believe, as Paul said to the Corinthians, that “the greatest of these is love.”

4 | 501 LIFE February 2023
PUBLISHER/ART DIRECTOR Jeremy L. Higginbotham EDITOR Stefanie W. Brazile FOUNDERS Donna Spears and Sonja Keith BRAND AMBASSADOR Donald Brazile ADVERTISING DIRECTOR Paulette Higginbotham ADVERTISING SALES Donna Spears DIGITAL DIRECTOR Levi Gilbert PHOTO DIRECTOR Mike Kemp COPY EDITORS Andrea Lively and Andrea Miller FINANCE DIRECTOR Debbie Flowers Betsy Bailey Amy Burton Tara Cathey Cassandra Feltrop Phil Hays Natalie Horton Matt LaForce Mike Parsons Brooke Pryor Judy Riley Carol Spears Kristi Thurmon
Becky Bell Adam Bledsoe Don Bingham Jessica Duff Laurie Green Dwain Hebda Colleen Holt Vivian Lawson Hogue Tammy Keith Beth Jimmerson Mark McDonald Susan Peterson Dr. Robert Reising Judy Riley Carol Rolf Donna Lampkin Stephens Rita Thomas Morgan Zimmerman Johnny Adams Jack Bell Don Bingham Jessica Brown RaeLynn Callaway Glenn Crockett Beth Franks Russ Hancock Spencer Hawks Mathilda Hatfield Roe Henderson Jerry Hiegel Mike Kemp Julie LaRue Karl Lenser Monica Lieblong Lori Melton Deanna Ott Pat Otto Jon Patrom Amy Reed Lori Ross Margaret Smith Jan Spann Kim Tyler Suzann Waggoner Jennifer Whitehead Kay Wood FAULKNER CO. EDITORIAL BOARD Mary Clark Shelli Crowell Dr. Larry Davis Shawn Halbrook Alicia Hugen Alisha Koonce Stephanie Lipsmeyer Stewart Nelson Kristi Strain Jim Taylor Morgan Zimmerman CONWAY CO. EDITORIAL BOARD WHITE CO. EDITORIAL BOARD 501 LIFE is published by Make the Jump Media, LLC (920 Locust Ave. Ste. 104, Conway, AR 72034, 501.327.1501) and is owned by Jeremy Higginbotham and Stefanie Brazile. The contents of 501 LIFE are copyrighted and materials presented may not be copied or reproduced in any manner without the written permission of the publishers. Articles should not be considered specific advice, as individual circumstances vary. Advertisements are not necessarily endorsed by 501 LIFE.


On the cover

Naomi and David Meeks have filled their home with a large family and love.

Behind Sofa: Esther (from left), Sarah), J.D. and Zach. Sitting on sofa: Matthew, Dad, Mom and Noah.

In front: Jacob and Ben.

6 | 501 LIFE February 2023 Volume 15 Issue 10
74 36 18
4 Letter from the Editor 8 Upcoming events 9 Girl Scouts host Cookie Palooza 10 Loving LIFE photos 12 Arkansas Duck Derby flies high 14 A love letter to Romance By Stefanie Brazile 16 Couple of the Month: Judith Ann & Billy Dan Zellner of Greenbrier 18 Meeks Family in the right spot By Rita Halter Thomas 24 Youth of the Month: Claire Hudnell of Hot Springs By Tammy Keith 28 Entertaining: My Valentine table for two By Chef Don Bingham 33 501 SPECIAL SECTION Seniors Living Well 34 Health is the new wealth 36 ‘Irish Rose’ is still dancing at 97 By Carol Rolf 40 The time is now By Amanda Castillo 42 Fans ready to Love Lucy again 44 A Superior Valentine By Stefanie Brazile 47 2023 501 Basketball Team 50 Men in a Mission: White County cares for homeless By Judy Riley 57 501 SPECIAL SECTION: Conway Christian School - Ready to Soar By Dwain Hebda 66 Kid of the Month: Isaiah Graham of Conway By Becky Bell 69 Sculpture unveiled at MLK Square in Conway By Stefanie Brazile 70 The value of Pre-K By Jessica Duff 72 Show love even when life gets busy By Adam Bledsoe 74 Pet of the Month: Archie at Bryant Junior High By Dwain Hebda 78 Conway County Piecemakers sew quilts for vets By Morgan Zimmerman 82 Author of the Month: Grace Vest By Susan L. Peterson 84 Internet Education By Beth Jimmerson 86 Our love for The Natural State runs deep By Vivian Lawson Hogue 90 Artist of the Month: Vivian & Steve Griffith By Carol Rolf 94 Athletic Excellence: Jim Rasco By Dr. Robert Reising 97 Hendrix College names 13th president 98 Person of the Month: Crystal Floyd

Bledsoe Chiropractic, 32 Centennial Bank, 63 Central Baptist College, 56 Conway Christian Schools, 61 Conway Corp., 69 Conway Public Schools, 25 Conway Regional Health System, 99 Conway Regional Rehabilitation Hospital, 80 Conway Symphony Orchestra, 73 Danny & Linda Linn, 60 DJM Orthodontics, 68 Downtown Conway, 54-55 Edward Jones, 35 Engage Management, 85 _____________________________________ First Community Bank, 39, 98 First Security Bank, 64, 100 First Service Bank, 13 Float Spa, 45 Freyaldenhoven Heating and Cooling, 15 Girl Scouts - Diamonds, 89 Hartman

Animal Hospital, 75

Harwood, Ott & Fisher, PA, 77

Heritage Living Center, 5



Kawaii Boba House, 91

Kilwins Little Rock, 71

Lock-Wood Electric, 62

MSC Eye Associates, 73


O’Kelly Law Firm, PLLC, 45


Pulaski County


Restoration Wellness, 93

Reynolds Performance Hall, 46

Rik Sowell Architects, 59

Rise Above Alcohol & Drugs, 27

Salem Place, 43

Shelter Insurance, 89

StoneBridge Senior Living, 41

Superior Health & Rehab, 2


The Max, 21


Unity Health, 3, 53

University of Arkansas

Community College Morrilton, 31

University of Central Arkansas, 23

Velda LuedersColdwell Banker, 8, 16, 63


Rita Halter Thomas is a Conway native and a pastor’s wife. She attended the University of Central Arkansas and is an award-winning writer, author, editor, writing coach and speaker. She is married to Jimmy and has one daughter, Marinna, and enjoys horseback riding and spending time with family. She sings with the worship team at Mountain Top Cowboy Church in Heber Springs.

Adam Bledsoe is originally from LaGrange, Ohio. Adam came to Arkansas by way of Harding University after active-duty service in the U.S. Air Force. He and his wife, Dr. Amanda Bledsoe, own Bledsoe Chiropractic clinics, with locations in Conway and Maumelle. Adam utilizes his skills as a storyteller as the co-host of The Vine on THV11.

Morgan Zimmerman was raised in Northwest Arkansas and studied journalism at Arkansas Tech University where she met her husband, a Morrilton native. She works as a freelance marketer, writer and mom to two young children.

February 2023 501lifemag.com | 7 welcome to
501 LIFE on KARK Noon News and Conway Corp each month!
the Writers’ Room Catch
Morgan is a volunteer for Main Street Morrilton and Sacred Heart School, among other organizations in her community. SO MUCH MORE BEYOND THE PAGE! Subscribe to our weekly 501 LIFE EXTRA news and sports e-newsletters at 501lifemag.com/newsletter today.
501 LIFE would like to thank our advertising partners.
Herschel Hall, 65
Julie’s Sweet Shoppe, 89
NBMC General Contractor, 62
Ott Insurance, 9
Special School District, 70
Superior Tire & Express Lube, 61

brought to you by:

Beast Feast

2 to 8 p.m. • Feb. 11 • Conway

Show Me Reptile Show

10 a.m. • Feb. 4-5 • Jacksonville

The annual Sportsman Banquet is hosted by Second Baptist’s Men's Ministry for men and boys of all ages. It features games, prizes, live music, great food and speakers. It is not a fundraiser. Jon Kitna, who was a quarterback from 1996-2011 for the Seattle Seahawks, Dallas Cowboys, Cincinnati Bengals and Detroit Lions, will be there. Visit Eventbrite to purchase $25 tickets.

The Polar Plunge

10:30 a.m. • Feb. 18 • Greenbrier

A premier reptile expo bringing quality and variety to the Jacksonville Civic Center. Experience and learn about reptiles, and maybe even bring home a new family member. General admission to the adventure opens at 10 a.m. Military, first responders and teachers receive 50% off with ID. 12 and under are free. Tickets are $7 to $20.

Babe Ruth Statue Unveiling

10:30 a.m. • Feb. 6 • Hot Springs

Be hip — take the dip! Benefiting the Special Olympics of Arkansas, the annual event will be held at Woolly Hollow State Park. Team costumes are encouraged! On-site registration begins at 10:30 a.m., the parade and prizes at 11:30 and the plunge at noon. A $50 minimum donation allows you to plunge and receive a T-shirt. Learn more by contacting Brenda at 501.450.0395 or visit specialolympicsarkansas. org.

BrickUniverse, LEGO® Fan Expo

10 a.m. • Feb. 25-26 • Little Rock

On the 128th anniversary of his birth, the world’s third bronze statue of the baseball immortal will be dedicated at Hot Springs’ Majestic Park baseball complex. Ruth loved coming to Hot Springs for spring training in the early days of the city’s fame as The Birthplace of Major League Baseball. No cost to attend. Learn more at hotsprings.org.

Join thousands of fellow LEGO® fans at the Statehouse Convention Center for a fan event. Meet professional artists from around the country and be inspired by one of the largest display creations under one roof! Play with thousands of bricks and build a creation for all to see. Visit Eventbrite.com. Tickets start at $14.99.

Cookie Palooza

Girl Scouts — Diamonds kick-off the sweet season in Conway

G irl Scouts — Diamonds of Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas hosted its annual Cookie Palooza event on Jan. 14. It was a day-long fun and educational kick-off for the 2023 cookie season.

The goal of Cookie Palooza is to prepare girls with the skills needed for a successful cookie season. Around 400 girls from around the state participated in workshops reinforcing the five skills they learn through the Cookie Program: goal setting, decision making, money management, people skills and business ethics.

They also practiced their sales pitches and enjoyed a “Go Bright Ahead Beach

Party” inside the Conway Expo Hall. The troops also sampled the newest treat added to the other nine favorites: Raspberry RallyTM is only available online this year and will be shipped directly to the customer. All proceeds stay local to help fund “life-changing, girl-led programs and experiences,” according to the website. Cookie booth sales open Feb. 17. To learn more, visit girlscoutsdiamonds.org and choose the Cookies+ tab.

Girl Scouts — Diamonds oversees 79 counties across three states and serves more than 4,200 girls and more than 1,900 volunteers.

Raspberry Rally™ is a thin, crispy cookie infused with raspberry flavor and dipped in chocolaty coating that may look like Thin Mints,® but the Girl Scouts promise they will have a delicious taste that’s all their own.

February 2023 501lifemag.com | 9
Hope Green (from left), Annabel Hernke and Violet Mills attended Cookie Palooza. Photo by Don Brazile.


Headed out on a special trip? Have a special occasion or get-together coming up? Pack a copy of 501 LIFE in your suitcase, snap a photo at your destination and send it to us for publication in a future issue!

Photos can be submitted by email to stefanie@501lifemag.com

10 | 501 LIFE February 2023
The Golden Girls from Lonoke Baptist Church in Morrilton were “Loving LIFE” while attending a Christmas program at First Baptist Church in Conway. They are Gwynel Hill (from left), Lucretia Walker, Rita Lewey, Betty Stracner, Shirley Mitchell, Tina Atkinson, Shirley Walters, Pat Hale, Rachel Hill, Marilyn Dailey, Cherri Koolman and Gayle Carlon. Will Green Sr. (from left), Laurie Green, and Doc and Kathy Brown were “Loving LIFE” and hanging out at Doc's Coffee + Creamery. A group of friends were “Loving LIFE” at the annual Christmas parade in Conway. DuShun Scarbrough, executive director of the Arkansas Martin Luther King, Jr. Commission in Arkansas (from left), along 501 LIFE co-owners Jeremy Higginbotham and Stefanie Brazile at the MLK Unity Interfaith Prayer Breakfast, which was hosted at the Governor’s Mansion on Jan. 16.
February 2023 501lifemag.com | 11
Members of the 501 LIFE Basketball Team were “Loving LIFE” at their photo shoot in early December Participants were “Loving LIFE” at the annual Fairfield Bay Chunky Dunk that was held on New Year's Day. The money raised went to the Arkansas Veterans Support Dog Program of the Fairfield Bay VFWA. Emma Buchanan (from left), Anabelle Bolling, Kassidy Young, Allison Sadowski and Erika Turkin were “Loving LIFE” at the Girl Scout’s annual Cookie Palooza on Jan. 14 at the Conway Expo Hall. Eli Jernigan (from left), Brenna Duncan, Tegan Strickland, Jep Duncan (in front) and M.J. Strickland were “Loving LIFE” when they volunteered at the Conway Noon Optimist Club Angel Tree event. Dean and Leo Treat of Conway were “Loving LIFE” in Branson when they celebrated their 51st wedding in December 2022.

Arkansas Duck Derby flies high

Event becomes major success for Conway Regional Health Foundation

T he 4th annual Arkansas Duck Derby grossed more than $475,000. The funds raised are designated for the Conway Regional Health Foundation and the Men’s Health Initiative, which is a comprehensive program that uses wellness tools, screening programs and disease prevention counseling to empower and educate men to take control of their health and wellness.

“In a recent study, the average man was defined as living in poor health for the last nine years of his life,” said Thad Hardin, MD, co-chair of the Arkansas Duck Derby. “So not only is his wife or family going to outlive him, but they are also going to have to take care of him for nine years, and that is not a burden that men should place on their family and friends.”

National Convenience Solutions had the winning team, which included Casey Bisek, David Geary, Bobby McNey and Drew Payne. Their team guide was Jon Ross Henderson with First Security Bank.

Thirty-three teams entered the Arkansas Duck Derby, and nearly 900 people attended the banquet that evening. “The 4th annual Arkansas Duck Derby will impact our community’s health far beyond Conway, Arkansas,” said Maegan Dyson, chief development officer of the Foundation. “We could not have done this without the support of our

partners and sponsors, Conway Regional staff, volunteers and the hunters and landowners who participated.”

The fundraiser kicked off with a hunt early Friday morning on Jan. 6. Teams brought their ducks to C2 Powersports that afternoon, then dice were rolled at a pre-banquet reception to determine the point value of each duck species hunted.

The day ended with the Duck Derby evening banquet at the University of Central Arkansas HPER Center. The final dice were rolled to determine the winners. The night included food and drinks, live music, silent and live auctions and a raffle for a 2013 GMC Sierra 1500 4x4 that was valued at $20,000 and was customized for duck hunting.

“Conway Regional is accountable to the communities we serve, and the funds raised will help educate, empower and create access for men to prioritize their health needs.” said Matt Troup, president and CEO of Conway Regional Health System.

The Foundation was established in 1996 to provide financial support to Conway Regional to aid the health system in carrying out its mission of providing excellent health care for the Central Arkansas area. As a non-profit hospital, all revenues are invested back into Conway Regional.

12 | 501 LIFE February 2023

to a love letter Romance

I played hooky from the office one Friday morning in search of romance — Romance, Arkansas, that is. Armed with a Valentine for my sweetheart, Don, I drove to the only U.S. Post Office that offers a special postage stamper that says “Romance.”

It was a sunny day and a beautiful drive down Highway 36 past Happy Valley Baptist Church on my way to Mount Vernon, where I took a right, and soon passed Chance Road. The scenery and signs reminded me of the quest to find and keep love — a quest full of happy days, taking chances and, sometimes, finding valleys.

The Romance Post Office is one of the only buildings in town and is very popular this time of year because folks want their love letters to be processed there. Each letter that a post office receives must have the postage stamp “canceled” with a marking from that post office to show that it has been used and shouldn’t be used again. The friendly postmaster, John Parham, said that before COVID-19, the staff processed about 12,000 envelopes a year, with about 5,000 a year since then. Parham anticipates an uptick this Valentine’s Day season because they started receiving pink and red envelopes in mid-January. Mine was one of them.

“We look forward to it,” Parham said. “It’s kind of neat to see there’s a little bit of love left in the world. People are a little bit sappy.”

Parham has been married to his sweetheart, Kristen, for 16 years and has worked for the postal service for 27, bearing the responsibility of Postmaster in Romance, Rose Bud, Enola and Mount Vernon for the past eight years. When he talks about how many people drive from Little Rock, or mail cards from all over the world, he smiles. They have even processed an envelope that was mailed to them from Japan.

In a digital age, the staff at Romance is proud to play a role in the delight one receives when opening a Valentine. If walls could talk, the post office would tell of cars and motorcycles lined up outside, waiting their turn to have their envelope marked in a way that is not available anywhere else in the world. The building and parking lot have also hosted an occasional wedding ceremony or vow renewal.

“It is busier here around Valentine’s Day than any other day,” said Parham.

And that will continue until June, because many people hand-deliver or mail wedding invitations to Romance because it shows they were willing to go the extra mile to make a card or invitation a romantic gesture from the start.

During the interview, Daisy Kurck was busy processing letters and shared her excitement about the charm surrounding the post office. She has been a rural carrier for 19 years and commented on how many older men make the drive to Romance to mail cards to the special lady in their life.

“I also stamp them every day for grandparents and grandkids,” Kurck said. “It’s fun to see people come in. One lady has them stamped for her own collection.”

Like many others, I’ve decided from now on to play hooky each February and take a nostalgic drive to a small post office with big heart, because Romance is worth it!


Each year a new love-themed postage stamp is issued by the postal service. On Jan. 18, 1990, the USPS hosted an event in Romance to celebrate the issue of the famous love stamp, which features two bluebirds perched above a heart. A large image of the stamp hangs on the wall of the otherwise functional office space, along with other sayings about love. There are also many rose-covered or red hearts that are permanent decorations. This year’s stamp features a kitten or puppy with their paws on a heart. Two other “love” stamps are available.

Postmaster invites 501 readers to design a stamper for Romance

The “valley” to this love story is about the loss of the ornate “Romance” stamper that Parham and Kurck used for years. Sadly, it was withdrawn by the artist who created it. So, currently, the round stamper bearing “Romance Post Office, Romance, AR 72136” is offered in black for darker envelopes, or in red for pink or white ones.

Parham invites readers to design a stamper for Romance. “If somebody designs one, I’ll send it through the approval process, and it may be approved.”

If you want to express extra love to your sweetheart this year, quickly deliver or mail in a larger envelope or box, pre-addressed envelopes with postage stamps to:


Valentine Remailing

292 Arkansas 31

Romance, AR 72136

February 2023 501lifemag.com | 15
Romance Postmaster, John Parham



W e met in Greenbrier schools and married four years later in August 1962 at a wedding on the front porch of Judy’s parents’ home in McGintytown. Afterwards, we left the wedding in a 1954 Chevrolet sedan that sometimes had to be pushed to start. We moved quite a few times as our job opportunities required. Judy taught business education early in our marriage. One unusual thing is that we once lived in a remodeled funeral home in Dumas. We enjoy being at home in Springhill in our easy chairs, watching TV and visiting with our friends. That’s not very exciting to most people, but we like our life and feel blessed beyond measure.



WHERE DID YOU GROW UP: In McGintytown, a community outside of Greenbrier.

EDUCATION: I graduated from Greenbrier High School in 1960, earned an undergraduate degree from Arkansas State Teachers College in 1963 and a Master’s degree from Arkansas State Teachers College in 1965.

JOB: Owner of Zellner’s Appliance in Conway.

FAMILY: My parents are Arlie Cardin McGinty and Pete McGinty (both deceased), both of McGintytown. Our children are Barry Zellner and Julie Zellner McDonald, both of Conway.

COMMUNITY ACTIVITIES: I attend Springhill Baptist Church in Greenbrier. In the past, I taught Sunday school and Bible school and sang in the choir (hearing aids won’t let me do this anymore). I enjoy family activities, especially anything including grandkids Tate, Luke and Emma Zellner and Hadley Moser. I also enjoy cooking for game night with friends from the Senior Citizen’s Center and church.

HOBBIES: After working, I enjoy my easy chair. Bill watches all kinds of sports and I have learned to like them.

DESCRIBE YOURSELF: My kids and employees would say I am bossy. Somebody has to be the boss. I like people and enjoy my work and my customers.

ONE THING PEOPLE DON’T KNOW ABOUT YOU? My kids say that I don’t believe in photo albums because all of my pictures are hanging on the walls of my house. They also say I can’t tell a joke because I start laughing halfway through it. I am also a 24-year breast cancer survivor.

MOST ENJOYED WEEKEND ACTIVITY: Cooking for my family on Sunday, church activities and sleeping late.

YOUR MOTTO: A smile goes a long way.

ADVICE FOR YOUNG COUPLES? Marriage is not always a bed of roses. You won’t always like him, but always love him. I still think he is a cute 84-year-old — that helps.


WHERE DID YOU GROW UP: On a third-generation farm in Springhill, right outside of Greenbrier.

EDUCATION: I graduated from Greenbrier High School in 1956 and was part of the first graduating class of Petit Jean Vocational and Technical School in 1964.

JOB: Retired from Zellner’s Appliance.

FAMILY: In addition to our children, my parents are Ila McCollum Zellner and Bernard Zellner (both deceased) of Greenbrier.

COMMUNITY ACTIVITIES: I served on Greenbrier School Board for 15 years, and the board of Central Baptist College for five years. I have served on the Faulkner County Council on Aging for the last 28 years.

I am a deacon at Springhill Baptist Church and taught Sunday school and ran the Galilean program there for years. I served as building committee chairman for our current auditorium.

HOBBIES: I was a golfer before arthritis. I love watching sports, especially the Razorbacks. I enjoy playing shuffleboard and table games at the Greenbrier Senior Citizen’s Center.

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOURSELF: In one word, tenderhearted.


YOU: I was in the first graduating class at Petit Jean Vo-Tech (now the University of Arkansas Community College at Morrilton) and finished my one-year course in six months with straight A’s (probably due to being married to a teacher).

MOST ENJOYED WEEKEND ACTIVITY: Spending time with Judy and family.

WHAT IS YOUR MOTTO: Life is too short not to enjoy.

The drawing of the Zellners was created by the late Frank Lyon, who owned an electrical appliance distributing company. He had the sign built as a gift for The Zellners in the ’70s.

Over time, the sign ended up in a relative’s barn. To honor their 50th anniversary in business, a nephew repainted the sign and it now stands in front of the counter of their business in Conway.

Photo by Mike Kemp
18 | 501 LIFE February 2023
By Rita Halter Thomas Photos by Mike Kemp

The Meeks say ‘yes’ to love ...

S he said yes. He said yes. Then, they both said yes.

David and Naomi Meeks said yes when they married on Valentine’s Day 2009. They said yes when they opened their hearts as foster parents. They said yes again when they adopted not just one, but two sibling groups, adding eight children to their family. The Meeks family grew one “yes” at a time.

After David moved back to Conway in 2008, his search for a church led him to Bible Baptist Church. “My first night, I got there early and met the pastor,” he said. The pastor learned David graduated from a Bible college and invited him to the front. From the stage, a young woman caught his eye. “I looked around, and three rows back, there she was, smiling.”

The young woman was the pastor’s daughter, Naomi. When David said yes to an invitation to a group dinner after service, their love story began. “We met in May, were engaged by August, and married by February,” Naomi said. The couple tried to start a family, but after several painful losses, David’s sister told them of a young mother looking for a family to adopt her baby. “We went to Florida. She chose us, but about a month before the baby was born, she decided to keep the baby,” Naomi said. “That was hard.”

However, through that process, the couple learned crossing state lines to adopt is more complicated, so they began looking in Arkansas. That’s when they connected

with The CALL, a nonprofit working with local churches and the Division of Children and Family Services. “We went into that meeting wanting to adopt only, but left wanting to foster sibling groups ... My heart broke at the thought of kids coming into care and being separated from their siblings on the night of one of their biggest traumas,” Naomi said.

So, the Meeks said yes in 2014 and received J.D., Ben and Zach, ages 3, 2 and 14 months respectively. The boys were their first placement, and adoption was possible. The primary goal of foster care is the reunification of the family, but when that’s not possible, and children cannot return home safely, adoption becomes possible. However, nothing’s guaranteed. Despite the roller coaster of emotional unknowns, the Meeks opened their hearts and home to the boys, knowing at least one thing. They could love and make a difference in the lives of these children, no matter what.

Just over a year later, after navigating the long adoption process, a judge said yes in 2015, and the two became five. Though they successfully adopted, the Meeks’ home remained open to fostering. They welcomed 26 more placements, but when each child left the home, it became a trigger for the boys. “They were having a really hard time. We would explain, and walk them through it multiple times, but they still really struggled with kids leaving our home. So, we stopped fostering and reopened as an adoptive home,” Naomi said.

Continued on page 23

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22 | 501 LIFE February 2023

Continued from page 20

Meanwhile, the eldest, J.D., began praying for two sisters and made it known he wanted to remain the oldest. While discussing their decision with the caseworker, Naomi jokingly said they had room for five. And that was exactly the size of a sibling group in need, all within the desired age range with two girls. Plus, David and Naomi recognized them from their church bus ministry. They knew the children, and the children remembered them. Esther, Sarah, Matthew, Jacob and Noah entered their home in late 2017.

The second sibling group fit like a glove, and in 2018, a judge said yes again, and the Meeks became a family of 10, with “eight under 8.” And God said yes to J.D.’s prayers. He gained two sisters and remained the oldest by 10 days. In fact, each of the first set of siblings is slightly older than each of the second set, giving them a perfect “birth order” fit. Today, J.D. and Esther are 11, Ben and Sarah are 10, Zach and Matthew are 9, Jacob is 8 and Noah is 6.

“It’s pretty awesome and all the kids get along ... You know, we have moments when they fight like siblings do. Sometimes it drives me crazy, but sometimes it makes me a

little bit happy knowing they act like the siblings they are,” Naomi said, smiling.

Homeschooling? Not for this Momma. They’re all in public school. “We have four in middle school and four in elementary, but for two years straight, we had seven in elementary,” Naomi said. “We had seven class parties, seven teacher conferences, seven of this and seven of that. I was everywhere,” she said.

The Meeks know adopting sibling groups is not for everyone but offer encouragement. “You don’t have to take in a sibling group to make a difference. If you foster one child, or two, or whatever ... it makes a difference. It’s not just those who adopt multiples. Not everyone’s as crazy as we are,” said Naomi, laughing.

With a full house, one might expect the Meeks to say no to another child, saving all their love for their eight. However, there was one heart’s desire they had not experienced: to bring a baby home from the hospital. But God remembered. Their latest foster placement? A newborn they brought home from the hospital. Naomi had stopped praying for that, but God remembered and said yes.

February 2023 501lifemag.com | 23
‘If you foster one child, or two, or whatever ... it makes a difference.’
— Naomi Meeks



L akeside High School junior Claire Hudnell made a video about a fellow student losing his vision as part of a broadcasting class. The subject not only inspired her; it impressed judges in the National Federation of Press Women’s High School Communications Contest.

Claire received the Julie Hoffman Memorial Best of the Best Award among all national first-place winners in 22 categories. She is the first Arkansas student to win that honor.

“I was completely shocked; I did not see that coming at all,” the Hot Springs 17-year-old said.

Claire, a daughter of Melissa and Jason Hudnell, won first place in the Video Feature category in the Arkansas Press Women high school contest to advance to the national competition, where she again took first. That win put her in the running for the top honor. She received $100 for winning the national Video Feature story category and $250 for the Best of the Best award. The journalism program at Lakeside High School received a matching $250 cash award.

Debbie Miller, a member of Arkansas Press Women, was

present at the conference in Fargo, S.D., where the video was shown.

“Her storytelling ability and the great technical quality demonstrated in her video left a room full of professional communicators in awe,” Miller said. “I was so proud of Claire and so grateful to see an Arkansas student honored in such a significant way."

Claire said she created the 4 minute, 20 second video “Vision Interrupted” for the Lakeside District Press advanced-broadcasting class during her sophomore year under teacher Chris Slaton. She featured student Walker Cheatham, also a junior, who is slowly losing his vision. “I wanted to tell Walker’s story and show the support that Lakeside provides for students like Walker,” she said. “I loved interviewing him and getting to know him.”

Claire said Walker’s parents first took him to get glasses, but his problem turned out to be more serious. Although he hasn’t received an official diagnosis, it is most closely related to a chronic disorder in which scar-like tissue grows in place of normal bone. Claire said Walker is “a great student” and has a Braille teacher and is learning to use a cane.

24 | 501 LIFE February 2023
on page 26

Watch Claire's Video

“Claire is such a hard-working student,” Slaton said. “She is always striving to go above and beyond when she is producing segments. As a member of the District Press staff at Lakeside, she has played an integral part in telling the stories of our district for our community. Claire is a talented storyteller who relishes the opportunity to produce stories worth sharing.”

Claire also is active in the Lakeside High School Student Council, where she serves as treasurer, and is a member of Beta Club, National Honor Society and the swim team. She plans to attend law school and become an appellate judge “to make a difference” in people’s lives.

Creating the video about Walker was life-changing for her, she said.

“It kind of gave me a new perspective,” Claire said. “Walker, who is losing his vision, is so genuinely happy and so genuinely kind, and I want to be genuinely happy and genuinely kind in that same way in all the things I am blessed

‘Very well done. A difficult story to tell but one that will help others to gain a better understanding.’
- National Federation of Press Women’s High School Communications Judge
Continued from page 24 Images from the national award-winning video Claire Hudnell created about fellow student Walker Cheatham.
the QR code with your phone's camera or QR code reader to watch now. 26 | 501 LIFE February 2023
February 2023 501lifemag.com | 29
By Don Bingham Photos by Mike Kemp

Pizza Crust

1 package yeast dissolved in 1/4 cup warm water

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1 tsp. granulated sugar

1 tsp. salt

2/3 cup warm water

3 cups flour

Dissolve yeast in warm water. Let stand for 5 minutes. Put olive oil, sugar, salt and water in a mixer bowl. Add yeast mixture. Beat in flour, 1 cup at a time. Will be stiff. Knead 5 minutes. Let rest for 30 minutes. Punch down. Stretch dough into a 10" pizza pan.

Pizza Toppings

4 cups onion, chopped

1/4 cup olive oil

2 tsp. garlic

2 tsp. oregano

1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes

2-3 Tbsp. Parmesan cheese

6 ounces goat cheese (or your favorite cheese)

1/2 cup julienned sun-dried tomatoes

8 quartered green or black olives

Parsley, chopped

Saute chopped onions in olive oil, garlic, oregano and red pepper flakes. Spread onions over dough. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Bake for 15 minutes at 400 degrees. Crumble goat cheese. Sprinkle with tomatoes and olives. Bake 10-15 minutes more, until the crust is done. Dust with chopped parsley.

Nancy and Don Bingham

Date Night Made Simple and Delicious

T hough it is difficult to really define love, and to do so would take volume after volume of written experience, history and tradition, Nancy and I often enjoy a simple night of carefree dining to celebrate any special occasion — especially Valentine’s Day! One of our favorite dishes during our dating days was the timeless and ever-popular dating feast — PIZZA!

Our first date (56 years ago!) was on a snowy-icy February 14 night, when I was a freshman in college in Birmingham, Ala. You might know, as we were leaving her dorm for the car, I managed to slip on the ice-covered path and made a royal thud on the ground! I was trying so hard to impress, to be the manly choice of Nancy's dreams, and this hilarious fall began the evening of memories that would last a lifetime. We were headed for a local pizza establishment, where

stromboli, steak sandwiches and pizzas were their specialty. And as with many couples, pizza has remained one of our favorite "go-to's" for relaxed and fun dining!

When we published our first cookbook, we had studied with a well-known celebrity chef, who gave us these unique but simple recipes for crust and tomato sauce. We have tweaked it through the years, and the crust recipe remains the same (makes wonderful sticks and bread for tomato sauce dunking) and have simplified the recipe to include our favorite toppings, pepperoni and green olives. You can make the topping and sauce from the original recipe or adapt them to toppers of your choice, or even purchase a can of your favorite tomato sauce from the grocery shelf. The important thing is to enjoy each other and savor the flavors of a love affair with pizza!

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M ost people retire around age 64 and they’re ready for some ME time. After 40 to 45 years of having a rigid schedule, seniors want to pursue hobbies, travel, spend unrushed time with family and friends, manage their financial resources and remain active and vibrant. Today’s older adults are proactive about being informed and living well.

In this special section, 501 LIFE has included articles that educate, inspire and elevate senior adults. We begin with financial wellness, then bring readers a story about a 97-yearold woman who still wants to do an Irish gig. Next, find inspiration to begin or increase your exercise goals. Finally, be entertained with a feature and photos about a local health and rehab center that encourages creativity and happiness among residents, especially at their annual Valentine’s Day party.

February 2023 501lifemag.com | 33

HEALTH is the new WEALTH

R etirement can be an exciting new chapter in your life, especially if you enjoy good health. Of course, staying healthy enables you to keep active – but it can also benefit you financially and emotionally.

By maintaining good health, you may be able to:

• Help protect your savings from health care expenses –Even with Medicare, between premiums and out-of-pocket expenses, you can expect to pay a considerable amount of money to cover your health care costs in retirement –about $4,500 to $6,500 per year for one person, according to data compiled and analyzed by Medicare, the Kaiser Family Foundation and Edward Jones. While some of these costs will be unavoidable, others could potentially be reduced significantly if you were to remain in good health for much of your retirement.

• Possibly reduce your need for long-term care – While you’ll want to have a strategy in place should you have a long-term care need (as many of those costs aren’t covered by Medicare), staying as healthy as possible could help you remain independent longer and may reduce the likelihood or duration you’ll need assistance.

• Enhance your retirement spending abilities – During retirement, your spending habits may assume even greater importance than when you were working. You’ll have to carefully balance your spending against your various sources of income, such as your investment portfolio and your Social Security payments. If you can stay healthy and possibly reduce your health care costs, you can potentially improve your cash flow, thereby giving yourself more flexibility in your spending.

Physical fitness boosts emotional and mental health

Improving your physical health can also provide some powerful mental and emotional health benefits. What steps can you take to make these connections? Consider the following suggestions:

• MAINTAIN SOCIAL CONNECTIONS To keep a sense of well-being during your retirement years, it’s important to stay engaged with family and friends and take part in activities you enjoy, whether that’s playing pickleball, taking your grandchildren to the park, volunteering or participating in community events. Do whatever you can to avoid social isolation, which can negatively affect both your physical and mental health.

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• GET ADEQUATE SLEEP Adequate sleep is just as essential for older people as it is for younger ones. A 2021 Harvard Medical School study found that individuals who slept fewer than five hours per night were twice as likely to develop dementia compared to those who slept six to eight hours per night.

• EXERCISE CONSISTENTLY Regular exercise can give you more energy, improve your balance and help prevent and counteract some medical conditions, such as heart disease, osteoporosis, diabetes and depression. Exercise can even strengthen your brain function and possibly reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Overall, exercise can simply make you feel better and help you maintain a positive attitude toward life. Before embarking on any new exercise program, it’s a good idea to consult with your physician.

• FOLLOW A HEALTHY DIET Try to eat a variety of foods to get all the nutrients you need.

• REDUCE STRESS Stress can cause high blood pressure, insomnia, digestive problems and other conditions – not to mention emotional symptoms such as frustration, agitation and moodiness. It’s important to address the

root problems of stress – but you can also help yourself through activities such as meditation and yoga. And exercise is also a great stress fighter.

• CHALLENGE YOURSELF MENTALLY Contrary to popular perceptions, a decline in mental acuity is not inevitable as we age. You can help yourself maintain and improve your cognitive skills through a variety of activities, such as games and word puzzles or by following creative pursuits.

Never too late to start

The best part is you don’t have to worry that you’ve waited too long to take action for your health. In fact, 93% of retirees agree that it’s never too late to improve your health, according to agewave.com/the-four-pillars-of-thenew-retirement, which is an Edward Jones study.

So, start taking the steps necessary to maintain and improve your physical and mental health. And then enjoy the benefits, both financially and emotionally, of staying in good shape.

If you have questions on how you can fit healthcare costs into your overall financial strategy, consult with your financial advisor.

February 2023 501lifemag.com | 35
Information for this article provided by Edward Jones®.
36 | 501 LIFE February 2023
Photos by Mike Kemp


still dancing still dancing

R eflecting on her 97th birthday, Kathleen Kennedy of Conway said, “I wouldn’t change a thing I’ve done. Why should I? It’s all worked for me.”

Her life includes winning numerous medals for her Irish dancing, dancing in two Hollywood movies, choreographing another and having a successful career in avionics. She also raised four children.

Kennedy was born in 1926, in New Rochelle, New York, a daughter of the late John Joseph Kennedy, who was born in New York and raised in Ireland, and Mary Jane O’Neill, who was born and raised in Ireland. She credits her mother for fostering her career as a singer and Irish dancer.

“My sister, Helen, and I danced everywhere in New York,” she said. “We performed in the St. Patrick’s Day parades down Fifth Avenue and with the Clann Eireann Irish Pipe Band in Brooklyn. When I was about 8, my mother took me to

The Kennedy family included three brothers who served in World War II. Kathleen, who graduated from high school in New Rochelle, took a trip to Texas with her mother to see one of those brothers before he went overseas. They tried to get a train back to New York, but all of them were filled with soldiers.

WFAS Radio Station in White Plains, N.Y., which had a program every Saturday morning for young talent. I would sing and dance.”
Continued on page 38
In 1949, Kathleen Kennedy was cast in the movie “Top o’ the Morning” with Bing Crosby. The photo was taken at the Paramount Lot in Hollywood, Calif. She was a striking ash-blonde Irish beauty who appeared as a professional dance and Irish ballad singer in her teens. Kathleen participated in Irish group dancing at the World’s Fair in New York in 1939.

Continued from page 37

“We decided to go to California and then on home,” Kennedy said. But once they got to Los Angeles, they decided to stay awhile because of the warm, sunny weather. This detour led her to the movie industry. She said a friend learned about her singing and dancing and told a movie studio about her.

“The studio called and asked if I would audition as an Irish dancer,” she said, smiling. She auditioned and was cast in “My Irish Rose.” That led to a part in “Top o’ the Morning” and meeting Bing Crosby.

“He (Crosby) was just as nice as anybody could be,” she said. “He was a sweet, gentle man. He liked my medals and put them in a frame for me, saying he would hang them on a wall so they could be seen in the movie.”

Kennedy danced in “My Wild Irish Rose,” which starred Dennis Morgan and Arlene Dahl and was released in 1947, and “Top o’ the Morning,” which starred Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzgerald and was released in 1949. She arranged choreography for “The Luck of the Irish,” which was released in 1948 and starred Tyrone Power and Anne Baxter, but she didn’t appear in that movie.

By 1950, the movie industry was beginning to change from musicals to dramas, and Kennedy knew it was time to find another career. She chose avionics. “Being a petite person, I could crawl all over an airplane, inside and out, anywhere they needed electricity,” she said. “I worked on the first DC-10 planes they made. I worked for many companies – McDonnell Douglas, Hughes Aircraft Co., Lockheed Martin.”

It was about this time that Kennedy married and started a family. The family moved to Randolph County, Ark., for her husband’s job, but the marriage did not work out. Her exhusband moved back to California, and she and the children stayed in Arkansas. She found a job at Dassault Falcon Jet in Little Rock and moved to Conway in 1978.

“She was in her 30s before she began the family,” said her youngest son, Damian Pitchford, 58, with whom Kennedy lives in Conway. Her daughter, Dr. Angela Dyck, 60, lives in Alabama. Her son Warren Pitchford, 63, just moved next door to Kathleen and Damian. Kennedy’s oldest son, Stuart Pitchford, of Little Rock, died in July 2022 at age 64.

Kennedy goes to the Mayflower Senior Center every chance she gets.

“We play dominoes, visit and eat lunch,” she said, adding the center is open Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. “I’ve been going there for years. I was there when they dedicated the new building in 1994. President Clinton was there.”

Patricia Barnes, director of the Mayflower Senior Center, said, “Ms. Kathleen is a joy. She’s always smiling, always dancing. She is the happiest-go-lucky person you could ever meet. She likes to remember her past; we get her carried away sometimes.”

Barbara Mathes, the assistant to the mayor of Mayflower, said she has known Kennedy for many years and planned her birthday party. “She’s always got that smile and is always happy,” Mathes said. “She is such an inspiration.”

38 | 501 LIFE February 2023
From left: Mayflower Mayor Danny K. Hester proclaims Jan. 17, 2023, as Kathleen Kennedy Day. Dancing with Kathleen Kennedy are: Patricia Barnes, director of the Senior Center (in red) and Tina McCoy, assistant director (in black).


The time is now to live a healthier, happier life.

C oncerning exercise and living a healthier lifestyle, you truly have two choices in life. You can stay where you are or move forward.

My mantra is, “You can do hard things.” I motivate my clients and class participants, regardless of age, with those words. Age is not a barrier to living your best life or feeling good about yourself. Change is hard, no doubt, but we must move forward.

The time is now to challenge yourself to live a healthier, happier life.

Want to look and feel better as you age?

Move your body. Keep it simple, even if it is walking for 10 minutes here and there. It all adds up and will make a difference.

Focus on being strong. Lift weights even if you do not care

about building muscle, but you should! Lifting weights helps prevent sarcopenia (age-related muscle loss), makes bones stronger, improves joint health and reduces your risk of heart disease and diabetes. Lifting weights is genuinely the Fountain of Youth.

Get enough sleep. This is hard for many individuals, but we must prioritize our sleep.

Do not take your health for granted. Be proactive with regular checkups. Establishing a relationship with a primary care provider is essential to recognize signs of disease or illness before they cause significant issues. Your doctor can perform routine lab work to set a baseline so that you can be proactive about your health rather than reactive.

To make a lasting behavioral change, most individuals progress through pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action and maintenance stages.

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Submitted photo of Bridget Shinn

In pre-contemplation, individuals are not genuinely accepting of the problem or the need for immediate change, which means they often procrastinate change. Individuals in this stage have heard from their doctor or peers that they “should” change. For example, the individual knows they should lose weight and exercise, but there is no urgency or motivation.

In contemplation, we actively consider making a change but still believe that barriers or challenges outweigh the benefits of the change. For example, knowing you should exercise, but you make the reasoning that you do not have the time. If it is a priority, you will make the time – or continue to make excuses.

In the preparation stage, there have likely been several unsuccessful efforts in the past. For example, the individual joined a gym but did not go. This is where we must overcome obstacles. We need to either remove a barrier like pressing snooze or add a trigger such as packing a gym bag ahead of time to head straight to the gym after work.

The action phase is when we are committed to the change but need to remember why we began the process to change in the first place. This will help us manage a potential relapse by slipping into old behaviors. However, do not have an all-or-nothing mentality. Do not give up because you get off track. Acknowledge the relapse and learn from the experience!

This leads us to the maintenance stage. We could have sustained the positive behavior change of going to the gym for more than six months. Now what? We are typically internally motivated and can rely on habits more than willpower. Routine is important for consistency, and consistency brings change. Is there potential for relapse? Absolutely, but we can get back on track!

When we are on a challenging section of an indoor cycling ride or my client is hitting a new personal best for the leg press — that is the moment when you again have two choices. You can stay where you are or move forward. I will repeat it and encourage you to repeat it as often as needed — you can do hard things.

Whatever intentions or goals you set for 2023, I will be over here cheering you on to move more and live better!

certified running coach, and Barre Above certified instructor with more than 26 years in the fitness industry.

February 2023 501lifemag.com | 41
Amanda Castillo is the Member Experience Manager at Conway Regional Health & Fitness Center. She is an ACE certified personal trainer, ACE Behavior Change Specialist, ACE certified group exercise instructor, Yogafit instructor, Schwinn certified indoor cycling instructor, RRCA

Love Lucy Love Lucy


T he University of Central Arkansas’ Reynolds Performance Hall welcomes L.A. Theatre Works with the hilarious, true story behind one of America’s most beloved TV comedies in “Lucy Loves Desi: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Sitcom” at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 16.

Lucille Ball paved the way for many of today’s top comediennes while forcing Hollywood to begin dealing with the rising power and influence of women artists both on-screen and behind the scenes. Her iconic series, “I Love Lucy”, remains one of the most groundbreaking and influential shows in television history.

“Radio style theatre is a creative treat for the audience, and mixed with the amazing story of Lucy and Desi, will make this show a must see in our season,” Reynolds director Amanda Horton said. “Get ready to learn about the unstoppable career of Lucille Ball and the personal history of her relationship with Desi.”

Playwright Gregg Oppenheimer, son of “I Love Lucy” creator Jess Oppenheimer, spins this witty, fast-paced tale of Lucy and Desi’s battles with CBS over the pioneering ideas that changed the face of television forever: Lucy insisted on Desi Arnaz, her Cuban-born bandleader husband, as her TV co-star instead of the “all-American” leading man preferred by the network. The couple wanted the show filmed in Hollywood, where they planned to raise a family, instead of being broadcast live from New York like other major TV programs of the time. They demanded and won the right to own the show themselves. Their writers incorporated Lucy’s real-life pregnancy into the program’s storyline which was an absolute taboo in 1950s America. It resulted in the highest audience share ever recorded. And they proposed the unheard-of notion of airing reruns on

the network to accommodate Lucy’s mid-season maternity leave, which was an experiment that ultimately turned the entire TV industry’s business model on its head.

“Lucy Loves Desi: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Sitcom” tells all these stories and more with as much heart and humor as an episode of I Love Lucy itself. The cast includes Laila Ayad, Ellis Greer, Ozzie Rodriguez, Bill Mendieta, Gerard Marzilli and Tom Virtue who is also known for his roles on the Academy Award-winning Best Picture, Green Book, as well as The Bonnie Hunt Show, ABC Family’s Secret Life of the American Teenager, Even Stevens and more.

Tickets are $30-$40 for adults and $10 for students and may be purchased at the Reynolds Box Office from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, online at uca.edu/ reynolds or by calling 501.450.3265.


A SUPERIOR valentine

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Superior Health & Rehab create a party fit for a King and Queen!

V alentine’s Day parties are fun for any age, and the residents at Superior Health & Rehab in Conway recently enjoyed a celebration that will fill their hearts with joy all month!

“We’ve brought the annual King and Queen Court back this year for the first time since COVID-19,” said Bonnie Malone, who has been the Activities Director for 15 years. “This gives residents a chance to vote on who stands out during the year. It’s a special celebration for the residents and staff.”

Ballot boxes are placed around the facility, and residents vote on who they think should win in several categories. At the big event, the winners were honored with roses, stuffed hearts or teddy bears and boxes of chocolates. The king and queen, who are not married, received crowns and banners. The categories are King and Queen, First Runners-Up to King and Queen, All Smiles, Encourager, Leadership, Most Huggable, Most Helpful, Miss Congeniality and Bonnie’s Best Buddy, who is selected by Malone.

All of the tables were decorated, and the residents wore red. Famous love songs played in the background while friends, family members, representatives from sponsoring businesses and staff members visited. Many ladies wore a pink rose wrist corsage attached to a pearl bracelet. Jeff Ward of Visiting Angels was the emcee. The party lifted spirits and brought the community together.

1. ALL SMILES AWARD – Deloris Froelich and Eddie Hallum

2. ENCOURAGER AWARD – Jamae Moore and Larry Phillips

3. LEADERSHIP AWARD – Barbara Johnson and Billy Nick

4. MOST HUGGABLE AWARD – Emma Deal and David Fleming

5. MOST HELPFUL AWARD – Mae Voegele and Clovis Freeman

6. BONNIE’S BEST BUDDY – Nora Yerbey (pictured with Activities Director Bonnie Malone and awarded for assisting in every activity offered at Superior.)

7. MISS CONGENIALITY – Edabelle Vail

8. KING & QUEEN FIRST RUNNERS UP –David Horned and Carolyn Bundrick

9. KING & QUEEN – Charles Wallace and Letha Mahan

February 2023 501lifemag.com | 45


Congratulations to these young men and women who have worked hard to be standouts on the court! The nominations were weighted equally between on-the-court and off-the-court attributes. In addition to their commitment to their basketball team, the athletes also prioritize their studies and set aside time to volunteer in their communities.

This huge honor is reserved for a select few each year; and for the first time ever, we will publish the 501 LIFE Basketball Team Magazine — an exclusive edition focused on the players who have earned the elite title. Get your first look at the 2023 team on the following pages and watch for this basketball edition on stands and online in February.

Presented by

February 2023 501lifemag.com | 47

Abbigail Baker (Wonderview), Addison Shelton (Maumelle), Addy Peebles (Nemo Vista), A.J. Person (Mount Vernon-Enola), Ashlynn Newton (Greenbrier), Ashton Ealy (Guy Perkins), Aubrey Evans (Bigelow), Bailey Sims (Vilonia), Beau Higgins (Conway Christian), Brai’lon Davis (Mayflower), Brandon Bennett (Cabot), Bryce Theobald (Searcy), Burt Garrison (Maumelle Charter), Calle Citty (Harding Academy), Cameron Christie (Perryville), Carly Madar (Cabot), Colen Thompson (Conway), Emma Dold (Sacred Heart), Greyson Ealy (Quitman), Hayes Johnson (Greenbrier), Jake Hill (St. Joseph), James Tyler Spears (Heber Springs), Javon Orr (Bigelow), Jaylea Hooten (Heber Springs), Jones White (Vilonia),

Photos by Mike Kemp Joseph Huwe (Faulkner County Falcons), Kaidyn Beckwith (Conway), Kara Keathley (Conway Christian), Katlin Bowden-Huber (Morrilton), Kyler Chapman (Mounty Vernon-Enola), Levi Mercer (Harding Academy), Markel Swinton (Morrilton), Olivia Williams (St. Joseph), Patrick Perry (Nemo Vista), Payton Paladino (Sacred Heart), Payton Scott (Perryville), Raelen Randle (Maumelle), Reese McDonald (Clinton), Riley Whittington (Mayflower), Russ Hensley (Clinton), Sara McCain (Searcy), Sarah Hartle (Rose Bud), Silver Mulliniks (Quitman), Taylor Thompson (Beebe), Tristan Cunningham (Riverview), Tyler Gottsponer (Wonderview) and Zack Brewer (Beebe).



White County group is passionate about providing care for the homeless

Joshua Stewart is a board member and volunteer (from left) and Mike Phifer is the director of operations and for Mission Machine, which is a nonprofit that cares for homeless people in White County. Photos by Mike Kemp

“W hat’s love got to do with it, got to do with it?” Those words were made famous by the voice of Tina Turner, and love has everything to do with Mission Machine, an outreach for people experiencing homelessness in White County. For Mike Phifer and Joshua Stewart, these acts of love for their fellow man took on a whole new dimension. Mike came at his motivation through having walked the walk; Josh from being a sustaining friend of Mike through his trials. According to Mike, Josh followed a path he should have taken: Army, college, marriage and family. Meanwhile, Mike hung around the wrong crowd, one that included substance abuse. He found himself homeless, living in an alley in Bald Knob. But that would all change, partly because his childhood friend never abandoned him.

Mike’s family connected him with a 14-month drug rehabilitation program called Adult Teen Challenge. The first four months were in Hot Springs and the final year in Cape Girardeau, Mo. He spent half days in Bible study, the other half doing manual labor for the program, and at times helping kids from disadvantaged neighborhoods. Part of his training included writing letters to all those he had wronged or let down through his difficulties. One of those letters went to Joshua, thanking him for being the solid rock in his life. Mike said he felt like God wanted him to do more, to share his history of overcoming obstacles. He wanted to help others not follow his path. These two friends embarked on a path to do something positive for others.

The Van, an outreach for homelessness, had branched out from Little Rock to Searcy in 2011. Seth Simmons began the van ministry at that time, driving around Searcy and other areas where people stayed, offering rides and food when available, but generally getting to know the people where they were. Mike is quick to say, “I feel like making a connection with people in need is important to help them to grow because it gives them a sense of belonging.”

Mike and Joshua began riding with Seth, locating folks in need and taking meals. Ultimately, when Seth moved to Northwest Arkansas, they took the handoff and the project became Mission Machine. They quickly realized if they were

going to keep it sustainable, they needed to incorporate, to form a volunteer board and to acquire all the necessities to achieve nonprofit status. These needs did not deter them. They quickly give credit to those who helped and are still helping. George Carder, an attorney who is now deceased, helped them develop articles of incorporation. The newly formed board put together their mission statement. “To love our neighbors experiencing homelessness the way Christ would have us to do, giving immediate shelter and establishing life-changing connections.”

The “immediate shelter” is a tent and a sleeping bag. Joshua adds, “We want to help all those who have no other place to stay. By providing just this basic shelter, it answers the need and helps us know we are targeting the most vulnerable.”

Drs. John Henderson and Ron Baker were instrumental in establishing a free health clinic in Searcy. They offered to share space in their clinic when it was not being used. Nancy Choate, a social worker at Unity Hospital, often works with patients who are homeless as they are discharged from the hospital. “Mission Machine is a godsend for those leaving the hospital with no place to go,” she said. “They have either worn out their welcome with their family or their housing became unavailable, even burned. Mission Machine gets unconnected people connected to the help they need.”

Local churches have stepped up to help. In addition to providing a warming center, First United Methodist volunteers cook meals two nights a week. Food for a third night comes from various civic club members and individual citizens. Volunteers from other churches and the community provide hats, blankets, mittens and nonperishable food items.

For childhood friends Mike and Joshua, responding to this need in this way is their personal mission. It is love for their fellow man, love that is not easy and is not flashy. They are not looking for accolades. Their reward is helping people in need. It is love in action! For more information, contact Mike Phifer, operations manager, at 501.230.9356 or themissionmachine@gmail.com.

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To love our neighbors experiencing homelessness the way Christ would have us to do, giving immediate shelter and establishing life-changing connections.
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On Right: Harding Academy students, faculty and staff sponsored Mission Machine as their Christmas fundraiser. They donated shelf-stable food items to provide an estimated 600 supplemental meals for those in need in White County. Above: Members of the Unity Health Pharmacy about to load 200 shelf-stable supplement meals they prepared for Mission Machine last September.

February is the month of love, so celebrate by dining and shopping in Downtown Conway, where there are more than 60 options available. This year, Valentine's Day falls on a Tuesday, so make your bookings for the weekend as soon as possible! There are many shops and boutiques in Downtown Conway that are available to help you choose the ideal gift while thinking about how to surprise and please the love of your life.

A message from Kim Williams Executive Director, Conway Downtown Partnership
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If there’s any doubt of the allure of faith-based private education in Arkansas, entering the halls of Conway Christian will set that view straight. The school recently opened a major expansion to its campus in the form of a 30,000-squarefoot, multi-use high school addition that touches academics, the arts and athletics.

“T he high school has an academic wing that features a brand-new science lab and other classrooms,” said President Jason Carson. “It also has a drama room and art room for fine arts with a kiln and printing press. All that’s adjacent to a brand-new auditorium that’ll hold about 650 people with stage, lights and visual screens.

“It also has an athletic wing that features a 2,000-square-foot weight room with brand new equipment, brand new locker room and coaches’ offices.”

Discussions for the space began several years ago, Carson said, partially from an increase in enrollment and partially to address areas of need.

“When I first got here, we did a strategic plan and we looked at different areas of the school that needed to be addressed,” he said. “What we realized was, first, we had really strong arts and athletic programs, but the space in which those programs operated was not ideal. We wanted to figure out what could be done with that.

“Then, we’ve gone from 470 students three years ago to 600 students this year. We saw that putting a pinch on our lower school especially. This new facility is going to give us the opportunity to grow closer to 800 students.”

The new high school was put into service immediately upon completion, just before the midterm.

“We had our very first event in December 2022,” Carson said. “It was an event for all of our junior high and senior high students to kind of kick off the building dedication. Then we had a couple of choir concerts in December, and the student body started using it when we returned to school Jan. 9.”

Funds for the new school, which came in at a total cost of about $7.5 million counting furnishings and equipment, were received via a capital campaign kick-started by a generous matching donation. Carson said that gift, along with the response from the entire Conway Christian family, was an endorsement of the school’s mission and core values.

“We were able to get an anonymous donation from a foundation. They gave us a $2.5 million matching gift. That was August of 2019,” Carson said. “We launched the campaign and raised roughly $600,000 to $700,000 and then COVID-19 hit, so we had to stop and focus on the pandemic. By October or November of 2020, we relaunched the campaign and raised all the funds required to build the building by late last year, 2022.

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Photos by Mike Kemp

‘We all did this together — the foundation's gift leading the way, the parents who sacrificed above the tuition dollars and local businesses who partner with us, sponsor us and give us resources throughout the year to help support this building. It's a great feeling. We feel like we can continue on the trajectory that we’re on because of the support we have behind us.’



February 2023 501lifemag.com | 61

The high school also ushers in a new three-tiered organizational structure for Conway Christian. Founded in 1992, the school was previously comprised of a lower and upper school that split between sixth and seventh grade. Going forward, the lower school will house prekindergarten through fourth grade, a new intermediate school serving fifth through eighth grade will be housed in the former upper school space, and the newly constructed high school will serve ninth- through 12th-grade students.

Carson said the new three-school format, combined with the physical amenities, will also serve as a potent recruiting tool, accelerating what is already in high demand in Central Arkansas.

“There’s a lot of opportunity in private Christian education in Arkansas,” he said. “What we’re seeing across the whole country — with the way society has changed over the last four to six years — is there’s a lot of families who want a Christian, faith-based education. At the same time, they have expectations for nice facilities, teachers who are well-trained and certified, and that their kids are going to be prepared to go to college or whatever the future holds as far as a profession.

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“If we want to keep growing, we’ve got to offer a product that’s as good or comparable to the local public schools, the local private schools we compete with, the charters and the home-school options. We want people from the minute they drive onto our parking lot to the minute they walk into our buildings and engage our students, our teachers and the classrooms, we want them to go, ‘Wow!’ Any way we can improve on that is going to help us maximize the opportunity that’s out there to keep moving forward.”


are proud of the new, state-of-the-art facility. The men are excited to see high school students enjoy the new building and to see the growth it will allow in all grades. Carson said that Hameister was Board Chair when he was hired in June 2016. At that time, the new facility was a vision that the Board and school leaders were planning toward, and Carson was hired to bring it to fruition.

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Board Chair Arnold Hameister, Conway Christian School President Jason Carson and former Board Chair Randy Lewis

In 1992, a group of families saw a need for Christian education in Conway. One of those families belonged to Ray Nabholz, founder and CEO of NBMC. He and his wife Laura immediately enrolled their four children in those first tiny classes. NBMC has been blessed to partner in the continued growth of Conway Christian, from their high school and elementary buildings, sports facilities, and now, the state-of-the-art high school addition. Today, the next generation is reaping the benefit of that leap of faith 31 years ago.

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Kathy Sliter with Superior Tire & Express Lube. Members of CCS Girls Ensemble. A huge crowd filled the basketball court at the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce event held Jan. 12 in the new facility. 501 LIFE Magazine was the Media Sponsor of the event. Cody and Emily Ferris (from left) of Sowell Architects, Heath Thessing, Goley Atkinson and Blake Bell with NBMC General Contractor. Ryan Guyton, Brooks Walthall and Lisa Padgett with Central Baptist College.
No doubt God will use this new space for His glory. Congrats CCS!
Stefanie Vann (from left), Margaret Smith, Johnny Adams, J.B. Mobley and Mike Baldwin with First Security Bank.



S ince he could pick things up, Isaiah Graham of Conway has used them to drum a beat.

“It could be anything, toothpicks, Q-tips, my wicker laundry baskets,” said his mother, LaShawnda Graham.

“We don’t usually start lessons at that age, but he came in with drum sticks in his hands and started playing on the floor,” said Jim Skelton, CEO and founder of the school of music. “I immediately told LaShawnda that he was accepted.”

After being welcomed into the school, Isaiah was able to keep up with everything presented.

“His ear for musical beats, rhythm and being able to pick up with drums is innate,” LaShawnda said. “God has blessed him, and through the drum lessons, he has been able to develop even more.”

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Photos by Mike Kemp
February 2023 501lifemag.com | 67

Continued from page 66

Isaiah has performed in five or six recitals thus far and said it was hard to not have a bit of stage fright in the beginning despite his love for playing the drums.

“I felt really nervous, but then it was kind of exciting,” he said. “I think I’ve grown practicing with my instructor and being on stage performing.”

Like any growing and talented musician, Isaiah has imagination and ingenuity to help him hear something but learn to play it in a new and better way.

“When you are learning songs, you learn to make it sound better by taking different beats and learning to spice it up a little bit,” he said.

“To put some Isaiah flair on it,” his mother added.

Of course, not all of Isaiah’s time is dedicated to playing the drums. He sometimes plays board games and squabbles, like all siblings do, with his 5-year-old sister, Jordyn. Isaiah also plays video games like most kids his age, like Madden 21, Call of Duty and Fortnite.

He also dreams of getting a pet one day, a Siberian husky.

He’s done some research on the breed and is fascinated by some of these dogs having one brown and one blue eye.

For physical fitness, he plays soccer offered by the Conway Parks & Recreation league. He’s involved in his fourth year of that and enjoys the excitement.

“I like playing with my friends and scoring goals and you have to play good defense and good offense at the same time,” he said. “But you are also out there just to have fun.”

As for his favorite subject in school, that would be math. The reason why it’s his favorite is hard to pinpoint, but he knows what he likes about it.

“I mostly like multiplication, division and finding the area and perimeter,” he said.

But video games, math, soccer and probably not even a Siberian husky could compete with the way Isaiah feels about playing the drums.

“After the recitals, when I stop being nervous, I am ready to do it again,” he said.

‘We are convinced his talent is more of a gift, and we are looking forward to how God will use this to grow him.’
— Isaiah's mom, LaShawnda Graham

dedicationunity a to

A new addition to Martin Luther King Jr. Square is a shining centerpiece to the park in downtown Conway. Titled “Unity,” the City of Conway installed the metal sculpture on Jan. 16 and will host a public dedication ceremony at 12 noon on Feb. 1.

The City placed the piece to honor King’s life and legacy. "Unity" was created and designed by Hunter Brown with Innovative Sculpture Design, based in Little Rock. It reaches toward the sky and is lit at night to enhance its beauty.

In July 2022, MLK Square was promoted as the newest site for a sustainable low-impact development park that provides community green space on a reclaimed brownfield site. “By replacing pipes and concrete with living biological systems, parks like MLK Square set an example of how we can use soft engineering to better manage polluted stormwater runoff,” the city wrote.

MLK Square highlights the historic contributions of the African-American community in Conway. Through large granite pavers woven into the park walkway, MLK Square tells the stories of people who made an impact on the local, state and national levels. Additionally, a meaningful quote from the civil rights leader is embedded in the sidewalk leading to the art piece. It reads, “If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk then crawl, but by all means keep moving.”

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Photo by Stefanie Brazile

The value of Pre-K

Building skills that help children prepare for kindergarten

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T he Pulaski County Special School District is committed to providing a quality and equitable education to students in prekindergarten through 12th grade. PCSSD's Pre-K program is a free, standards-based program that aims to build strong foundational skills that help prepare students for kindergarten.

Pre-K programs are available at 14 PCSSD elementary schools, including Crystal Hill Elementary and Oak Grove Elementary in the Maumelle Feeder.

“Pre-K teaches children about what it means to ‘work together,' what it means to be a friend, and how a teacher really cares for you, and most importantly, how to be a friend to others,” said Oak Grove Elementary Pre-K teacher, Ms. Kim Lee. “This is the first experience for Pre-K children, so Pre-K builds a child's confidence through consistency, structure, creativity and positivity. That is why children in Pre-K love school. Children learn that their classroom is a safe place they can learn.”

“Pre-K is such a great opportunity because the focus is really on learning to be around friends and with teachers through interactions, conversations and play,” said Crystal Hill Elementary Pre-K teacher Ms. Heather Castaldo. “They learn the social aspect, as well as learning how to navigate the emotions that come from big changes. We build foundations for learning in literacy, math, science, and social studies, as well as art, physical activities and music. All in all, our Pre-K students get to learn in an environment filled with fun, respect, learning and love.”

In order to attend Pre-K within the Pulaski County Special School District, families must meet at least one of the eligibility requirements issued by the Arkansas Better Chance (ABC) program, which can be found at pcssd.org.

Registration for PCSSD’s Pre-K program is now open and can also be found at pcssd.org. If you have specific questions related to PCSSD’s Pre-K program, contact the Pre-K Department at 501.234.2065.


Pulaski County Special School District spans more than 600 square miles in Central Arkansas and requires highly skilled and passionate personnel to adapt educational policies and personalization to 26 schools. Every school is accredited by the Arkansas State Board of Education. PCSSD has served schools across Pulaski County since July 1927.

PCSSD is committed to creating a nationally recognized school district that assures that all students achieve at their maximum potential through collaborative, supportive and continuous efforts of all stakeholders.

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T he year 2020 was a year for the history books.

Leading up to the uncertainty of the pandemic and the subsequent change of pace, life was busy. Almost every night of the week, families would struggle to get home from work or school and fix a meal or eat on the road before heading to ball practice, theater practice, church, business networking events, awards ceremonies, non-profit gala events, etc.

An entire week could go by and we wouldn’t know what’s going on with our loved ones, other than the activities crammed into the calendar. And then, suddenly, everything stopped. Life and time came to a standstill.

Family time was good for us. Distractions were removed and we were doing things to stay occupied and entertained in other ways. It was great at first, but after a few weeks, it set in how busy our lives had been, and now we were bored! Our lives have gradually returned to a busy routine once again, but what that “slow time” did for my family was help us realize how busy we had been before.

The older my wife and I get, the more I think about the amount of time we have left with our children. At the time of this article, I have a 10-year-old and a 14-year-old. In the blink of an eye, they will be out of the house, at which time we will reflect on the good, the bad and the ugly.

Could we have done more with our kids? Should we have taken them along on that business trip? Should we have signed them up for every extracurricular activity offered? Were we gone too much? At the end of the day, I don’t know if anyone will be able to say they got it perfect.

I try to be as present as possible. Our children and spouses need to know you see and hear them. They need to know you care about their struggles and successes. Our children need to be corrected after making mistakes. Our spouses need affirmation and support. Date nights are necessary. Purposeful planning is key.

My wife and I attend lots of community events. Rather than ordering pizza and leaving the kids at the house, we often take them with us. Sure, it requires a little extra planning and preparation, but if they didn’t go with us, we would rarely see them.

While driving, turn the radio off. Get off that phone call that can wait. Talk to your family. It is important to set time aside for family time. We moved to a new part of the 501 area code, and we love exploring new activities and restaurants. We’ve picked up new hobbies like pickleball and golf so we can go out and do things together, as a family.

Life is busy once again. Make sure you show intentional love to your family. Create a routine in your day to connect. Show your family you love them by giving them your undivided attention. Put the phone down at the dinner table – oh and, sit at the dinner table, TOGETHER. (I’m stepping on my own toes here.) Turn the television off. Listen to music together. Love is free. Tell them you love them. Tell them again. Forgive yourself for messing up.

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Remember, we aren’t promised tomorrow, but today is the first day of the rest of your life.

archie to the rescue

Bryant Junior High School gains first therapy dog

J ason and Kelly Hay are both longtime professionals in their respective fields. Jason, principal at Bryant Junior High School, has been in the school system 23 years while Kelly served as a community-based occupational therapist for 21 years, recently joining the school district.

With tenure like that, there’s not much the couple and parents haven’t seen when it comes to education or dealing with young people. But in 2021, the duo took on a brandnew challenge, a mellow therapy dog named Archie.

“The idea came from another occupational therapist I knew who always had her amazing therapy dog with her,” Kelly said. “I’d run into them different places and thought he was wonderful and wanted to carry that on for people in our area. It was probably three years ago we decided to take the next step and got in touch with a breeder.

“We got a call out of the blue in May 2021 and it was the breeder saying, ‘Hey, I’ve got an unannounced litter of puppies. I wanted to give you the first option on it.’ So, Archie’s kind of our miracle baby.”

What followed was months of specialized training to help

mold Archie into dealing with the noise and commotion that 1,700 middle schoolers can create. It was hard work, but Archie prevailed and after Jason received the endorsement from Michele Lewis, the district’s director of federal programs and student services and Superintendent Dr. Karen Walters, the hound reported for his first day of school (or work, depending on how you look at it) last November.

“The biggest thing about him is, he’s a mental pick-meup,” Jason said. “You look at the science and when people are around animals and are able to interact with them, their blood pressure lowers, dopamine is released and it just makes them feel better.

“We could make it very complicated, but honestly, in very simple terms when Archie’s at school I just take him out to the crosswalk. When kids get out of the car, they see him and there’s an immediate mood lift with that.”

Unlike a service dog, which is specifically trained to perform a job – and therefore aren’t to be petted when working – therapy dogs exist for people to love on, thereby relieving stress. It wasn’t long before the Hays saw this at work.

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It’s almost magic.

“I think kids who may be have some trust issues or have some trauma in their life, are able to let their guard down around a dog. That’s the biggest thing.”

In addition to being the Hays’ family pet (they receive no school funds for his training or care), Archie is the first therapy dog in the school district's history. But he won’t be a sole celebrity for long, as the elementary school is in the works for getting one of their own. But Archie doesn’t seem to care about sharing the spotlight, given that he still draws a crowd wherever he goes.

“Our youngest, Spencer, is a big dog lover and he’s expressed interest in being trained to handle Archie,” Kelly said, then added with a knowing laugh. “He may have some secondary motives too; last year he took Archie to the girls’ gym where they were practicing, and he got to be the center of attention along with the dog. Turns out, Archie is quite the chick magnet.”

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‘The first day we had him in, we had a kid in crisis, having a very hard day,’ Jason said.
‘We brought the dog in and in five minutes the kid’s on the ground talking, petting the dog and opening up and was able to verbalize what’s going on.
Continued from page 75

Conway County Piecemakers sew quilts for veterans

C athy Pruitt has been bringing joy to veterans for almost a decade through her talent for sewing. After getting started with a national quilt-gifting program, Cathy and her fellow quiltmakers realized they could make an even bigger impact if they could focus their attention on a local level. They formed the Conway County Piecemakers, a nonprofit organization, and started making and delivering handmade quilts to veterans in Central Arkansas. Since 2014, the Piecemakers have gifted more than 750 quilts.

Cathy and her husband, an Army veteran who served in the Vietnam War, owned and operated a car lot in Morrilton for many years. When they decided it was time to close, her husband asked, “What are we going to do with this spot?” She responded, “Only thing I know to do is sew.” A week later, she discovered him tearing down walls to make the space into a fabric showroom and sewing shop for her. Catherine’s Discount Fabrics and More opened in 2011. In 2014, they sold the lot in town and moved the shop to

a building near their home in Morrilton, where it is still located today.

Cathy credits her interest in quilting to the many friends she made through her fabric shop from hobby sewers to professional quilters who finish the quilts after the tops are made. “I have learned so much from all the ladies,” she said. Starting the Piecemakers just felt like a natural fit. There are about 12 members in the group, and about half of them sew the quilt tops. The rest of the members take care of the administrative tasks and planning that go into the program. “Everyone has a job,” Cathy said.

The group shows their love for veterans in more ways than quilt making. They worked with former State Rep. David Sanders to get the funding for a monument for veterans in front of the Morrilton hospital. They have hosted numerous barbecue dinners, cookouts, fundraisers and special events to honor veterans and to present the quilts. Each year,

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The Conway County Piecemakers are Susie Kinslow (back row, from left), Kimi Blaylock and Karen Pierce. Front row: Beverly Barnes, Lou Booze, Letti Griffis, Cathy Pruitt and Nina Richey.

covered by love a project

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The Conway County Piecemakers worked with former State Rep. David Sanders to receive funding for a veteran’s monument that stands in front of the Morrilton hospital. Photos by Mike Kemp

Continued from page 78

they hold two public presentations, one on July Fourth and the other on Veterans Day. The July Fourth program includes a meal, entertainment and a guest speaker. The Veterans Day program takes place at the local high school and the faculty and students go above and beyond to make the day special. “They include the choir and the band and have reserved seating in the front row for the veterans and their families. It’s really special,” Cathy said.

Every veteran is special to the club, and many have left their mark on the members. Cathy remembers meeting “a very tall man” at one of their fundraisers. She encouraged him to fill out a card to receive a quilt. He reluctantly agreed and was genuinely surprised when she contacted him a few months later to invite him to the presentation. “When I presented him with his quilt, he turned to the crowd and held it up over his head with tears flowing down his cheeks and said, ‘I finally got thanked,’” said Cathy. The audience gave him a standing ovation.

Club members have shipped quilts across the country, delivered them to the homes of confined veterans and even continued their mission with a drive-by quilt pickup at Cathy’s shop during the pandemic. They had the honor of making a quilt for the oldest veteran in the United States in 2017. The man from Austin, Texas, was 103 at the time and told Cathy that the secret to a long life was that “he cut down on his whiskey and only smoked 12 cigars a day now.” A veteran from Hot Springs was the oldest in Arkansas to receive a quilt at 101 years old.

This year, the club is on track to deliver 50 more quilts. Each quilt comes with a special label sewn into it with the veteran’s name, branch of service, years served and any tours overseas noted. Any former service member with an honorable discharge is eligible to receive a quilt. For more information on how to volunteer or to nominate a veteran, contact Cathy at 501.306.8034.

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Conway County Piecemaker Beverly Barns talks with Veteran Wayne Zachary about the personalized quilt that was made for him. Photo courtesy of Pedersen Photography. Conway County Piecemaker Mary Collins presents a quilt to a veteran. Photo courtesy of Pedersen Photography.



G race Vest loves dogs.

The notion that happiness can be achieved by doing good was instilled in Vest as a young girl. She has vivid memories from her childhood of visiting animal shelters with her dad, which led to her volunteering with rescue organizations.

About six years ago, she saw a book about rescue dogs, and she wondered if she could produce a similar book specifically for Arkansas. After all, she was a recent media communications major from University of Arkansas at Little Rock who had experience writing for the university newspaper. It seemed like the perfect project.

In a little over a year, she achieved her mission with the publication of ”Home Sweet Home: Arkansas Rescue Dogs and Their Stories” (Et Alia Press 2017). And in typical fashion, Vest donated a portion of the profits to pet

rescue organizations. In addition to her aim in producing a beautiful book, she wanted to highlight the many issues dogs face, from puppy mills to avoidable health problems.

Vest’s first step was to find the stories. She started a Facebook page, friends told friends, and there was even a news story about her search. Within three months, she received more than 500 submissions. Some stories were heartbreaking, causing Vest to cry herself to sleep at night.

The publication process went smoothly. Using the help of friends and family, everything seemed to line up throughout the process. A friend gave her contact information for Erin Wood, publisher of Et Alia Press. After hearing her pitch, Wood was enthusiastically on board. Vest’s stepsister, June Upton, designed the book, and a friend, Whitney Bower, took the photographs.

‘A dog is something like an angel, a being composed largely of love, designed to help us cope with this rough life.’
— Grace Vest

“Home Sweet Home” is available online. If purchasing EtAliaPress.com, use code 'PUP501' for 10% off plus $1 shipping.

In choosing which stories to include, it was important to represent all areas of the state. But some stories stood out. There was Frankie, a dog found in a parking lot in Little Rock that became the first dog trained to detect thyroid cancer. And Priscilla Louise became a therapy dog at Arkansas Children’s Hospital before moving to Arizona and working at a hospital there. Rocky was found in an attic following Hurricane Katrina, and Django was found with a chain embedded in his neck.

Vest’s love for dogs also led to her meeting the love of her life, her husband, Patrick. When she was 19 years old, she took her rescue dog Rascal for an outing at Murray Dog Park. Rascal not only showed interest in other dogs but also Patrick, who had his rescue dog there. Soon the two struck up a conversation. Seven years later, they were married.

In 2019, Vests took a job as a marketing director for Sunshine Equipment, a John Deere dealer in Mandeville, La., but they often return to the area to visit friends and family. In addition to two dogs, the couple now has two children, Townsend, age 6, and Teddy Grace, age 2. Grace no longer has time to write, but she has considered writing about some of the wonderful farm dog stories she hears about through her work.

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W hether you’re an occasional emailer or an all-night binge-watcher, finding the internet speed that’s right for your needs and knowing what can affect it is a necessity.

It used to be simple to connect to the internet, but today, things are more complicated. With browsing, streaming, gaming, shopping, video chatting and more, it’s more important than ever to choose the right internet for the best experience.

Conway Corp offers five packages for residential customers ranging from a reliable 25 Mbps to the blazing-fast 2 Gig. Which internet package is right for you? You’ll need to consider a number of factors, including total number of internet users in your home, number of devices connected and what you’ll be doing online.

While it might not seem like you’re using a lot of internet, usage for a typical home of four can add up quickly. Consider a mom streaming her favorite show on smart TV and checking her social media accounts; a dad watching the latest blockbuster movie in HD on his tablet plus sending emails for work; a teenager streaming music while playing online games and another child browsing the web while chatting with friends.

To get started, ask yourself these questions. The higher the number, the higher speed internet you will need.

What is the maximum number of devices that could be using the internet in your home, including browsing the internet, using social media or checking mail at the same time?

In today’s digital age, it’s important to remember internet usage isn’t just about checking email on a desktop computer anymore. Devices can range from computers to printers to cellphones to tablets to game consoles – even your fridge can use the internet to let you know you’re out of milk. The more internet connections your home has, the higher speed you need. If multiple people are using separate devices at the same time, you will need to increase your speed to accommodate the number of people and devices to ensure an enjoyable internet experience without lag or latency issues.

During your busiest hour of internet usage, how many devices could be streaming at once?

Streaming is a type of download that isn’t saved or stored anywhere on your device, but it can still use a lot of bandwidth. Streaming video from sites like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime or YouTube in HD or Ultra HD needs at least a 25 Mbps speed to ensure a buffer-free experience. Plus, a recent survey found that more than 90 percent of people multitask while watching TV or streaming video so simultaneous use is also an important factor in determining speed.

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How many devices might be downloading large files, and how long are you willing to wait on files to download?

Downloading is the transfer of data from one place to another. When you download a movie or a song, get an email or search and save from the web, you have a copy of the item on your device. Downloads typically use more bandwidth over a shorter period of time than streaming because you can download faster than you can watch. While faster speeds are not required for large downloads, users who download a lot of files might prefer a faster connection. A two-hour movie can take about 30 minutes to download with a 25 Mbps connection but take only 25 seconds with Conway Corp’s 2 Gig connection.

How many devices in your home will be playing games online?

Online gaming is one of the biggest bandwidth users for internet users, especially game updates and the audio calling services gamers use to talk to each other. Most households with at least one gamer need a 100 Mbps connection and will need a higher connection if more than one gaming console – like a computer, PS4, Xbox, etc. – is in the home.

What speed is right for my home?

In general, Conway Corp Broadband 25 internet is good for email and basic web browsing. Broadband 50 internet is good for light video streaming, file sharing and downloading smaller files. Broadband 100 internet is good for moderate video streaming, light online gaming and multiuser homes. Gig internet is good for heavy video streaming, moderate online gaming and professional home offices, while 2 Gig internet is good for maximum video streaming, heavy online gaming, multiple users/devices and advanced applications.

What speed is right for my business?

In general, Conway Corp Business Broadband 30 internet is good for most small businesses that deal with light web browsing and emails with small attachments. Business Broadband 100 is good for moderate web browsing, email with large attachments, processing credit card transactions, desktop video conferencing and highdefinition video streaming. Business Broadband 500 is good for heavy web browsing, highperformance email with large attachments, online backups and file sharing and maintaining a wi-fi hot spot for employees or customers. Commercial customers with heavier internet use can also benefit from one of Conway Corp’s custom fiber packages tailored to fit individual business needs.

How do I get the most from my internet package?

Once you choose the internet speed that’s right for you, it’s important to know what can affect your speed so you get maximum performance. The key to receiving the fastest

internet speed is having the right device with the right wired connection. More recently purchased devices can support faster internet speeds than older devices. Some devices are limited to certain speeds. Check the documentation for your specific devices to find their maximum speeds.

The speed you receive also depends on if you are using a wired connection between the device and the cable modem or if you are using wi-fi service. A direct connection is the best way to experience your device’s full speed. If you connect via wi-fi, your speed may decrease since wireless connections are inherently slower. Wireless connections are also adversely affected by distance from the router as well as the number of walls or other obstacles between your device and the router.

Conway Corp offers a Managed Wi-Fi solution so you get more control and full coverage over your WiFi network. Managed WiFi Powered by Plum learns and adapts to how you use it, sending a signal to where you need it most. It’s constantly adapting to meet your needs to extend wireless coverage and end dead zones. Plus, it offers parental controls, digital security, custom device access and more.

In addition, the wiring that distributes communication services throughout your home or business can impact speeds. Modern buildings usually come equipped with wiring that is more likely to support faster speeds. Older homes and offices are more likely to experience some loss in speed due to out-of-date wiring standards in place when those buildings were constructed.

The internet is changing and growing every day, but Conway Corp has trained customer service representatives and technicians to help you understand and get the most out of your service. If you need help choosing the right speed for your home or have questions about your internet package, visit ConwayCorp.com or call 501.450.6000.

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There's so much to cherish about our natural state

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View of the Arkansas River from Petit Jean Mountain

T his Arkansas of ours – some people think only of the mosquitoes, chiggers and other untamable varmints. We can’t imagine a reason God created them, but we have to know He surely had one. A little higher up on the food chain are the humans, many of whom have little perception of our counties or state’s geography or geological history. Here’s a short lesson.

“In the beginning:” Well, there did have to be a beginning. Maybe we can’t go too far back, but far enough. Between 12,000 B.C. and 1,600 A.D., we went through five periods of primitive civilization before we reached the point of recognizable cultures, including farming and artistic expression. The resident native American people survived glaciers and wild animals and food experimentation.

Our northern section transitions between the Ouachita Mountains and the Ozark foothills. Our favorite river, the Arkansas, actually starts in Colorado and ends in Eastern Arkansas. I will resist telling yet again the true history of nearby Toad Suck. Thank you.

County soils have lofty names, but in my garden, I refer to ours as “Crawdad City, Home of the Big Piles of Clay Spheroids with Holes in the Tops and by which One May Sprain an Ankle or Break a Mower Blade.” Climatologists classify our state as “humid subtropical.” That’s not what I often hear it called, but science is science.

Try to imagine on what the first explorers of Arkansas feasted their eyes. No clear-cut forests, no fast-food bags twisting in the wind on a pawpaw tree. No hot asphalt to discourage rain from falling. Even cardinals flew in flocks. The men must have been awed beyond description.

We can still see a good bit of this today, as well as in some of Arkansas’s ancestral states. By that I mean that Arkansas was frequently the stopping place for those who landed from Europe and began the westward trek for land, homes and farms. Many are those who share our names, DNA or cleft chins who chose to stay in Virginia or Tennessee.

One of our best-known Arkansas treasures is a singer/songwriter named Wayland Holyfield. Now a resident of Tennessee and champion of the Grand Ole Opry and Country Music Awards, Wayland is actually a native of Mallet Town in Conway County. He is married to the former Nancy Selig of Conway. Holyfield has a knack for gently scraping up lovely things from the edges of your heart. I have my own feelings about things Arkansan, and Mr. Holyfield verifies them every time I hear his unrestrained song lyrics in, “Arkansas, You Run Deep in Me.”

On the next page, I want you to take in some descriptive phrases I have chosen from this song which have been experienced by countless residents and visitors:

Hot Springs In National Park And Natural Mineral Water. Pedestal Rock in the Ozark National Forest Pedestal Rock in the Ozark National Forest


“October morning in the Ozark Mountains, Hills ablazing like that sun in the sky. I fell in love there and the fire's still burning A flame that never will die.

Moonlight dancing on a delta levee, to a band of frogs and whippoorwills

I lost my heart there one July evening and it's still there, I can tell.

Magnolia blooming, Mama smiling, Mallards sailing on a December wind.

God bless the memories I keep recalling Like an old familiar friend. And there's a river rambling through the fields and valleys, Smooth and steady as she makes her way south,

A lot like the people whose name she carries. She goes strong and she goes proud.


Oh, I may wander, but when I do I will never be far from you. You're in my blood and I know you'll always be. Arkansas, you run deep in me.”

I know if you share the same fondness for Arkansas as I do, you have just smelled the new-mown hay from a country acreage. You have witnessed the hills and valleys of unimaginable measurements. You just heard fall leaves under your feet, the bugle of an elk and the plunk of a bass on a quiet lake. You have promised your mouth the taste of ripe persimmons, fried dandelions, freshly smoked ham and muscadines. If you ever lived in, loved, then left Arkansas, you’ll make your way back eventually, either by travel, heart or mind. I recently spoke by phone with a lovely lady, a Conway native now living in South Dakota. When she answered, she said, “Oh, it’s so good to hear someone who talks like I do!”

I understood because Arkansas runs deep in us.

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Courtesy of Arkansas PBS



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Photos by Mike Kemp


L ove blooms in the home of Conway artists Steve Griffith and Vivian Noe Tallman Griffith. They share a love for each other and their family, their community and, most assuredly, their art. A brief tour of their house reveals a wide variety of their artworks, with practically every wall filled with pieces of their unique art.

“We are blessed,” Steve said. “Art is not just a hobby for us. It’s our passion and our livelihood.”

Steve studied art in college for a semester but then changed his focus to psychology, earning a master’s degree in psychology from the University of Central Arkansas. He practiced psychology for 14 years, combining psychotherapy and art therapy for patients ranging from children to older adults. He gave up that career in 1996 and began painting professionally in 1997.

Vivian, who took dance and art classes when she was younger, majored in education at UCA and was a speech therapist as a special education resource teacher in the Vilonia School District for several years before turning to art full-time. She began painting professionally in 2005 and signs her art with her maiden name, V. Noe.

“We were good friends and co-workers before we were married,” Vivian said, noting their first date was to what was then known as the Arkansas Arts Center in Little Rock. This museum is expanding and is scheduled to open later this year as the Arkansas Museum of Fine Art. “I told people that if the date turned out to be a dud, at least I would get to visit the arts center,” she said, laughing.

The Griffiths have been married for 25 years. They have a blended family of four adult children, four grandchildren and three “bonus” grandchildren.

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Steve, who was born in DeQueen, is primarily a plein air artist, meaning he normally paints outside observing nature and putting what he sees on canvas. He often refers to those creations as his “impressionistic paintings.” He also creates large pieces of abstract art, using canvases that measure 36 inches by 72 inches and feature large, bold, colorful strokes that interior designers like to use in offices, he said.

Vivian, who was born in Arizona to a military family but calls Arkansas home, prefers to work with mixed media on canvas, creating abstracts, landscapes and figurative works; she is especially fond of painting hearts and crosses as well as beach scenes. She is working on a book that will feature angels and hopes to have it in print by November.

“It’s a fun book,” she said. “An uplifting book, a motivational book that I hope will be enjoyed by children and adults.”

The couple finds inspiration for their art as they travel. They especially enjoy traveling to the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific and Atlantic coastal regions and make these trips in what they call their “art mobile.”

“It’s a toy hauler that we’ve made into an art studio,” Steve said, laughing. “We don’t haul motorcycles, just paints, canvases and easels. We also have sleeping and eating facilities in it.”

When the couple started painting professionally, Steve said they were represented by a variety of galleries. Today they sell most of their art through social media. “You post your finished work online, and the next thing you know, there’s a buyer and money in your bank,” Steve said.

Steve is known for his “live paintings” that are donated to charitable causes. He shows up at the function and creates a painting, which is auctioned at the end of the evening with proceeds going to the charity.

Two of those charities are Alzheimer’s Arkansas and the Children’s Tumor Foundation.

“Steve and Vivian are just wonderful people,” said Melissa Longing of Conway, who is a board member of Alzheimer’s Arkansas. “They do so much for our community.”

Longing said the advocacy group will sponsor Cruisin’ for Alzheimer’s Care on Feb. 18 at Conway Country Club. “Steve and Vivian come to this annual event, and he paints on site,” Longing said. “We use that painting as a live auction item. It always brings one of the highest prices of any item.”

Dr. Anne Trussell of Conway is a member of the Arkansas Advisory Board for the Children’s Tumor Foundation. She has hosted a Wine and Art Party for several years to raise money for the nonprofit. “I first met Steve and Vivian through friends who collected their art,” Trussell said. “I asked them about doing a painting to help us raise money for the foundation.

“Steve and Vivian are just the best with ideas,” she said. “They just jumped right in and helped with everything, and we raised more than $100,000. They are the loveliest people you would ever want to meet,” she said.

“Like many, I’ve become a collector of their art. I have more than 40 pieces.”

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Find them on Facebook at V. Noe Artist or Steve Griffith Studio. “Morning Splendor” (Steve Griffith 2023©) was painted by Steve Griffith during the Arkansas Duck Derby and sold during the live auction. A 36-inch by 48-inch oil painting, it hung in his home for a couple of weeks and continues to dry at the winning bidder’s home.

celebrating athletic excellence

Pulaski County's Jim Rasco

No one is a close second. In the 1990s, Little Rock’s television station christened Jim Rasco “The Ultimate Sports Fan,” and in 2023, he deserves the title more than ever. Respect for his talents has soared in every region of Arkansas, as well as in many sections of the republic far from his native state. In retirement, his honors continue to rival his earlier achievements, with no discernible lessening of his vigor.

Jim Rasco in 1958 when he was the quarterback for the DeWitt High School football team and in 2006 when he was inducted into the Hendrix College Sports Hall of Honor.

Proud of an ancestry dating to the Mayflower, the ninthgeneration Arkansan was born in Little Rock’s old St. Vincent Hospital in November 1941, and by age 7 he had delighted in major-league baseball in St. Louis and toptier intercollegiate football in sparkling new War Memorial Stadium. His early-age attendance at the two quality events foreshadowed more than seven decades of sports immersion, satisfaction and success, most with Rasco residing and working in the Capital City.

Spending countless hours attending and watching games, he has simultaneously served and aided sports groups, national as well as state, with sports history. Seven years ago, when inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame (ASHOF), affixed to Rasco’s name on the printed program was “Athlete/Sports Historian.” His knowledge of, memorabilia from, and relationships with athletics and athletes grow by the month.

Raised and educated in DeWitt, Rasco enjoyed a childhood overflowing with books and balls, many of the former rich in stories and essays about the latter. His collections of sports

cards also grew, with George Kell and Brooks Robinson, the state’s best third basemen, soon emerging as his heroes. The two would later become lifelong friends who invited him to their 1983 Baseball Hall of Fame induction.

Graduating in 1959 as valedictorian, he claimed letters and stardom in four sports. He quarterbacked the football team to an 8-1-1 record and a second-place finish in the state’s final poll of 1958; pitched two baseball no-hitters; set the school’s single-season scoring record in basketball; and won track medals in Arkansas’s first two state Meet of Champions.

At Hendrix College, nothing less than quality characterized his two-sport, two-year career, prematurely ended by a pair of injuries. In basketball, the sport providing his scholarship, Rasco starred in his first game as a collegian on his 18th birthday. He went on to letter that season, the lone freshman to do so. As a sophomore, he played far more and again lettered before a severed Achilles tendon ended his intercollegiate play.

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Top Left: Jim in 1960 when he was on the track team at Hendrix College. Top Right: The lobby of the Hendrix Wellness & Athletics Center was named for Roger Bates and Jim Rasco in 2007. Bottom Left: Jim Rasco and Norma Campbell after winning the mixed doubles championship at Fairfield Bay in 1979. Bottom Right: Jim Rasco and long-time friend Sidney Moncrief in 2014. The photo was taken when Moncrief was inducted into the Southwest Conference Hall of Fame.

He had performed, however, even more remarkably in track. In his first college meet, he grabbed the lone first place the Warriors claimed, and in the Harding College Invitational Meet featuring runners from four states, he garnered the gold medal while setting the meet record for the 880-yard race. In the early summer of 1960, he added five medals in a series of Amateur Athletic Union Olympic Development meets before narrowly missing qualification for the final U.S. Olympic trials.

He earned his baccalaureate in 1963 and his desire for competitive sports still flared. Rasco, therefore, honed his tennis skills and embarked upon multi-decade success in his fifth sport. Before playing his last match 40 years later, he had triumphed in more than 50 tournaments.

One of his early victories came in 1967. While on active duty at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, he was a member of the four-man team winning the Fourth Army Championship. In 1974, he welcomed Tennis Hall of Fame’s Ken Rosewall as a dinner guest at his Little Rock home. In 1986, he played doubles with another tennis great: Bobby Riggs, who was internationally publicized for his match with Billie Jean King.

Yet relatively little of his time during his post-baccalaureate years was to be spent on the avocational. His work life was too full. After Hendrix, Rasco became a CPA and worked for seven years at a firm in Little Rock before launching Rasco, Burris & Winter in 1972. Retired in 2021, he nonetheless continues to spend a day a week at the firm.

In the 1990s, the man lauded for his uncanny memory added genealogical research to his repertoire and has served on the Board of the Arkansas Genealogical Society. Currently, he retains membership in a number of sports research organizations in whose journals he has often published. In 2005, A.H. “Bud “Selig, the commissioner of baseball, honored him with an award for “extraordinary work” in sports research.

For over 30 consecutive years at annual banquets, he has introduced past ASHOF honorees. Inducted a halfdozen years ago, he has been a long-time board member and has served as president and its original and permanent historian. Beginning in 2009, he spent 10 years introducing — after researching — guest speakers at the weekly meetings during the football seasons of the Little Rock Touchdown Club. He relinquished that distinguished duty only because of the pandemic.

In 2006, he was inducted into the Hendrix College Sports Hall of Honor, which he had helped to form. A year later, his alma mater followed with a second honor, naming the lobby of its new Health and Wellness Center the Bates/Rasco Lobby, a tribute to two multi-sport, award-winning Warrior roommates of decades past.

Like Hendrix, Pulaski County and the 501 have numerous reasons to respect Jim Rasco, a sports enthusiast whose talents — athletic and otherwise — have enriched lives near and far for more than 60 years.

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Jim Rasco and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones in 2020 giving one other an elbow bump (because of COVID-19) just after Rasco introduced Jones at the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame (ASHOF) Banquet. An Arkansas native, Jones has also been inducted into ASHOF and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.


T he Hendrix College Board of Trustees has named Dr. Karen K. Petersen to be the 13th President of Hendrix College, beginning in June. Petersen will succeed W. Ellis Arnold III, class of ’79, who will become President Emeritus following his retirement in June.

A native of northwest Arkansas, Petersen was selected following a comprehensive national search process involving Hendrix alumni, Board of Trustees members, faculty, staff and students. She joins the Hendrix community from the University of Tulsa (TU) in Tulsa, Okla., where she is a professor of political science and Dean of the Henry Kendall College of Arts and Sciences.

“We are thrilled to have Dr. Karen Petersen join our community and lead Hendrix into a new era of planning and progress,” said Jo Ann Biggs, class of ’80, chair of the Hendrix College Board of Trustees and chair of the Presidential Search Committee.

As Dean of the Kendall College of Arts and Sciences at TU, Petersen oversees the college’s financial, physical and human resources, including 120 full-time employees in 13 departments. During her tenure, philanthropic giving to the college increased, including a 47% increase in unrestricted giving. She also helped to secure a significant unrestricted pledge for student recruiting, marketing and faculty support, as well as annual funding for a partnership with the Tulsa Symphony Orchestra to provide educational opportunities for music students. Under Petersen’s leadership, TU restored academic programs in philosophy and religion and the Bachelor of Music degree.

“Not only does she bring successful experience in leading diverse, complex academic units, growing enrollment, improving student success, and securing support through fundraising and external partnerships, her passion for the transformative role of liberal arts education and her advocacy for the residential undergraduate liberal arts experience is inspiring,” said Biggs. “She finds immense joy in engaging with undergraduate students and connecting the work of the campus with the broader community, and she cares deeply about diversity, effective teaching, and shared governance. I am confident that she will be a tremendous ambassador and leader for the Hendrix community.”

“I am honored and humbled to be selected as president of Hendrix College and look forward to serving alongside the caring and talented faculty, staff and board members as we continue Hendrix’s commitment to the life-changing power of a liberal arts education,” Petersen said. “We are privileged to educate the young people upon whose shoulders the responsibility for our future rests, and I am dedicated to strengthening and preserving the residential liberal arts experience because it is the best preparation for life in a free society.”

Dr. Petersen also stressed the importance of Hendrix’s location.

“My family and I look forward to making our home in Conway and investing in the future of Arkansas,” she said.

Petersen earned her master’s degree and Ph.D. in political science from Vanderbilt University. She and her husband, Joey Keasler, a northeast Arkansas native, are parents of two children, including a student-athlete at a residential liberal arts college. She is the second woman to lead Hendrix, following Dr. Ann H. Die Hasselmo, who served from 1992 to 2001.



HOMETOWN: I’m a native of Blytheville but have called Conway home for more than 22 years.

FAMILY: I have an older brother and sister, four nieces, three nephews, and I’m a bonus auntie to some special kiddos who affectionately call me “Moo.”

EDUCATION: I’m a class of ’98 graduate of Blytheville High School. I received an Associate of Arts in general studies from Mississippi County Community College, now Arkansas Northeastern College in Blytheville. I’m a proud University of Central Arkansas alumna, where I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in mass communications and a minor in computer information systems (2003), and a Master of Science in training systems, with an emphasis in training and development (2004).

WORK: I’ve been with Acxiom for 18 years and currently work in Human Resources as Director of Engagement and Inclusion. I’m responsible for the overall strategy of Acxiom’s IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Awareness) Council, which works to advance Acxiom’s diversity and inclusion strategies.

I also work to create a fun, engaging workplace culture that drives inclusivity, innovation, collaboration, teamwork and appreciation for all associates. I help build partnerships with organizations and community leaders, working together to change the communities where we live.

I’ve been at Acxiom my entire professional career, working in many areas of the business before moving to HR. I’ve always been an advocate for associates, even before it was part of my job description.

COMMUNITY ACTIVITIES: I’m passionate about creating an engaging environment through associate and community partnerships. I’m a devoted volunteer for several nonprofit organizations and community efforts and very active with the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce. I also serve on the board of the Conway Downtown Partnership. In my role as Director of Engagement and Inclusion, I’m able to pursue my passion every day by working with associates and community stakeholders to be an agent of change.

CHURCH ACTIVITIES/FAITH: God placed me on this earth to be a light that shines in darkness. I’m a proud member of Salem Missionary Baptist Church of Conway. I’m also grateful for the foundational teachings I received from my home church, First Missionary Baptist Church in Blytheville.

BIGGEST ACCOMPLISHMENTS: I was honored to be a part of the inaugural class of the Conway Area Leadership Institute (2017), an Outstanding Young Minority Professional (2017) and a 2023 Museum of Discovery Spark Star!

MOST CHERISHED POSSESSION: My family is my most cherished possession. My dad passed away when I was 18, and my mom and brother have been supportive, encouraging, uplifting and they celebrate every milestone and accomplishment. They offer a shoulder to cry on when I need it. I cherish every living moment with my family.

INTERESTS: When I’m not working or volunteering, you can find me crafting, exploring my new passion for photography, or de-stressing with hip-hop step aerobics. I enjoy woodworking projects such as building benches and tables, designing T-shirts and welcome boards/signs and more.

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