July 2023

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This is the most patriotic issue we’ll publish in ’23, and it’s truly “A Salute to Service.” From our cover photo and article about Lt. Col. Jason Smedley of Little Rock to the final page of the magazine featuring Lt. Col. Thomas Speck of Conway, we honor those who serve.

One intriguing article takes us back to the March 31 tornado that devastated portions of Pulaski County and then moved to other areas of our state. Fire Station No. 9 on Shackleford Road in Little Rock was directly hit. At the last moment, firefighters took cover in an office; moments later, they moved into action. Their response defines bravery and service in my book.

Our Couple of the Month highlights Michael Bullock and his wife Julia, who was named 2023 Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year for the National Guard. They support military families in Searcy and beyond.

Another feature that will make you prouder to be an American is about our four-legged friends. A group of volunteers in Beebe formed Arkansas Service Paws, which works with disabled veterans or first responders and their dogs for a year so the service dog is equipped to serve. In the final months of training, they accompany the dogs to large stores to ensure they and their new owners are ready to fly solo.

These are just a few of the quality features our staff brings you this month. We at 501 LIFE are proud Americans who appreciate our military, police, first responders and all those who serve others.

As you attend Fourth of July celebrations and recite our pledge, I hope the phrase “… one nation, under God, indivisible …” will stand out in your mind. Americans must reaffirm the vow to remain indivisible. If you’re wondering how to live that out, I hope this issue will inspire you to service. There are opportunities in your neighborhood, your community and beyond.


Jeremy L. Higginbotham


Stefanie W. Brazile



Donna Spears, Sonja Keith and Tracy Ferrell


Donald Brazile


Paulette Higginbotham


Donna Spears


Levi Gilbert


Mike Kemp


Andrea Lively and Andrea Miller


Debbie Flowers


Morgan Zimmerman


Becky Bell

Don Bingham

Jessica Duff

Lori Dunn

Mary Eggart

Laurie Green

Dwain Hebda

Vivian Lawson Hogue

Tammy Keith

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

Mary Clark

Shelli Crowell

Dr. Larry Davis

Shawn Halbrook

Alicia Hugen

Alisha Koonce

Beth Jimmerson

Mark Oliver

Susan Peterson

Dr. Robert Reising

Judy Riley

Carol Rolf

Dr. Clay Sherrod

Donna L. Stephens

Rita Halter Thomas

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

Stephanie Lipsmeyer

Stewart Nelson

Kristi Strain

Jim Taylor

Morgan Zimmerman


Betsy Bailey

Amy Burton

Tara Cathey

Cassandra Feltrop

Phil Hays

Natalie Horton

Matt LaForce

Mike Parsons

Brooke Pryor

Judy Riley

Carol Spears

Kristi Thurmon

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.

4 | 501 LIFE July 2023
6 | 501 LIFE July 2023 Volume 16 Issue 3
the cover: Lt. Col. Jason Smedley has dedicated his life to serving his country and his home state of Arkansas.
64 30 4 Letter from the Editor 8 Upcoming events 9 Arkansas PBS digitizing decades of content 10 Loving LIFE 12 Red, White & Brave gala 14 Couple of the Month: Julia and Michael Bullock 16 Julia Bullock named 2023 Military Spouse of the Year 18 Children’s library expansion By Mary Eggart 20 Entertaining: A picture-perfect picnic By Don Bingham 24 A state of service Lt. Col. Jason Smedley By Donna Lampkin Stephens 28 Miss Arkansas’ Teen - Conway’s Allie Bell By Carol Rolf 30 Nature’s ultimate show: The 2024 solar eclipse By Dr. Clay Sherrod 36 Storm at Fire Station 9 By Tammy Keith 42 Artist of the Month Jacqualin Farmer By Dwain Hebda 48 Conway Alliance for the Arts award winners 50 Author of the Month Jay Ruud By Susan L. Peterson 52 A place in the light: Shorter College students find second chance By Dwain Hebda 54 El Paso - A modern-day Mayberry By Judy Riley 58 Kid of the Month: Omar Torres By Becky Bell 60 A golden legacy in Wonderview: Coach Phillip Golden By Mary Eggart 64 28-year-old weight-loss success 68 Youth of the Month: Ella Boudrie By Lori Dunn 70 Diversity of America’s Servicewomen Exhibit comes to Little Rock 72 Conway Corp Energy Smart AC air filter maintenance By Beth Jimmerson 74 How may we be of service? By Vivian Lawson Hogue 76 Celebrating Athletic Excellence: The Rasco sports collection By Dr. Robert Rising 78 Pet of the Month: Arkansas Service Paws (ARSP) By Rita Halter Thomas 80 Little Rock Air Force Base welcomes new installation commander 82 Person of the Month: Lieutenant Col. Thomas H. Speck
July 2023 On
July 2023 501lifemag.com | 7 welcome to the Writers’ Room Catch 501 LIFE on KARK News at Noon and Conway Corp each month! Mary Eggart lives in Morrilton and is a recently retired English teacher with 20 years of teaching experience. She holds degrees from the University of Arkansas and Arkansas Tech University. The arts and travel are her passions, as she is an avid lover of people, their culture, and the stories that build and shape a community. 501 LIFE would like to thank our advertising partners. For only $20 a year, you can get a subscription for yourself, or for the special one you love. Home delivery ensures you never miss an issue! Visit 501LIFEmag.com or call 501.327.1501 to subscribe. Did you know 501 LIFE covers 11 counties in Central Arkansas? Tammy Keith worked for Arkansas newspapers for 38 years, including the Log Cabin Democrat and Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. An ASU graduate, she is a 12-time Arkansas Press Women Professional Communications Contest winner and threetime national winner. Her biggest honor is being Mimi to her granddaughter, Kennedy.
Riley lives in White County. She holds degrees from the U of A and Texas A&M UniversityCommerce. She retired as a full professor for the U of A Cooperative Extension Service. She currently helps her husband, Tom, with a hay production and beef cattle farm and is a board member for several nonprofit community foundations. Arkansas Grown, 21 Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts, 45 Arvest Bank, 39 _____________________________________ Bledsoe Chiropractic, 17 Centennial Bank, 27 Conway Corp, 73 Conway Healthcare & Rehab, 61 Conway Regional Health System, 83 Conway Regional Rehabilitation Hospital, 66 Denture + Implant Solutions, 62 DJM Orthodontics, 59 Down South, 55 Downtown Conway, 46-47 Edward Jones, 29 Explore Springdale, 22 First Community Bank, 63 First Security Bank, 84 First Service Bank, 13 Freyaldenhoven Heating and Cooling, 71 Hartman Animal Hospital, 79 Harwood, Ott & Fisher, PA, 81 Heritage Living Center, 5 Kilwins Little Rock, 57 MSC Eye Associates, 57 Ott Insurance, 69 Pafford Medical Services, 65 Reynolds Performance Hall, 33 Rise Above Alcohol & Drugs, 19 Salem Place, 75 Shelter Insurance, 21 Sissy’s Log Cabin, 67 Superior Health & Rehab, 2 Toad Suck Daze Run, 41 Unity Health, 3, 71 University of Arkansas Community College Morrilton, 35 University of Central Arkansas, 49 Velda LuedersColdwell Banker, 8, 14

Fourth of July Events

July 2-4 • Central Arkansas

Women’s Golf Tournament

July 19-22 • Conway

July 2 in Hot Springs on Lake Hamilton at dark. Fireworks and Food Trucks on July 3 in Sherwood at The Greens at North Hills Golf Course. Freedom Fest Conway takes place July 3 on Beaver Fork Lake. July 4th Beats & Eats at the Searcy Event Center. Big Bang on the Range happens July 4 at the Jacksonville Shooting Sports Complex. Pops on the River on July 4 at the First Security Amphitheater in Downtown Little Rock

Guitar Wars

July 8 • Little Rock

An amateur guitar competition will rock the Central Arkansas Library System’s Ron Robinson Theatre when guitar enthusiasts of all ages and skill levels perform for the chance to win prizes. The showcase of inspiring local musicians is free for all to enjoy and is sure to be a shredding good time! For more information visit cals.org/guitar-wars.

The Genesis of Conway Central Arkansas Open presented by Rock Pond Pros will be played at Centennial Valley Country Club. Featuring professional and collegiate golfers, $55,000 in prize money is up for grabs. The tourney is an official qualifier of the Epson Tour, which is a feeder to the LPGA and a life of professional golf. Visit centralarkansasopen.com.

Summer Dinner Theatre

July 20 - August 5 • Searcy

Enjoy dinner and a show at Harding University’s Ulrey Performing Arts Center with this smash off-broadway hit that takes you to a 1958 high school prom. The “Marvelous Wonderettes” is a jukebox musical comedy features classic hits such as “Mr. Sandman,” “Dream Lover,” and “Stupid Cupid.” Tickets are available online at hardingtickets.com or call 501-279-4276.

100 Faces of Conway

July 28 – Aug. 30 • Conway

Artist Faye Hedera's collection features 100 portraits of people who live, work and play in Conway. The opening reception will be held from 5 to 7 p.m., July 28, at the Windgate Museum of Art at Hendrix College. Proceeds from portrait sales will be donated to the nonprofit Haven Conway. No cost to attend. Learn more on Facebook at #100facesofconway.

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Saving our stories

Arkansas PBS receives grant that will preserve 50 years of content

Decades of Arkansas

PBS’s content will soon be more readily available due to digitizing more than 26,000 magnetic tapes, thanks to a $1,163,406 grant from the Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resources Council, in collaboration with the Arkansas PBS Foundation. This grant award will save Arkansas PBS’s archives, and, in turn, the history it reflects.

“For more than half a century, Arkansas PBS, which is the state’s only media network, has served as the Natural State’s storyteller and chronicler of history, telling stories of this region from the earliest days of our statehood, through the current events that reflect our place in national and world history,” Arkansas PBS Executive Director Courtney Pledger said. “Our archives — comprising finished productions and programs, as well as a vast treasure trove of additional, never-used footage — form an extraordinary public library of source material.”

Currently at risk of degradation and loss, the tapes will go through a four-step process through the grant to ensure the preservation of this extensive library. Steps in this

process include an inventory of all tape archival materials, digitization of tape materials, metadata tagging to make the archive searchable for AR PBS staff and the general public, and public access and promotion, which will include partnering with organizations that routinely house and promote archival and research material.

This material includes finished productions and programs and additional, never-used footage. Once fully preserved, the archives, comprising decades of Arkansas history, politics and culture, will be accessible to current and future historians, educators, students and the general public. Accessibility will come in the form of a landing page on the Arkansas PBS website which can be shared or linked to other sites, including other archival centers across the country.

“Our ultimate goal is to preserve this extraordinary resource, and to make it accessible to current and future generations,” Pledger said. “This project will include all existing tape recordings by Arkansas PBS, leading up to the transition to digital recording which began approximately eight years ago.”

July 2023 501lifemag.com | 9
Arkansas PBS’s tape library of more than 26,000 tapes will soon be digitized thanks to a $1,163,406 grant from the Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resources Council, in collaboration with the Arkansas PBS Foundation.

1. Larry and Carlene Davis of Morrilton were “Loving LIFE” when they visited George Washington’s home, Mount Vernon, in Virginia and also visted Washington, D.C.

2. The Paxton Family was “Loving LIFE” at the Space Needle in Seattle, Wash. Keith Paxton (from left) of Allen, Texas; Mae Paxton of Conway; Mary Whiteaker of St. Louis, Mo.; and Jeff Paxton, of Conway. Mae and her children were celebrating her 90th birthday.

3. Suzanne Waggoner was “Loving LIFE” at a gala supporting the Centers for Youth and Families on April 15 at the Statehouse Convention Center.

4. A women’s Bible study group was “Loving LIFE” on May 13 when they went to see “Esther” at Sight and Sound Theater near Branson, Mo. Members of REAL (Radiant, Encouraging, Authentic Ladies) are Lisa Jessen (from left), Tiffani Thomas, Ruthie Christian, Becky Gray, Susan Tribble, Tammy Sharp and Amanda Jessen.

5. The Tai Chi group at Faulkner County Regional Library was “Loving LIFE” on April 29, World Tai Chi & Qigong Day. Front row, from left: Paul E. Guerin, Chon Lan Yao, Ursula Smith, Instructor Sachiko Halter, Linda Howard, Carol Clark and Xiao Fan Wang. Back row, from left: Mai Chu, Ann Baker, Pam Loyd, Gary Almquist and Teresa Crowder.

6. Edward Jones Region 279 Branch Office administrators were “Loving LIFE” and were big winners as they gathered in Conway for their spring meeting with a game show theme. While playing many classic game show games, they networked to grow in their roles and build stronger relationships.

7. Jack and Sarah Frost were “Loving LIFE” when they were named “Mayors of the Hendrix Village Market.”

8. Conway residents Mary Ann Schlientz (from left), Bill Schlientz, Len Schlientz and Jeannie Denniston were “Loving LIFE” at the Fountain of Youth in St. Augustine, Fla., on a trip dubbed “Two brothers and their wives #2.”

9. Kayla and Josh Carolina from Conway were “Loving LIFE” on their honeymoon trip to Guanacaste, Costa Rica, in early May.

10. Hardy Mitchell (from left) was “Loving LIFE” when he celebrated his 95th birthday with his brother, Wayne Mitchell, and other family members in Vilonia.

11. Students and instructors were “Loving LIFE” while reeling them in at the University of Arkansas Community College at Morrilton fishing camp May 30-June 2.

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11 Headed out on a special trip? 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! Email photos to stefanie@501lifemag.com.
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A patriotic party

First Operation Red, White & Brave gala a victory for veterans

The Operation Red, White & Brave (ORWB) Foundation is celebrating the success of its inaugural gala, which was held June 15 at Herschel Hall in Greenbrier.

Founded in 2020 by First Service Bank, the ORWB Foundation raises money through donations and fundraising events that are matched dollar for dollar by the bank and used to support the needs of veterans. "We're more than the bank with a big American flag. It's part of who we are and what we stand for," said Jon Patrom, vice president of marketing.

The sold-out event sold 220 tickets and raised more than $30,000. As part of the evening, a video presentation was shown that highlighted regional veterans’ programs and specific projects that ORWB has completed.

Two guests were the centerpiece of the evening. Floyd Brantley was interviewed by well-known media personality Christina Munos Madsen. Brantley is a 97-year-old World War II and Korean War Veteran. “You never know, until you’re in another country, how great America is,” he said.

The second speaker was Deena Burnett Bailey, widow

of Tom Burnett, a passenger on United Airlines flight 93 on Sept. 11, 2001. Tom was one of the passengers who overcame terrorists on the flight, preventing the plane from being flown into a national landmark.

When Bailey finished speaking, the room was completely silent, the audience in awe of her experience. Bailey is a well-known voice for victims’ families of Sept. 11 and wrote a book that led to a major motion film about the tragic day.

"If you know of veterans, military personnel or their families who have a need or if they have a special wish, please send them to us. We would love the opportunity to help them," said Foundation Board Chairwoman Rebecca Barnard.

ORWB welcomes nominations from veterans or their family members who are in need of aid. Completing a simple online application at firstservicebank.com/orwb. Donations to ORWB can be made at any FSB branch, through orwb.org or by calling Barnard at 501.772.0644. The Foundation also welcomes volunteer help from the community.

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LEFT: Chair of the ORWB Foundation Rebecca Grumbles Barnard (from left) with guest speakers Floyd Brantley and Deena Burnett Bailey. BOTTOM RIGHT: Veteran Floyd Brantley, who is 97, is interviewed by Christina Munos Madsen (Dave Creek Media).



MONTH Julia and Michael Bullock SEARCY


EDUCATION: I attended Sheridan High School and Central Arkansas Bible College.

JOB: World Heritage, which is an exchange student program.

FAMILY: Our children are Danielle Bullock-Sherwood and her husband, Christian; Alex Jeffers; Natalie, Olivia, Reagan and Seth Bullock. Our grandchildren are Bostic and Nolan Sherwood.

COMMUNITY ACTIVITIES: We belong to the Searcy Church of the Nazarene and the Soldier and Family Readiness Group.

HOBBIES: Restoring my 1970 VW Karmann Ghia; shooting sports; softball, cheer, basketball and host mom; traveling; checking off my bucket list; learning to fly (pilot’s license); VFW Auxiliary board member; and my guilty pleasure music is Christian rap. It’s my hype music.

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOURSELF: I am outgoing and outspoken. You can usually hear me before you see me. I NEVER stop. I want to go go go go go. I love networking with people and never meet a stranger.

WHAT IS NEXT FOR YOU: As my husband transitions out of the Army, I pray to slow down as well. I want to spend more time in an airplane and traveling, continue to homeschool my kiddos, go to every softball game, basketball game, and cheer on my bonus kiddos.

WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT LIVING IN THE 501: That’s simple: It’s home. I was raised in “Small Town USA.” When I moved to Searcy, I went from a small town with a big heart to a big town with a huge heart. Searcy is home to me. The community rallies behind families in need here. We were one of those families in the summer of 2021 when I decided to play dead for 40 days in the ICU. The entire community was feeding my family, we were on every church prayer list, and they helped with our kids. It was amazing. I am forever grateful to our community for that.

WHAT IS YOUR MOTTO: “Be a Blessing and Be Blessed.” “Love thy neighbor.” 1 John 4:7.


EDUCATION: I attended Searcy High School, Arkansas Law Enforcement Academy, Central Arkansas Bible College and First Sleep School to become a certified polysomnographic technologist.

JOB: Sleep Centers of Arkansas-Searcy, Army National Guard (21 years), retired from the Searcy Police Department (15 years).

COMMUNITY ACTIVITIES: We belong to the Searcy Church of the Nazarene. I am a VFW board member and a part of the Soldier and Family Readiness Group.

HOBBIES: Brazilian jiu-jitsu, shooting and learning more about history.

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOURSELF: I am an Army veteran, police officer, father, husband, advocate for education on individual rights, and lover of God and people. I enjoy a good debate, if for nothing more than to learn about the opinions of others and how they defend those opinions.

WHAT IS NEXT FOR YOU: I will soon be testing for my certification in sleep studies and hope to continue my career helping and healing others.

WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT LIVING IN THE 501: It has always been my home, no matter where my travels send me. After spending years deployed with the Arkansas National Guard to the far reaches of the globe, my most fond memories are the drive up 67/167 looking for Exit 42. (That’s the first Searcy exit, btw). With my family and friends always within a stone’s throw, there is nowhere else I’d rather be in this world.

WHAT IS YOUR MOTTO: “Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; Maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and needy, deliver them from the hands of the wicked.” Psalm 82:3-4.


My husband and I met for the first time in jail. Of course, we did. We were both officers and had to fight a drunk inmate into a cell. Almost got ya there, didn’t I? Several years passed, and we often saw each other in our chosen profession. He married, had a son, and a year later, his wife passed away, leaving behind an 8-year-old autistic daughter and a 6-month-old son. After some time, we decided to date, and then as you can imagine, we got married. Shortly after we were married, he was deployed with the 39th Arkansas Army National Guard to the Horn of Africa for a year. When he returned, we adopted his late wife’s daughter, and I adopted his and his late wife’s son. We became mentors to a beautiful 14-year-old lady in foster care a year later. We went on to adopt this young lady a year later. She is now 21, married, with a handsome 2-year-old son and one on the way. We have hosted multiple exchange students as well. Together we have begun working towards our doctoral degree in counseling and theology at Central Arkansas Bible College in Jacksonville (Pulaski County). Michael is my best friend, my heart, and my soul. When signing letters or little notes to him, I always close with “Your Favorite Rib.” We push each other to be the best versions of ourselves. Recently he has supported me in my calling to missions in Uganda.

Continued on page 16

June 2023 501lifemag.com | 15
Photo by Mike Kemp

Julia Bullock was named 2023 Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year for the National Guard.

She was nominated by Beth Anne Minyard. Here are excerpts from her application:

Describe your involvement in the military community:

I am the Soldier and Family Readiness Group coordinator for Headquarters Company, 2-153 IN, and one of the coordinators for the battalion. I help with youth and child sign-ups and Christmas for families. Advocating for families is my biggest drive. As we once needed those advocates, I decided to dig in and make community connections so I could “connect the dots” between service members and the community to better serve the soldiers I work with. Every Sunday on drill weekend, I work for as many hours as needed making sure to make connections with all, if not a large majority, of the soldiers to ensure there are no needs to be met. We have coordinated many Family Days to bring togetherness as well. Also in August, we connected with a church and offered free school supplies, clothes, backpacks, and a shoe drive for all members of the local armory.

Describe how you support your community:

I connect soldiers to the community, families to resources, and coordinate any help they need. National Guardsmen are civilian soldiers. The majority make more money on orders than they do at their civilian job. This can cause many issues, including home and food insecurities, leading to other social problems like divorce, suicide and homelessness. I connect those families and

service members to someone/thing in the community that can serve their needs, bridging the gap between service members and the community. Our family focus is on volunteering. We are community-centered. Each year, I visit the schools and hand out certificates of appreciation to the military children. Our family does one service project each month as a family. From talking to soldiers to delivering food to homes, my husband and kids are just as involved as myself. It is NOT just me.

What do you hope to accomplish with the AFI Military Spouse of the Year® title?

I pray that with the AFI Military Spouse of the Year title, I, along with my family, can continue to inspire and help make positive changes for the National Guard members and their families. The National Guard is one branch that is underrepresented. I want to help with benefits for civilian soldiers and lower the Tricare rate. I promised that when this group returns from deployment at the end of 2023, I would have made significant progress in the change, and I very much plan on keeping my promise. Being persistent and involved in many aspects, from my community to my capital building, all the way to our nation’s capital. I want to become an active, persistent and loud voice for our Guardsmen and their families.

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“Deployed” by Sharen
July 2023 501lifemag.com | 17

This one’s for the books

Morrilton mayor announces Children’s Library expansion

Surrounded by students from Sacred Heart School in Morrilton, Mayor Allen Lipsmeyer recently announced that plans are underway to begin the renovation of two empty buildings in downtown Morrilton that will soon be home to a new Children’s Library and Playground complex.

The 10,000-square-foot building will be located on Broadway Street and will provide the children of Conway County with a library space that will accommodate children’s programs throughout the year. The playground and outdoor area, which will host events, will be constructed on the vacant lot at the adjacent corner of Broadway and Moose Streets, which is owned by the city. The project is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

The library and playground are the result of a collaboration between the Morrilton City Council, the Conway County Library Board, Lipsmeyer and Kay Osborne, current owner of the empty buildings. Osborne, a board member of the Morrilton Pathfinders Club, generously donated the buildings to the city for the project. The mission of Pathfinders is furthering literacy and ensuring that children have ample access to books and other resources that motivate them to learn. Additionally, $400,000 for the building renovations and playground were donated to the library by Johnnie Momm upon her death in 2012. The library will be named in her honor.

The expansion could not have come at a better time. Due to a lack of space, the children’s activities and programs have often been moved to the nearby Presbyterian Church.

Built in 1915, the Conway County Library is one of two remaining Carnegie Libraries in Arkansas. Between 1883 and 1929, Scottish-American businessman and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie built 1,689 libraries throughout the United States because of his passion for literacy, books and reading, which indeed mirrors the mission of the Pathfinders Club.

The children of Morrilton and the surrounding areas have much to look forward to with the completion of the new complex, according to Library Director Jay Carter. During the warmer months, the outdoor space will hold events and activities like water days, movie nights with a large outdoor movie screen, superhero parties, and other special performances by entertainers. The space will also be outfitted with a small kitchen.

Carter hopes to involve more of the county’s preteen/ teen population with special occasions like outdoor dances. He said being able to involve local youth at an early age, making them lifelong lovers of reading and libraries, excites him the most.

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Janie Higgins, president of the Conway County Library Board, speaks at the ribbon cutting for the new Children’s Library and Playground complex in Morrilton. By Don Bingham Photos by Mike Kemp

Lunch outside means fun outside

Let Chef Don Bingham upgrade your summer picnic

There are times when throwing together a PB&J sandwich, a bag of chips, and a canned Coke is a stretch and time does not allow for a more intricate, fresh-tasting menu for our once-a-summer picnic. However, there are simple ways to upgrade picnic time at the lake, the park, the farm, or maybe even your own backyard! To grill out requires lots of prep and hauling — delicious though it may be; a simple, do-ahead menu relieves a lot of stress.

The sky's the limit for your friends, family, or date time; we have included some of our favorites that can all be made the night before and give a definite upgrade to the menu! The cold beef salad is refreshing, full of protein, and suited for travel and outdoor temperatures. The raw vegetable dip has no mayo and can be kept cool in thermal bags with your diners' choice of raw vegetables. The popcorn and brownies are a perfect "pick up" that may be enjoyed from start to finish of the picnic time.

To add to the experience, choose your favorite basket or baskets to house your food and picnic decor. We have a

collection of baskets with handles, lids, deep and shallow, and even baskets that hold small ice coolers! Table toppers can range from lap throws and quilts to leftover wrapping paper and plastic wear from the local dollar stores. Take plenty of cups, napkins, and plastic utensils, along with disposable bags to collect all your trash before leaving. Most of us have that top shelf in the pantry that is full of Mason jars that make great beverage containers; you can even fill lidded jars with frozen ice cubes before leaving home!

It might be a good idea to actually plan ahead (what a novel idea!) and prepare a "picnic survival kit" that includes such items as a can opener, bottle opener, corkscrew, phone charger, notebook pad and pen, purchased chips and salsa to help hold off ravenous appetites, and, of course, BANDAIDs®and bug spray! Then the most challenging of all — turn off the constant "monkeys jumping from branch to branch in your brain," chill out, loosen up, stop and smell the river breeze or sandy beach — and make yourself ENJOY the summer picnic!

July 2023 501lifemag.com | 21

Simply Delicious Raw Vegetable Dip

3 eight-ounce packages of cream cheese, softened

9 chicken bouillon cubes dissolved in 15 tablespoons boiling water

1/2 tsp. of garlic salt

Blend ingredients together. Serve with assorted raw vegetables or crudites. Serves 15-20.

Jessica's Caramel Popcorn

2 sticks butter

2 cups brown sugar

1/2 cup corn syrup

Boil the above ingredients for 6 minutes.

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. cream of tartar

3 - 4 bags of microwave popcorn

Stir the remaining ingredients into the above mixture, toss into cooked popcorn. Bake at 200 degrees for 1 hour.

Rich Chocolate Brownies

1 cup butter

4 (1-ounce) unsweetened chocolate squares

2 cups white sugar

4 eggs

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1/2 tsp. salt

2 cups chopped walnuts or pecans

Grease/butter an 8-inch or 9-inch square pan. Melt butter and chocolate, remove from heat, and stir in sugar, cool slightly. Beat in eggs, one at a time, then add vanilla. Combine flour and salt, then add to chocolate mixture. Fold in nuts, spread in pan. Bake for 30-35 minutes, cool and slice in squares.

Cold Summer Beef Salad with Mustard-Horseradish Dressing:

1 ½ cups of cooked beef strips

Cherry tomatoes

Onion rings

Romaine lettuce greens

Toss 1 1/2 cups of cooked beef strips in MustardHorseradish Dressing (below). Arrange beef strips, cherry tomatoes, and onion rings on romaine lettuce greens.


1 Tbsp. sugar

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. dry mustard

¼ tsp. pepper

Dash of paprika

1 Tbsp. horseradish

1/2 tsp. grated onion

⅔ cup salad oil

⅓ cup white wine vinegar.

In a small bowl, combine sugar, salt, dry mustard, pepper, and a dash of paprika. Add horseradish and grated onion. With electric mixer at medium speed, slowly add salad oil, a little at a time, alternately with white wine vinegar. Chill thoroughly.

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July 2023 501lifemag.com | 23

A state of service

Lt. Col. Jason Smedley has always made it his mission to serve Arkansas

For Lt. Col. Jason Smedley of Little Rock, service has always been a way of life.

Smedley, 44, has taken a broad approach to the term — community, church, legislative, military and now education.

“I have been blessed with great family and friends, a great community, a great church,” he said. “I’ve always felt a need to give back and be of service to others because so much has been done for me. In some sense, I feel obligated.”

His parents, James and Carolyn Smedley, ingrained the attitude of service into their children. Smedley said they grew up in modest means in Union County before moving to the 501, where Carolyn Smedley worked as a nurse (cofounder of the Little Rock Black Nurses Association) and James Smedley as an attorney.

“Growing up, we spent a lot of time at the Watershed (Family Resource Center), led by Rev. Hezekiah Stewart,” Smedley recalled. “He was my first pastor. My Christmas break, spring and summer breaks were mostly spent there, where we served people. Service was always part of my early childhood.”

A 1996 graduate of Parkview Magnet High School, he went first to the University of Central Arkansas, where he studied writing. As a young college student, he joined the Marine Corps. Later, he was accepted for an internship with former Congressman Vic Snyder in Washington, D.C.

“I’ve always been interested in public service,” Smedley said. “I used to spend a lot of my teenage years saving up for trips to D.C. I’ve loved the U.S. Capitol, U.S. government, politics and public service ever since third grade.”

While in D.C., Snyder’s chief of staff, Ed Fry, told him if he was going to stay in the district, he needed to go back to school.

“He convinced me to try Howard University,” Smedley remembered. “It was late July/early August, and I went up to Howard and told them, ‘I want to come here.’ The assistant said, ‘You should’ve applied in April.’”

Continued on page 27

Photo by Mike Kemp
July 2023 501lifemag.com | 25
26 | 501 LIFE July 2023

The staffer told Smedley the dean would make the final decision but, at that late date, probably wouldn’t consider his appeal.

“So I went to the dean’s office and sat for three hours and waited for him to come back,” he said. “I told him, ‘Hey I’m Jason Smedley from Little Rock, Ark., and I want to come to your school. If you give me a chance, I’ll graduate and make you proud.’”

The dean let him in.

“That taught me never to accept the first ‘no,’” Smedley said, chuckling.

He graduated from Howard with an English degree, worked on the staff of Sen. Blanche Lincoln and, in 2003, deployed with the 4th Civil Affairs Group in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He was injured, earned a Purple Heart and said he was the first Arkansan to return from the war alive. He transitioned from enlisted to officer, worked on the staff of Sen. Mark Pryor, had two more deployments (to Iraq again and Estonia), worked at the Pentagon for the Marine Corps Office of Legislative Affairs and earned a master’s degree in business administration from the American Military University while in D.C.

After returning to Little Rock, he worked as military liaison under Gov. Mike Beebe and was able to return to his original unit as company commander, taking Arkansas Marines to Senegal, where they trained African forces. He called that one of his best experiences ever.

After transitioning from the governor’s office and to the Marine Corps Reserves, he earned his degree at UA-Little Rock’s Bowen School of Law. He’d been inspired by his father, Pryor and Beebe, among others.

“I learned a lot and am able to use what I learned there in other areas,” he said.

He is chair of the Arkansas Veterans Commission, worked

as a lobbyist for Farm Bureau, helped start an Arkansas Diversity in Farming program and worked for the Delta Regional Authority, focusing on rural communities. He served as the Children’s Church director at Union AME Church and also spent time as a volunteer firefighter.

“Being company commander of a Little Rock (Marine Corps) unit, I needed to go somewhere I was unknown, where I could clean a fire truck, put out fires and have people tell me what to do,” he said. “I was loving it.”

Having reached the rank of lieutenant colonel, he is now the Squadron Commander of Marine Wing Support Squadron-471.

His current full-time gig is commandant of the new Arkansas Military & First Responders Academy, a charter school that will open this fall.

“It will be Arkansas’s first full JROTC school,” Smedley said. “That doesn’t mean they have to join the military. It’s not a mini-boot camp; it just sets the culture of the school. Part of the curriculum will include law enforcement, firefighting, medical emergency and first responder training.”

He checked all the boxes officials were looking for as the school’s first commandant — Marine, lieutenant colonel/ colonel, someone who wanted to live in Little Rock.

He is married to Kelly Smedley and has three children — Isis, 22; Jayden, 14; and Mariah, 2. As his parents were for him, he aims to be an example for them.

“I’m really passionate about working with the youth, and this job allows me to combine all my passions — Marines, Arkansas, our youth,” he said. “All of my resume — everything I’ve done outside of the Marine Corps — has been for Arkansas.

“I did that intentionally.”

July 2023 501lifemag.com | 27

Bell Ball of the

Conway native Allie Bell crowned Miss Arkansas’ Teen

Allie Bell competed in her first Miss Arkansas Teen Pageant in 2022, placing in the Top 10 as Miss Teen South Central Arkansas. “After that, I definitely knew I wanted to come back this year and see if I could win,” said Bell of Conway. “I came back and I won.”

Competing this year as Miss Teen Ouachita River, Bell received the state crown June 9 at the Robinson Center in Little Rock. She will represent Arkansas in the 2023 Miss America Teen Pageant, scheduled sometime in January 2024. “I’m still on cloud nine,” she said a few days following the pageant. “It’s such a surreal feeling that not everyone gets to have. I’ve watched the video at least 50 times, and I'm still shocked that I won.”

Bell, the 17-year-old daughter of Rob and Kara Bell of Conway, won a $10,100 scholarship courtesy of the Miss Arkansas Organization and more than $25,000 in awards, wardrobe and gifts. During the week of competition, she received additional awards, including a $250 scholarship sponsored by Hannah Wright from The Royal We in the June 6 Preliminary Evening Gown category; a $250 scholarship sponsored by the Miss Arkansas Organization in the Preliminary Health and Fitness category on June 8; and a $500 scholarship sponsored by Butler Pharmacy in the #lovelikeKennedy Overall Evening Gown category on the final night of competition.

Bell will make appearances across the state promoting her platform, “Finish What He Started: Opioid Abuse Awareness.” Her platform is personal to her and her family. The “He” in the title refers to her late uncle, Kyle Allison of Conway. “My platform was created to honor and remember my Uncle Kyle,” she said. “He passed away in 2018 due to an addiction to opioids.

“I want to continue his legacy and educate Arkansans about opioids, what to do to avoid them and how to stay safe.”

For her talent, Bell performed a jazz dance to “Don’t Rain on My Parade.”

She said her platform will remain the same for the national pageant, but she’s not sure yet about her talent. “We’re still working on that,” she said, laughing.

A 2023 graduate of Conway High School, Bell has danced all her life. “I was on the dance team in high school and take dance lessons at Rock City Dance Center in Conway.” Bell will also be a member of the dance team at Ouachita Baptist University (OBU) in the fall, where she will study media and communications.

Unlike the winner of the Miss Arkansas Pageant, she

will not have to give up a year of college. “I will continue to go to college and make appearances as Miss Arkansas’ Teen,” she said. “I know I will be super busy … I hope to learn a lot about time management and balance. When schools start again in the fall, I plan to make appearances around the state promoting my platform.” She also plans to speak to civic groups and organizations that request her appearance.

In addition to being a member of the dance team at Conway High School, Bell was also involved in theater, Student Council, Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Caring Cats Club. She supports several community programs, including Renewal Ranch and Harbor House, and plans to remain involved with those organizations.

Bell has received enough money from the wins in the two pageants as well as the OBU Presidential Scholarship, the OBU Legacy Scholarship (her mother is an OBU graduate) and a small athletic scholarship to pay for her first two years of college. “That’s such a blessing,” she said.

Bell is the granddaughter of Debbie Allison of Conway and the late Dr. Walter Allison and Rosemary Bell of Searcy and the late Scott Bell. She has one younger brother, Connelly Bell, who is in eighth grade.

July 2023 501lifemag.com | 29

Nature's ultimate show

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Central Arkansas
be national hot spot for 2024 eclipse
by Dr. Clay Sherrod - Arkansas Sky Observatories, Petit Jean Mountain
Photos by Mike Kemp
July 2023 501lifemag.com | 31

Mid-day sunshine will turn instantly to the darkness of night ... nocturnal animals will emerge as if evening has fallen ... the air will cool perhaps 15 degrees and a slight breeze will blow as in the cool of night on April 8, 2024, less than one year from now. The moon, moving eastward about its own diameter each hour, will slowly pass directly in front of the bright sun overhead shortly after noon and block its light out nearly entirely for over four minutes – one of the longest total solar eclipses in North American history.

Throughout Arkansas, communities, civic leaders, landowners and entrepreneurs are readying for the grand 2024 total solar eclipse that will darken the landscape below in a huge circular shadow that will move from southwest to northeast across the state – and nearly dead center over many towns from across the 75-mile wide totality path as it sweeps over our state. This will be the most dramatic total eclipse of the sun that anyone today will ever experience in their lifetimes on American soil.

This will also be the longest totality experienced in the USA, with well over four minutes of darkness. This is almost twice as long as most have ever experienced. Arkansas will see an influx of visitors in the hundreds of thousands–some estimate over one million–for the week prior to this generation's greatest-ever total eclipse of the sun, and festivities and viewing communities are being set up throughout The Natural State. Visitors from around the world will begin arriving around Thursday, April 4, and most will remain in place until the day after the eclipse, April 9.

The eclipse is nearly central – meaning that it will be longest in duration – over Mena, Conway County, from Petit Jean Mountain, through Morrilton and up past Birdtown in an angle that eventually takes the shadow over Clinton, Mountain Home and across the northeastern part of the state, then up into New England.

The great migration of eclipse chasers is nothing to take lightly: the 2017 total solar eclipse that passed from Washington/Oregon just north of Arkansas and eventually into South Carolina saw tens of millions of people take to the skies from whatever small foothold they might find along the path. Cities and towns were inundated with

visitors, many caught totally unprepared for the massive number of people; water, medical supplies, sanitary facilities and certainly lodging were suddenly in short supply. People who did not have pre-arrangements for lodging and a small spot of ground from which to view the eclipse in 2017 were simply forced to stop along the roadways and sleep in their cars, ultimately ending up in a nationwide traffic jam that took two days to clear.

On the other hand, businesses and creative retailers brought in billions of dollars in revenue from eclipse items, food sales, motel rooms and anything related to the event. That will happen here in Arkansas for those who are prepared.

Although Arkansas Sky Observatories (ASO) plans to keep the public informed about events and aspects of the total eclipse as time grows near, it is best to start preparing now; whether you are simply a resident of the county or a business owner hoping to benefit from the tens of thousands of visitors to your area, the eclipse WILL affect you. Traffic is going to be at a standstill the day before, during and the day after the eclipse, which takes place around 1 p.m. on Monday, April 8, 2024, in Arkansas. There will be vehicles on every road, some along the shoulders, and others parked in the middle of the highway or street just to get a glimpse of history in the making. Most motels, hotels and other lodging facilities are now likely booked to capacity, so those with no firm lodging should begin to look at home rentals, camping or RV facilities at this time. Expect prices for nightly lodging to be over twice normal, with three to four night minimum stays; refunds on reservations are typically not available for eclipse lodging.

Continued on page 34 32 | 501 LIFE July 2023

Visitors to eclipses come from all walks of life and all origins; there will be people from foreign countries who devoutly travel to every eclipse possible, and there will be a great number of people from our surrounding states attempting to put themselves in a location ideal for the four minutes of instant darkness and stars shining around noon. Most eclipse viewers for the 2024 event are likely to be families, professionals, photographers and adventurers seeking a once-in-lifetime experience.

A solar eclipse occurs at least once somewhere on Earth each year but remains still one of the most spectacular and rarest of astronomical phenomena, and one that typically excites the general public more than any other. Daytime turns to night instantly, which can be startling to anyone who has never witnessed one before. The geometry of a solar eclipse is simply the moon moving between the Earth and the sun; both appear the same size from Earth. The instant that the moon completely covers the sun, all light of the sky disappears, stars come out and it is a virtual nighttime for only a short span of time … there will be no other four minutes like it in 2024.

A wonderful educational experience for families and

young people is to study and record the reaction of the natural world during totality: when the darkness instantly falls, nocturnal animals awaken and become active, the winds begin to blow, the air cools rapidly as much as 15 degrees, and it truly appears as if nightfall has begun — only 12 hours too early!

This remarkable and memorable event can be easily captured on any camera, and the experience will create memories for a lifetime. Families and groups can make the trip to Arkansas over the prior weekend and truly create a vacation of a lifetime. No special equipment is necessary; your pre-selected and secured spot, lawn chairs, a picnic and your cell phones are all that you will need.

Mark your calendars now and book your reservation for an experience like no other for April 8, 2024.

Visit both the “Solar Eclipse 2024 Arkansas” or “Arkansas Sky Observatories” (ASO) Facebook pages to keep up-to-date on planning for the eclipse; if your group or community is planning activities, let us know and your activities will be included in postings of upcoming plans for this remarkable, once-in-a-lifetime event.

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A solar eclipse occurs at least once somewhere on Earth each year but remains still one of the most spectacular and rarest of astronomical phenomena, and one that typically excites the general public more than any other.
Clay SherrodArkansas Sky Observatories, Petit Jean Mountain

The 2024 solar eclipse times and duration of darkness for Central Arkansas cities along the main path:

Visit 501lifemag.com/eclipse for a complete map courtesy of ASO of the eclipse path across our the entire state of Arkansas, with the circular shadow of the moon falling first in the southwest corner and progressing northeastward as shown by the shaded area. Also, readers will be able to view a diagram of exactly how a solar eclipse occurs.

July 2023 501lifemag.com | 35
Location Totality Starts Mid-Eclipse Duration Lake DeGray 12:31 p.m 1:49 p.m. 2 minutes, 42 seconds Hot Springs 12:32 p.m. 1:49 p.m. 3 minutes, 36 seconds Petit Jean Mtn 12:32:46 p.m. 1:49 p.m. 4 minutes, 16 seconds Morrilton 12:33:31 p.m. 1:50:33 p.m. 4 minutes, 13 seconds Atkins 12:33 p.m. 1:50 p.m. 4 minutes, 16 seconds Conway 12:34 p.m. 1:51 p.m. 3 minutes, 53 seconds Little Rock 12:34 p.m. 1:52 p.m. 2 minutes, 27 seconds Birdtown 12:34 p.m. 1:51 p.m. 4 minutes, 17 seconds Fairfield Bay 12:35 p.m. 1:52 p.m. 4 minutes, 14 seconds Clinton 12:35 p.m. 1:52 p.m. 4 minutes, 15 seconds
times Central Standard Time (CST). The first number indicates the minute in which the moon STARTS moving eastward and takes its first "bite" out of the sun. The second time is MID-ECLIPSE, the maximum coverage of the sun by the moon for that location. And, DURATION indicates how long the totality/darkness will be over that city.)


After Little Rock firefighters were hit with a deadly tornado , they immediately served others

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Photos by Mike Kemp
July 2023 501lifemag.com | 37

With eyes on the gathering storm, firefighters at Station 9 in west Little Rock got their chainsaws and equipment ready in case their community needed help.

Minutes later, they ran for cover in the office and listened as a tornado tore apart their building.

Shawn Fisher, who was filling in as the station’s battalion chief on March 31, said the other men were outside looking at the sky, and one was videoing when the power went off. Fisher told them to take shelter immediately.

“I heard one of them say ‘debris.’ I saw what looked like a storm cloud of crows, just circling,” Fisher said. “Once I got everybody inside my office…, my thoughts were [to] get as small as I could. I was wondering about how everybody else was positioned. The last person basically shut the door and dove under my desk. I thought about my family. It crossed my mind what was going to impale me or crush me.

“When people say it sounds like a train, it sounds like a train. There’s no better way to put it. The change in pressure was so drastic; your ears pop. It got really intense. You could hear in the engine bay items being thrown across and chaos happening in there,” Fisher said.

Capt. Ben Hammond recalled Fisher’s urgent warning. “No sooner than we got in that room, the tornado hit our building. The sounds were of the building coming apart, ceiling tiles, the heaviest of wind blowing that you can imagine hearing, change in the atmospheric pressure. We ducked down. There was a desk in there. There was a window in the room; you could see the trees blowing outside and feel this building coming apart. Before you could comprehend what was going on, it was gone, 40 seconds maybe.”

“When it got silent, we knew it was over,” Fisher said. “I asked if everybody was accounted for and OK, and I got eight yeses. We walked out of my office to the engine bay to the smell of natural gas; the water lines were busted; … you could see daylight. That’s when we knew we had to go to work, and we were pretty lucky.”

The EF3 tornado, categorized as “severe,” had ripped a path through Pulaski County, destroying apartments, homes and businesses. Tornadoes killed five people in Arkansas on March 31, one in North Little Rock and four in Wynne. A beam from the interior of a church next door impaled the side of the North Shackleford Road station in the exact spot some firefighters had been standing seconds earlier, Hammond said. The beam has been cut into three sections and will be used to make a kitchen table for the new station, he said. A 20-foot-tall glass fire station bay door was blown 80 yards south into a building, and the other was too damaged to open. The men used a pickup and chains to pull the front doors off the station to get a trapped fire truck out. Every firefighter’s personal vehicle in the parking lot was destroyed, Hammond said.

“Before the rain even stopped, [Fire Chief Delphone Hubbard] was at our fire station checking on us, starting the process of what we do now,” he said.

Hubbard said he was in southwest Little Rock when he got a call asking him if it was true that Station 9 had been hit.

“Immediately, I’m headed in that direction, lights and sirens,” he said. As he raced toward his men, he saw homes without roofs or walls, debris all over the roads, trees uprooted and power lines down. He had to drive over a curb to reach the station.

“My guys are running out. I didn’t realize it until later, they’ve just been hit. I was riding into the storm,” Hubbard said. “They said, ‘Chief, what are you doing here? Are you OK?’ I wanted to lay eyes on all my guys.”

Hammond said the fire station was the first place where many neighbors thought to seek shelter after their homes were hit. “People were emerging from where they were hiding,” he said. “They just knew to come to the station. They’re confused, don’t know what to do, where to go. Some people had their pets with them, on a leash, not on a leash. They migrated right to our fire station. Within 15 minutes of the tornado, there were 40 people surrounding our firehouse.”

Continued on page 40

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Following the powerful tornado that hit Fire Station 9 in west Little Rock on March 31, nine firefighters jumped into action. As a sign of determination, a firefighter raises the Stars and Stripes and the Arkansas flag.

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July 2023 501lifemag.com | 39 Member FDIC

A symbol of survival and solidarity, six of nine firefighters got matching tattoos which include their station mascot, a figure of Popeye, and incorporated the tornado in smoke coming out of his pipe and the date 3-31-23 on Popeye’s forearm.

Hubbard recalled the surreal scene, too.

“It was an unbelievable sight of citizens, residents walking the street with suitcases, almost like you were at the airport, walking with no destination in mind, just what they could grab. I directed them to checkpoints established to render any type of medical aid they might need,” he said.

However, the firefighters’ worst fears weren’t realized. Hammond said he couldn’t believe there were no deaths in the area based on the destruction.“We just knew it; we just knew what we were fixing to face was people hurt, people dead, people possibly trapped,” he said. “It is absolutely a true miracle that that’s the situation we found ourselves in. The hand of God watched over everybody in that area.”

Hammond and Hubbard said it helped that the storm hit at about 2:30 in the afternoon and that severe weather had been predicted.

Fisher said that despite the shambles Station 9 was in, the men were ready to help others. He immediately organized the crew. Three firefighters stayed at the station; the others put on gear, grabbed a few tools and split into teams of two to canvass.

“I was so super proud of the men,” Hubbard said. “The personnel at Station 9, immediately, immediately, after standing in the eye of that storm and hunkering down went to work.” Hubbard went into area neighborhoods with the firefighters to see what the residents’ needs were and to check properties. “It was disorienting because street signs and landmarks were destroyed. I couldn’t tell anyone where I was,” he said.

Fisher said he saw 30 to 40 off-duty firefighters helping, and there were others. “The Little Rock Police Department did a great job. I noticed them within minutes on the city streets. City maintenance crews, street department

and everything, dozers, backhoes, dump trucks doing everything they could to get to me, to be able to get out of the station. It did take everybody. The nine of us have gotten a fair amount of attention, but there were so many people who played such critical roles and so many other people affected. Those guys did such a tremendous job of putting others first,” he said.

“We relied on our brothers and sisters around the city,” Hammond said. “It was amazing to see all our fire department members coming to our aid.”

Hubbard said neighboring fire departments sent personnel to work at stations in Little Rock to continue answering calls while the city’s firefighters responded to the disaster.

Hammond said the tight-knit group had to process their emotions afterward. They have been relocated to the same firehouse upon their request. Six of the nine firefighters got matching tattoos “so we can forever remember this day,” he said. They took their station mascot, a figure of Popeye, and incorporated the tornado in smoke coming out of his pipe and the date 3-31-23 on Popeye’s forearm.

Not that any of them could ever forget the experience. Hubbard, a firefighter veteran, said he has worked many disasters during his career, from flooding and a high-rise fire to line-of-duty deaths.

The tornado was his first, and he hopes his last.

“If someone had said, ‘Hey, we’re having a tornado next week,’ I would have said, 'Are we ready?’ This was our test. We were ready and met that challenge,” Hubbard said. “It was a coordinated effort. It was great to see we can work together during times of really bad incidents.”

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July 2023 501lifemag.com | 41



Most of the time, Jacqualin Farmer’s megawatt smile lights up a room with unbridled joy. But when the 28-yearold is in her art studio, her vivaciousness turns to allbusiness.

“She’s one of the only artists I’ve worked with who had me scrap a painting because she didn’t like the way it was looking. Like, throw it away,” said Susan Tillemans, who works with Farmer regularly. “Jacqualin is very methodical. There is always a sequence to her art.”

Farmer’s unyielding standards are understandable, considering her art is how she interacts with the world. Born with cerebral palsy, which has rendered her essentially nonverbal, her vivid paintings are the conduits of expression and communication that able-bodied people take for granted.

“Her artwork let me get to know the person that I already knew,” said her mother, Michelle Edwards. “She had this vibrant, lovely personality, but looking at her artwork also showed she definitely has a mathematical mind. When I look at her artwork and the precision of what she wants it to be, I’m just amazed.

“I’ll look at a piece and I’m just looking at the symmetry of the artwork. You can’t tell me that she doesn’t understand things; she knows exactly where she wants it to go, what colors she wants and her color combinations. I got a chance to watch her once as she chose this instrument she wanted to use and where she wanted it to go, and if it didn’t go in the right place then that was a problem. Her personality really showed through.”

Between her limited verbal skills and little use of her hands, Jacqualin works with Tillemans to create her paintings. The two share an innate connection that allows for communication on a different level as Tillemans carries out Farmer’s instructions regarding everything from paint hues to instruments. Using this method, part of Easterseals Arkansas’s Artistic Realization Technologies (A.R.T.) program, Farmer has developed and grown as a creator.

“One of the most satisfying things is that I’ve established this rapport with Jacqualin and we have a great working relationship,” said Tillemans, who is the art instructor with Easterseals Arkansas. “At first she struggled to get those ideas out, and it has been so satisfying to watch her grapple with that and know that it’s hers. If she would have wanted me to, I would have thrown paint on the ceiling because it’s her choice. She adjusts all her colors. She chooses the tools. Everything you see on a canvas is her. I’m just her hands.”

For more than 75 years, Easterseals Arkansas has helped individuals with disabilities live, learn, work and play in their communities. Easterseals empowers people with disabilities, families and communities to be full and equal participants of society through various services including child development centers, physical rehabilitation and job training.

Edwards, a public school math teacher, said her daughter has been involved with Easterseals in some form or another since she was a baby. She was introduced to art while attending Hall High School and the A.R.T. program dovetailed neatly into that.

Continued on page 44

RIGHT: Taylor Holmes (from left), Jacqualin Farmer and A.R.T. teacher Susan Tillemans at the Easter Seals Arkansas art studio. Taylor and Jacqualin are friends who receive services through Easter Seals.
July 2023 501lifemag.com | 43

“It’s amazing to me,” she said. “[Jacqualin] knows the vision in her head, and her tracker (the artist who works with her) is so patient with her to understand what she wants. That’s her freedom. She has her choices. This is one time in her life that she doesn’t have to depend on someone else for total care. It’s an opportunity for her to be able to reach out and not be stifled by what someone else is doing.

“I’ve seen her grow and mature. One Christmas she even decided her Christmas present to the people in our family was she made artwork and every one was different. She knew whom she wanted what for and made it to fit their personalities.”

In addition to the accolades heaped upon her by her family, which includes dad Booker and her brother Skyler, Farmer has received additional acclaim for her talent as a featured artist whose work is regularly auctioned to raise money for the Easterseals organization.

Edwards said she hopes her daughter’s paintings inspire other people to get involved and support the organization through donations or volunteerism – not only for Farmer’s sake, but for other artists with developmental challenges just waiting for the chance to express themselves through the hands of a tracker.

“Easterseals is a place where adults with disabilities especially have a chance to be themselves,” Edwards said. “We often see people who have disabilities who are just stuck at home, or they’re hidden away. Easterseals gives them an opportunity to live and to express themselves and to be as normal as they can be. For Jacqualin, the A.R.T. program gave her a chance to blossom and start to really be able to express herself. It’s really become who she is at this point.”

44 | 501 LIFE July 2023
“This is one time in her life that she doesn’t have to depend on someone else for total care. It’s an opportunity for her to be able to reach out and not be stifled by what someone else is doing.”
Jacqualin's mom, Michelle Edwards
Jacqualin Farmer (from left) and her mother, Michelle, attend Easterseals of Arkansas fundraisers where Jacqualin’s art raises money for the programs she loves.

Art teacher Susan Tillemans works with Jacqualin Farmer regularly and considers her “very methodical. There is always a sequence to her art,” she said. Jacqualin’s mother said her art reflects a vibrant, lovely personality and a mathematical mind as can be seen here.

July 2023 501lifemag.com | 45 Now Open Admission is always free. Plan your visit today. 501 East Ninth Street, Little Rock / 501.372.4000 arkmfa.org / #myAMFA Photo: Iwan Baan Tuesday - Saturday / 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday / 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. Monday / Closed

Summer is here in Downtown Conway and with the return of summer, comes a season of celebration with dozens of events in the weeks to come. The annual Moonlight Madness celebration will be the last Friday of July, and our downtown shops and restaurants will offer extended shopping hours so you can check out all the end-of-season sales and specials. There is only one place to go this summer, and that is Downtown Conway! Your place is here!

A message from Kim Williams Executive Director, Conway Downtown Partnership
July 2023 501lifemag.com | 47

Celebrating creators

Conway Alliance Annual Arts Awards names 2023 winners

Seven local artists were recently honored at the annual Arts Awards ceremony by the Conway Alliance for the Arts (CAFTA) at The Max Event Venue.

CAFTA is a volunteer-run non-profit that promotes local artistic endeavors and connects the community through ArtsFest and the annual Arts Awards. To participate in the Arts Awards competition, artists were nominated in each category in the spring. On June 20, the board hosted an event to name the 2023 winners, who were chosen by a panel of three judges. The Arts Awards winners are:

• Outstanding Student Achievement (K-4): Skylen Boyd

• Outstanding Student Achievement (5-8): Zélie Vaughan

• Outstanding Student Achievement (9-12): Jasmine DeFreitas

• Outstanding Student Achievement (College): Evan Gilliard

• Gene Hatfield Outstanding Individual Artist: Jeanetta Darley

• CAFTA Advocate for the Arts: Marilyn Rishkofski

• Outstanding Arts Educator: the late Roger Bowman

Boyd is a fifth-grade student and “fashionista” who is already a star in Conway’s Young Designers Academy. She’s created bags, clothing and other items by hand and recently placed third in a contest hosted by the Greenbrier Art Jam.

Gilliard is a senior at UCA majoring in art, with an emphasis on sculpture. He hopes to graduate in December and volunteers at community events like Conway Art Walk. Darley is a long-established Conway artist “with excellent technical skill and a willingness to educate both peers and aspiring artists,” according to one nominator.

Rishkofski was chosen as the CAFTA Advocate for the Arts because of her support for all forms of art in Conway for many years. She's been part of the Conway League of Artists and CAFTA, and recently started the St. Peter's Artists Collective (SPARC) at St. Peter's Episcopal Church, where she will help feature artists in the historic building.

The Outstanding Arts Educator award was received posthumously by Bowman’s wife of 49 years, Jima Clark Bowman, because he passed away last month. In addition to being a prolific working artist, Bowman was a retired professor of art, having taught at several universities, and most recently at the University of Central Arkansas (UCA) for 26 years.

A nonprofit, CAFTA was created in 2006 by art faculty and administrators from UCA, Hendrix College and Central Baptist College. The group is led by Board Chair Julia Dossett Morgan. The organization held the inaugural ArtsFest in 2007 at Simon Park in downtown Conway to celebrate the arts and build community. CAFTA was incorporated as a 501(c)3 in the state of Arkansas in October 2014. Visual and performing artists have been involved since its inception.

CAFTA relies on community volunteers, local business sponsors, and city partners to help carry out the mission. The board believes in the power of art to cultivate awareness, create mutual understanding, and build vibrancy in a community. “We want people who attend one of our events, exhibits, or workshops to walk away knowing Conway is a city where the arts are celebrated, valued, and prioritized,” according to conwayarts.org.

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CAFTA Board Chair Julia Dossett Morgan


Need to knock out some hours before fall semester? Summer sessions are a great way to focus on a few classes – so you can finish on time (or early!). Financial aid and housing are also available.

Register by July 11 for the Summer II session.

July 2023 501lifemag.com | 49
TOP L-R: Skylen Boyd, Zélie Vaughan, Jasmine DeFreitas, Evan Gilliard.
BOTTOM L-R Gene Hatfield , Marilyn Rishkofski, Jima Clark Bowman accepting for the late Roger Bowman. Photos by Austin DuVall



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Jay Ruud, retired professor and chair of the English Department at the University of Central Arkansas, is a medievalist who loves writing about legendary figures –King Arthur, Lancelot, Merlin, and Robin Hood.

In the fall of 2020, Ruud completed his Merlin Mystery Series. In each of the six books, he takes a cryptic aspect of the traditional story of the Knights of the Round Table and weaves a mysterious, imaginary tale around it. Merlin the Magician assumes the role of lead detective. After all, as Ruud stated, “Merlin was the smartest of the bunch.”

Ruud’s first novel in the Merlin series was “Fatal Feast,” published in 2015. It was followed by “The Knight’s Riddle: What Women Want Most” (2016), ”The Bleak and Empty Sea: The Tristram and Isolde Story” (2017), ”Lost in the Quagmire: The Quest of the Grail” (2018), ”The Knight of the Cart” (2019), and ”To the Great Deep” (2020).

Publishing the series did not come easily. He initially got the idea in 2001, and it took several years to complete the first book. But it took 11 years to find a publisher, which he finally did with Five Star Press. Fortunately for Ruud, when Five Star Press discontinued its mystery line after his second King Arthur book, he was quickly picked up by Encircle Publications and later sealed a six-book contract with them for his Robin Hood Mystery series.

Today, Ruud is devoting time to completing this newest series in which villains and heroes abound. Last year he published the first two books, “Sleuth of Sherwood” and “Ghoul of Sherwood.” The third book in the series, “The Treasure of Sherwood,” will be out this September.

Before retirement, Ruud would write sporadically

when he had time. Now he tries to write every afternoon, completing at least 1,000 words a day. He advises writers not to “wait for inspiration” but believes inspiration comes during writing. His wife, Stacy Margaret Jones, is a published poet and novelist, and he credits her with providing valuable feedback. They often proofread and edit each other’s work.

In addition to his fictional work, Ruud published several books of literary criticism and scholarship throughout his career. His medieval scholarly work includes books on Chaucer, Dante and Tolkien and an encyclopedia of medieval literature.

More information about Ruud can be found on his website, JayRuud.com. The site also includes links to “Poetry with Dogs,” brief videos of Ruud reciting poems, often with a dramatic flair, to his four canine companions aptly named after legendary characters, Guinevere, Beatrice, Lavinia and Gareth. Also on his website are links to “Eat It Conway,” which has local restaurant reviews co-authored with his wife, Stacey, in a conversational “he said/she said” format.

Even as a child, Ruud knew he was a writer. He laughingly states that he wrote his first book at age 4, with his mother giving him enthusiastic reviews. Growing up during the ’60s, he loved watching TV shows about Robin Hood and King Arthur. Throughout his career, Ruud has creatively blended both interests, writing and medieval legends, to his advantage, and he continues to do so even throughout retirement.

His books are available on Amazon.com and other online stores.

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Jay Ruud loves traveling and finding inspiration for his books. His travels to Bruges, Belgium, and Paris have inspired his stories about legendary figures such as King Arthur, Lancelot, Merlin and Robin Hood.
‘A lot of our students come from dark places, so when they become a light by going to school, they're going to light up a whole community.’
Rick Watson, Director of Supportive and Re-entry Services. Shorter College

Finding a place in the light

North Little Rock college serves those seeking a second chance

At about 400 students, Shorter College may never be mistaken for the biggest college in Arkansas. But an initiative of the private, faithbased liberal arts school, one of the country's 105 historically Black colleges and universities, is making a positive impact that is reaching far beyond the historic North Little Rock campus.

Shorter has built solid academic programs serving people who have faced the challenges of past mistakes and who are now looking for a new lease on life. The school's Anchor Program partners with the Arkansas State Department of Community Corrections, serving individuals in parole and probation programs.

Rick Watson, Shorter's director of supportive and re-entry services, said the school's education programs are a key element for individuals building a better life versus reoffending and winding up back inside.

"The recidivism rate in Arkansas is hovering around 50 percent," he said. "For the people who receive their degree through Shorter College or any college, recidivism drops all the way down to about 13 percent. So that is a really big deal in terms of saving the state thousands and thousands of dollars to house someone in prison, but not only that, it saves thousands of lives and helps families."

Watson said Shorter College partners with re-entry facilities to provide college instruction to individuals transitioning from prison to society. He said given the background of many students, the educational process offers different challenges from a typical college curriculum.

"A lot of our students are first-time students; they've never been to college before," he said. "Maybe they're the first person in their family to go to college. We talk to them about school and how college can change their lives and provide hope for their children. Their children see the possibility of going to college and the opportunity there.

"Another thing we do differently than most colleges is to provide wrap-around services. We have services that help people with housing; we

can help with employment. We provide a success coach, and that person works with the individual through every step. We also walk them through every single step of the process with the teachers and what to expect. And when they run across problems, we're there for them."

The program, which has been around since 2015, also benefits from Shorter College's standing in the community, which can trace its roots to 1886. That longevity, as well as the college's roots in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, have helped keep it relevant among its target audience.

"The thing that sets us apart is that Shorter College is one of the few colleges that's actually in the urban heart of the community," Watson said. "People can relate to us because they see the college every day. They know that the college knows the community because it's been in the community for so many years.

"The second thing is, we were one of the first to have a college inside the prison. Some students can get their degree while they're in prison, while others who were unable to complete their degree can finish it with us when they get out. We were one of the very first colleges to do that."

Talking to Watson, it is immediately clear how personally he takes the mission of the school's educational programs. He referenced his growing up as motivation to help as many people as possible reach beyond their past mistakes.

"I'm the first person in my family to ever go to college," he said. "I'm super proud and excited to be a part of the re-entry community because there have been so many people around me over the years that I've seen have these troubles.

"A lot of our students come from dark places, so when they become a light by going to school, they're going to light up a whole community. Just one person can have a huge ripple effect on a family. The cousin that never even knew what college was sees his cousin going or his brother going or sister going. It changes people's lives. We have that ripple effect on the community."

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Photos by Mike Kemp

A modern-day Mayberry

It is nestled in the foothills of southwest White County on what was once known as the Southwest Trail, or Old Military Road. During the 1830s, the community was slated to become a second county seat. The Civil War and a devastating tornado ended that. And then, a major fire in the mid-1960s consumed most of El Paso, Ark, including six of the eight stores. In its heyday, it boasted a gin, a livery stable, a doctor, a lawyer, a bank and a boarding house. It was the business center of western White County. Today if you blink, you might miss it traveling through the junction of Highways 5 and 64.

The El Paso School consolidated with Beebe Schools in 1950 but kept its elementary until 1960. Highway 64 routed a mile south of the heart of the community. Despite all odds, El Paso thrived, and today boasts amenities often found in cities.

Why? Because of the people. “We wanted to be better; we wanted to do better for our children,” said Roy Dale Breckenridge, who has spent his entire 83 years (except for military service) in El Paso. In 1962, a group of 54 dedicated individuals, now all deceased except

Breckenridge, formed the El Paso Parks and Playground Association to give leadership to volunteer efforts. Over time, that effort would result in a local fire department, a community center, a park with walking track, two ballfields and a community library. That does not seem out of the ordinary for most small towns. But El Paso is not a small town; it is a small community with no tax base. From the beginning, residents had to rely on their own ingenuity and labor. What is remarkable? Of those 54 individuals, 31 of them have direct descendants who are still involved.

Their first order of business was disposing of the old school building. The building was demolished, the bricks were sold and fundraising began in earnest. The lunchroom, a separate building from the school, became a gathering place. It was later sold and proceeds used to begin construction on the community center, which continues to be used today. Originally, the fire department took up half the building to house its only fire truck. Since then, the fire department--manned with all volunteers, of course--maintains 11 fire vehicles.

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In rural America, when a local community loses its school, it typically dies. And when a major highway bypasses the community, that assures its demise. But not so in El Paso, a small community of maybe a thousand folks.
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Librarian Janet Blansett (from left) and Arlena Riley are committed to El Paso.

Meanwhile, residents wanted ball fields so their kids did not have to travel. With land donated from the Poole family and detailed plans drawn by local volunteers, serious construction began. Today, these two fields are used primarily for practice, but have all-new bleachers, another recent volunteer project. And then, in 2009, the community took on another big project, renovating an 1894 bank building to house a community library. Now part of the White County Regional Library System but maintained by this same volunteer board, it has become a gathering place and a huge resource for connectivity, according to librarian Janet Blansett.

What motivates residents to keep on with the volunteer effort and raising money for things important to them?

“I love this community,” said Sherri Patrom, daughter of former board chair Dwight Patrom and greatgranddaughter of two of the original board members. “I will always do my part to make sure it is carried on for future generations.” What makes it different? Phyllis Breckenridge said that it is the people, the volunteer spirit and the giving attitude.

“There is an enthusiasm in El Paso that is contagious,”

board member and third-generation volunteer Arlena Riley said. “People want to be a part of something successful and worthwhile. We have three big events each year: a chili supper and dessert auction, a fish fry with donations accepted at the door and a potluck community supper a week before Thanksgiving. These activities become ‘homecoming’ events for those who still reside here and those who want to come home.”

One might expect locals to be clannish, after all many families have lived here for over a century. Oscar and Marisue Jones moved to the community in 1995. Marisue said she felt embraced; it was a total change of life for her. “We have lived in several places in Arkansas and Texas. This is a great place to live and a much easier life for us,” Oscar added.

“Folks in El Paso are passionate about honest living,” Blansett said, summing it up. “They are caring, generous and connected. Whether someone is ill, down on their luck, or just needs a porch rebuilt, there will be help on the way. El Paso residents live what they believe, a modern-day Mayberry.”

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Arlena Riley is the El Paso community volunteer who schedules the use of the Community Center and ballfields. The El Paso Parks and Playground Association owns and maintains the Center, parks and ballfields.
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Arkena Riley (from left) and Janet Blansett are planning the next fundraiser for the El Paso Community Library. It is the only branch in the White County Library System whose facility is owned and maintained by a volunteer group and is a 501(c) 3. Photos by Mike Kemp
58 | 501 LIFE July 2023



When Omar Torres, 10, came to Baseline Bilingual School in Little Rock, he was a timid second-grader who struggled with clearly speaking to his classmates and teachers, said his principal, Ida Wells.

But my, oh my, how times have changed regarding Omar’s grades, his outlook and his hobbies since he began working with Wells, who knows her way around academics blindfolded. She has been an educator for more than 50 years, a teacher with the Little Rock School District for 38 years and worked for the Arkansas Department of Education for 13 years. She tried to retire in 2011 but came back to education and just can’t seem to quit because she loves seeing how lives can change.

“Omar is one of my success stories. He is one of my kids who is going to go on and do great things,” Wells said. “He overcame not being able to speak and being afraid to speak and now he speaks bravely. At first when he came in, it was, ‘I can’t do that,’ and I kept encouraging him and working with him. At first it seemed almost impossible with his academic challenges, but Omar has mastered all of that, and this past semester he learned how to play the violin.”

Baseline Bilingual Elementary has a partnership with the Arkansas Orchestra, and on this year’s graduation day, students who had been studying orchestra instruments performed for their parents and other guests. “My teacher would teach us how to play the violin and how to hold it,” Omar said. “I was the first one to get a real violin.”

Wells is impressed with his progress. “Omar and three other students are top of the violin class. In the recital, Omar led the group and

did all the signals and cues and directed the other kids,” she said. “I don’t play the violin, but he was directing about 12 kids, and when you play the violin you say position, rest, start.”

Omar also plays the piano but has only had three lessons. When asked which instrument was his favorite, he said both. “I couldn’t pick a favorite,” he said.

Curious to know if playing the violin came as a challenge, the question was asked, but Omar seemed surprised by it and gave a resounding no. From his answer, it sounded like any other child could pick up a violin and begin playing it. “It was easy, and by a couple of weeks, I was good at it,” he said.

Omar’s mother, Martha Torres, said when her son arrived at the Bilingual Baseline School, he was so shy. “He didn’t like anybody to talk to him. He was quiet and he was in speech therapy too,” she said. “Now he is more open. If you talk to him, he will talk more. He now adds stuff about himself when he is talking to people. He is doing good on that.”

Wells has no doubt that the all-A student will be a successful adult. He has already conquered challenges that would have bound him to a different life, but now that he has been victorious in his education, he can go forward and think about what he wants to become later.

His thoughts are currently toward engineering because he loves playing with robots and would like to design motorcycles. Or maybe he would like to be the director of an orchestra one day. Who knows? He’s already had a little practice.

Photo by Mike Kemp

A Golden Legacy

Basbeball Coach Phillip Golden will be long-remembered in Wonderview

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Photos by Mike Kemp

Coaches have the unique ability to positively affect their players’ lives in ways that are often unparalleled, and Phillip Golden, head baseball coach of Wonderview Schools, is no exception. After 27 years in education and coaching, Golden brought his impressive career to a close this school year and Wonderview will forever be grateful for his contributions that transformed their baseball program and enhanced the lives of student athletes.

Golden has been with the district for seven years. Prior to that, he worked for the Greenbrier School District for 21 years. While working for Wonderview, he made a remarkable impact on the district as a whole. In 2019, Golden took the Daredevils to the state tournament for the first time in school history. Additionally, this past season, the baseball team finished with their best record in school history at 18-8. They also won the Daredevil Classic for the first time, beating the Class A state runner-up Mount Ida in the finals and won the Class A Regional Tournament.

“I’ve told every player on every team I ever coached that it’s not how you handle it when things are going good, it’s how you handle things when they’re going bad. That reveals your true character,” Golden said regarding his coaching style and philosophy. When faced with adversity from an opposing team, he always told his players, “Make them earn it. If teams were better than us, we may not win, but make them beat us; don’t give them anything.”

Golden said what he enjoyed most about coaching was the young men he had had the pleasure of getting to know over the years. He enjoys running into them years later in a store with their wife or kids and reliving a memory together. “There’s nothing like that,” he said. He places tremendous value on the relationships he formed with the men and

women he met in the coaching world. “I was lucky I only coached at two schools, and in both situations I became good friends with the guys I coached with. I still hang out with the guys who were on the staff the first year I became a coach. We have been close all of our coaching lives and continue to be close to this day. We are truly a family, and I wouldn't trade those experiences for anything.”

Coach Golden will be remembered for his vision as an innovator. “Coach Golden is a builder. He has built an impressive complex that the Daredevil Community is very proud of and is arguably the nicest complex in Class A,” said Dr. Jamie Stacks, superintendent of Wonderview Schools. “The improvements have not just been made on the field but all over the complex, and he has stamped it all with stickers, emblems and Daredevil Pride. He has built a baseball program that athletes want to be a part of and does not settle for just playing, but competing at the state level. He has built a team that pushed each other and themselves to achieve more than they thought possible and not settle for less. Simply put, Coach Golden has made Wonderview baseball a force to be reckoned with and has truly started a tradition of excellence.”

Golden’s impact can most notably be seen in the words of his players. “Coach Golden is a great coach who taught us more than just how to play baseball but also a strong work ethic and what it means to be a great man,” senior Tyler Gottsponer said.

“He took a program known for being bad and turned it into a successful one in just a few years,” senior Sam Reynolds said. “His dedication to the game and his players is admirable and inspirational.”

Continued on page 62

July 2023 501lifemag.com | 61

“I don’t know how I impacted my players or the two schools I coached at, but I know the impact they had on me, and it was lifechanging. I would like to say thank you to all the players and both communities for that. I always thought God had a plan for me, and I kept waiting for it to happen. I think now that I’m through coaching, I realize that was His plan for me all along.”

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Bariatric surgery helped 28-year-old achieve weight-loss success

It is difficult to imagine that 28-year-old Diehlon Cates had bariatric surgery.

Cates is an avid runner who trains intensely for triathlons. As a patient care tech at Conway Regional, he is a trusted, energetic co-worker. Cates received the Be Exceptional Everyday (BEE) award in 2022 for the exceptional care he provides in the Surgery Department at Conway Regional.

In his personal life, he helps parent five children and coaches his 12-year-old’s youth baseball team.

Diehlon weighed 420 pounds in January of 2022 and struggled with his weight. A year later, Cates said weightloss surgery changed his life; he had vertical sleeve gastrectomy surgery, also known as the gastric sleeve. “It was the best decision I ever made,” he said. “I knew I had to make a change. I have five kids, and I wanted to be there for them. Now we have a happier, healthier life because I can do more.”

Bariatric surgery at Conway Regional is a process that includes counseling and six months of visits with

a registered dietitian before the gastric sleeve. For the surgery to be successful, patients’ eating habits must change as they shift to smaller, healthier meals. The visits with the dietitians continue after surgery for another six months before “graduation,” Cates said.

He also embraced the exercise part of the recovery process. “Recovery is normally four to six weeks,” said Cates. “Once I got cleared for all exercise, I started hitting the gym, taking my health and fitness seriously. I started training for triathlons that summer and ran two that year. Between then and now, I have run countless races.”

A year after surgery, he has lost about 200 pounds, and some former co-workers in the hospital “don’t recognize me.”

Cates adjusts his eating around his race training schedule.

“If it’s an off time for training, I focus more on what I’m eating,” he said. “I’m more lenient if I have been training hard, making sure that I am taking in a lot of protein to keep my muscle mass.”

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on page 66

When he feels the temptation to overeat, he looks at photos from before surgery for inspiration.

Cates opted for surgery at a younger age before he began to develop chronic health issues. He said, regardless of age, “If you are struggling with your weight like I was, the first thing is to admit that you have an issue to yourself and try to find some help.”

He turned to Anthony Manning, MD, who offers bariatric surgery and other procedures at Conway Regional Surgical Associates alongside Brock King, MD, and Josh Dickinson, DO.

Manning points to Cates as “an example that it can fit in with a busy life. You can be busy and still be incredibly successful with weight loss.” He added, “Diehlon is very successful because he is motivated and has worked hard. Surgery is effective, but once patients have surgery, the ball is in their court, which is why we provide extensive support and education to our patients to help with their weight-loss journey.”

The Conway Regional bariatric surgery program stresses education, offering an interest seminar at the Conway Regional Health & Fitness Center on the first Monday of each month.

“The cornerstones of weight loss will always be diet and exercise,” Manning said. “We ask you to get an hour of exercise every day, which can be as simple as walking. It can even be 15 minutes four times a day if it adds up to an hour.”

From a dietary standpoint, Manning cautions that surgical weight-loss patients should expect “some pretty significant changes right after surgery as their stomach begins to heal, but we have a great team of dietitians to coach you.

“We don’t want you to feel alone.”

Of Dr. Manning, dietitians, and other support staff, Cates added, “I wouldn’t be here now if it weren’t for them. They gave me these tools to change my life, and it’s the best thing I have ever done.”

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Tony Manning, MD, Diehlon Cate's physician during his weight -loss procedures Photos by Becca Anne Photography



Ella Boudrie has had a busy senior year of academics, volunteerism and art.

Volunteering has been an important part of Ella’s high school career and has had a huge impact on her life. “My volunteer experiences throughout high school have introduced me to all types of people throughout my community and have given me a new perspective on the people I am surrounded by everyday. I have gained so much empathy in the last four years from the first-hand interactions I’ve had with others in difficult situations,” she said.

Ella, a resident of Conway, is the daughter of Chris and Laura Boudrie. She has two younger siblings. Lily is 16 and Landon is 12.

“I was honored to be named salutatorian of Conway High School class of 2023, and I graduated with distinguished high honors,” she said. Ella is also a National Merit scholar. Her college plans are taking her from the Natural State to the Sunshine State, where she will attend the University of Florida at Gainesville to study political science. She then plans to attend law school.

At Conway High School, Ella was very involved in Key Club, a community service organization sponsored by the Kiwanis of Conway Arkansas. Kiwanis International has more than 550,000 members in 80 countries and geographic areas who are dedicated to improving the lives of children through local clubs.

Ella obtained more than 100 community service hours through Key Club and was elected president her senior year. “As president, I had to dedicate a lot of time and hard work to ensure the club ran smoothly,” she said. Her responsibilities included recruiting volunteers, leading service projects and running bi-weekly meetings for more than 100 members.

Ella has also served as director of the Community Connections respite care program for families with disabled children, which she calls “an enriching experience.” The program takes place one Saturday morning a month at the Faulkner County Library. Volunteers entertain children

with books, games and crafts while their parents get a break. “We take care of anywhere from 10 to 20 kids. We are incredibly thankful for the volunteers who help us ensure the kids are entertained and having fun while their parents connect with other parents in similar situations or take time to care for themselves,” Ella said.

Through Key Club, she also volunteered with other organizations, including Cradle Care, Kiwanis of Conway Arkansas and local elementary schools. She was also a participant in the 20th Judicial District Teen Court Program, which allows high school seniors to participate in real juvenile court cases and fill the roles of defense and prosecuting attorneys, jurors, bailiffs and court clerks.

“The volunteer work I did through this program not only benefited the young adults who received alternative, personalized consequences by a court of their peers, but benefitted me by introducing me to real court processes and teaching me forgiveness of mistakes. Teen court was one of my favorite volunteer experiences, and I highly recommend it to upcoming seniors,” Ella said.

Her most cherished possessions are her art supplies. They have allowed her to further develop her passion for art and create her own painting business called Ella’s Paint. She creates vibrant, university-themed paintings for college students to hang in their dorm rooms.

“I have hundreds of paint colors, paint brushes, colored pencils and a wide variety of sketch books and canvases. This year, I took a risk by taking AP studio art in school, and I absolutely thrived while creating my portfolio called “My Future Greenhouse.”

She works at Chick-Fil-A. “I get to talk to so many different people while taking their order in the drivethrough and have thoroughly enjoyed each and every role I’ve taken on at the restaurant from cashier to drink maker. Ella is also a tutor for middle and high school students and has helped many students raise their ACT scores.

“I love helping others feel confident in their knowledge and teaching my peers successful tips for the test that will help them get into college.”

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Stories of Service. Stories of Legacy.

The MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History, AARP Arkansas and the Military Women’s Memorial of Washington, D.C., are pleased to present the traveling exhibit “The Color of Freedom: Honoring the Diversity of America’s Servicewomen,” which opened June 17 and runs until Saturday, Aug. 26.

“The exhibit details the lives of servicewomen who overcame obstacles of race and gender to find success in the armed forces,” according to the Military Women’s Memorial website. “While all women in the United States Armed Forces share a history of discrimination based on gender, women of color have faced barriers of gender, race and traditional cultural values in their pursuit of opportunity for service in the armed forces.

“Through persistent efforts in demanding inclusion for their right to serve, women of color have seen their roles across society and all sectors tremendously expanded, including their presence in today’s military,” the website states.

An opening reception was held June 17. The Cabot JROTC presented the colors and a presentation was made by Phyllis J. Wilson, president of the Military Women’s Memorial. Wilson is a distinguished military professional with more than 37 years of service. Another presentation

was made by Lt. Col. Sheretta Glover, who is with the Army National Guard and is Deputy State Surgeon. Between presentations, guests mingled while enjoying light refreshments and sharing their stories of service.

The Military Women’s Memorial is a one-of-a-kind tribute to America’s servicewomen, past and present. The memorial features an education center, interactive exhibits and a world-class collection of military women’s stories. The debut of “The Color of Freedom” comes just days after Arkansas proclaimed each June 12 henceforth as Women Veterans Day on the 75th anniversary of the signing of the decree that allowed women the right to serve in the armed forces.

The MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History, located at 503 E. Ninth St. in downtown Little Rock’s MacArthur Park, relates Arkansas’s military heritage to local, state, national and international visitors. Located in the historic Arsenal Building – one of Central Arkansas's oldest surviving structures and the birthplace of Gen. Douglas MacArthur – the museum collects, preserves and interprets the state's rich military past from its territorial period to the present. The museum is open free to the public Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. For more information on exhibits and programming, visit littlerock.gov/macarthur.

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New exhibit at MacArthur Museum shines light on servicewomen of color
July 2023 501lifemag.com | 71


Changing of air conditioning filters is Energy Smart

When it comes to maximizing energy efficiency in our homes, we often overlook a simple yet crucial aspect—the regular changing of our air conditioning filters. Now that the summer heat is officially here, it’s especially important to pay attention to our air filters as they can make a significant difference in both energy consumption and overall indoor air quality.

Our air conditioners work hard to keep us cool, and air filters play an important role in that. Your air conditioner works by pulling in air from the outside, cooling it, then sending it throughout the home. When it pulls in air from the outside, it can also grab outside pollutants like dust, mold and allergies that get sent through your ductwork along with the cooled air.

This is why your filter is so important. The air filter’s job is to stop all the pollutants from reaching you while keeping your air fresh and germ free. After time, your filter gets dirty from all the pollutants it’s filtering out of the air. When this happens, you need to replace it.

Air filters trap harmful particles and pollutants from

the air and allow clean and fresh air to travel into the room. Over time, these hazardous pollutant particles can accumulate within the filters and reduce the total volume of air passing through them. Less air passing through your AC’s air filters means you would have to turn your air conditioner’s fan settings up a notch to achieve the same effect, and in some cases, even that might not work.

The result is a higher energy bill at the end of the month and degraded air conditioner efficiency. Clogged AC filters can result in energy bills rising to 15 percent higher than usual. Another drawback of a clogged AC air filter is the reintroduction of harmful particles into the air. Due to the large number of pollutants captured in the filter, when an AC reverses airflow, there is a high chance that some contaminants will make their way back into the air and result in even dirtier air than before.

This is why it is imperative to change or clean your AC filters regularly. It’s best to clean AC air filters every two weeks—roughly 200 to 250 hours of use—and get them replaced on a schedule, typically every one to three months depending on the filter type and usage.

Filters are made of a variety of materials and are rated by efficiency. What type of air filter we choose for our homes can have a huge impact on our air quality. It’s important that you get the right kind of filter for your home’s needs. The minimum efficiency reporting value goes from 1-20 and is used to rate the filters. Generally, for home central air units, you will want a filter between 5 and 12. These effectively filter mold, pet dander, household cleaning sprays, spores and more. As for the size, check what your unit needs simply by looking at the old filter.

While disposable filters have to be replaced once a month, changing them out is easy. Just remove the dirty filter, slide the new one into position, and you’re done. They typically have higher ratings than reusable filters and are more efficient at catching and trapping debris when changed regularly. Disposable filters are also pretty inexpensive depending on the type you choose.

Reusable filters require cleaning just as often as disposable filters require replacement, but can be manually cleaned and dried at your home. While they might cost a little more upfront, they may save money in the long run since you’re not replacing them as often. If cleaned regularly, a reusable filter can last up to five years.

No matter which filter you choose, having a fresh filter in your home can make a huge difference. Replacing or cleaning your home’s filter once a month will improve your home’s indoor air quality and reduce the amount of dust that collects in your home. Plus, your air conditioner will run much more efficiently when the filter is clean and that means it uses less energy to do its job which can result in lower utility bills each month.

On average, the energy your air conditioner uses makes up about half of your energy bill each month, so spending a few dollars on a clean air conditioning filter can make a big difference on your monthly budget. It’s a mundane task, but taking the time to replace your AC filter at recommended intervals can make a significant difference in both energy consumption and overall indoor air quality. Check your air filter now, then set a reminder to check it monthly going forward.

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How may we be of service?

Some people just have a heart or training for being helpful whether on a large scale or small. My children say I am a perfectionist. I say I just like things orderly. Doesn’t everyone have a kitchen pantry with soups in alphabetical order? Surely others have shelves with category labels, purchase years written on containers with black marker and stocked on shelves with the oldest in front. Alright, so maybe they have a point, but it works. I should remind them that after I’m gone, it will be helpful to know how old the split-pea soup is and where to find the poison center number.

A person may enter the military because he or she feels they can aid our country and citizens in keeping our freedoms and culture. At times, it was by draft, other times not. With either one, the helpful results can be a sense of worth, training for self-preservation and self-sufficiency, dealing with rules, authority and personalities, and a who-o-ole lot of maturity.

Some beneficial services are for the community and can come with pay, some with not much and some not at all. While my parents were in their later years and I was working full-time, the Senior Citizens Center’s Meals-onWheels vehicle and a friendly delivery person would bring lunch to them. I was grateful because they made contact and fed them when I couldn’t. I doubt they were paid except with sincere thanks.

A modest income was earned by our helpful telephone operators. These women, some working at night, had to be agile using the switchboard, yet congenial and proficient. With our seven-man police department and no dispatchers, they would receive emergency calls, speak with children who just wanted to “talk to the telephone lady,” and occasionally make doctor calls for women in labor! If it involved a shared party line, a few others might know Mrs. Jones was on her way to the hospital before the doctor did.

Also in my youth, doctors made house calls when necessary. Most people had only one vehicle and it was for the husband’s work. I recall when I was age 2, our doctor came to our house as I was sick enough to need a shot. I was lying on the floor on one of mother’s handmade quilts. I haven’t liked shots since, as I wasn’t expecting to have one in my God-given “seating apparatus.” Mother may have paid him a paltry sum — not unusual for a country under financial stress from a combined nine years that included World War I, the Great Depression and World War II, not counting the harsh times of recovery after each.

There are still many “left-over” helpful people from those

times because they and their children still believe in doing unto others as you would have them do unto them.

My almost-lifelong best friend, Carolyn Hazel Lewis, had a knack for caring for children both in the school classroom and in the church nursery. It was her form of service to the community and beyond. I called her a “child-whisperer” because she was. Her calm voice could calm a crying baby (or a crying friend!) like no other. She knew just how to teach the civilities of life, the enjoyment of learning and the necessity of fair play. At an early age, her son, Mark, came to assist her in the church nursery, and what a duo that was. Mark’s caring, sense of humor and learned tactfulness acquired from both Carolyn and his father, Gary Joe, provided him a natural transition into serving as a teacher and principal.

Also in those simpler times, even bankers had their helpful, personal courtesies. I recall my dad’s story of needing a small loan. Dad and the banker, Tom Wilson, agreed upon a sum and it was finalized with a handshake. A contract was mailed later. My dad would never default on the loan, but the time-honored custom came by trust and faith in each other. “A man’s honor was his bond” (or promise).

I have benefited from many who helped in ways of which I wouldn’t have thought. Once while shopping, a hurried stranger told me without slowing her cart that she liked my hairstyle. She didn’t have to say anything, but I knew she hoped it might brighten my day, and it did. In another instance, a teenage girl found my purse in my cart in a store parking lot after I drove home. She took it straight inside to customer care. When I tearfully retrieved it shortly after, there was not even a gum wrapper missing. I asked who brought it in and was told they didn’t know her name, that it was just a young woman whose T-shirt had a Christian logo.

To all of these stories, one can apply trust, faith and a desire to make someone else’s life easier. The definition of service is “contributing to the welfare of others.” A good deed done does not expect repayment. Thus we should “pay it forward,” meaning repay by doing something helpful for someone else.

Recently a young man saw me loading heavy items into my car and came over to ask if he could assist. I accepted, thanked him sincerely, and he said he was just “glad to help.” Later, I wondered if I had just received a “payment forward.” And it was now my turn.

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celebrating athletic excellence

The Rasco Sports Collection

He was delirious with joy. In the spring of 1948, the perfect gift, totally surprising, catapulted the baseball-loving six-year-old to Cloud Nine — a baseball autographed by every member of the 1948 Detroit Tigers, including his hero, third baseman George Kell.

A few years earlier, his single mother had taught Kell, a Swifton (Jackson County) native who had moved to majorleague stardom, and the All-Star, recalling her fondly, complied with her request for an autographed ball for her son.

The memento quickly acquired company. Additional souvenirs from baseball appeared, as well as mementos from a variety of other sports. Born in November 1941, Jim Rasco eventually emerged as “A Man for All (Sports) Seasons,” and, with the decades, the collection in his Pulaski County home has grown increasingly—and immeasurably–sizable and fascinating.

Baseball, basketball, and football photographs, along with books, guides and magazines, have remained staples of the collection. Now numbering in the thousands, they consistently gain attention, as do game programs and films.

Numerous guests of the Rasco’s have enjoyed opportunities to peruse them, including Kell and the other premier third baseman from The Natural State, Brooks Robinson. As a special guest of the two, Jim traveled to Cooperstown, N.Y., for their July 31, 1983, induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame and received a copy of the day’s program, signed by all four Hall inductees.

Seven years later, Robinson, his wife and his mother spent an afternoon in Jim’s sports room, and in 1998, Kell had the same pleasure. The latter saw the ball he had sent to Jim, now seventy-five years old, still on display in its original case.

One of the room’s most noteworthy visitors has been a friend for more than five decades: Razorback basketball legend Sidney Moncrief so admires Jim that he invited him to write the Moncrief biography for the official program and attend his 2019 enshrinement in the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.

Among the ten framed jerseys of Moncrief’s adorning the walls of the sports room is Jim’s favorite, a one-of-a-kind creation. In 1979, Jim asked a good friend in Ohio to create a “special jersey” for him to wear to the semi-final game of the NCAA Midwest Regional Tournament in Cincinnati. With Moncrief contributing 27 points, the University of Arkansas (U of A) eliminated Louisville, 72 to 62.

Two days later, Jim wore his “special jersey” for a second time, only to see the Razorbacks lose by 2 points to Indiana State, despite Moncrief’s 24 points and 8 rebounds. After

the contest, Moncrief signed the unique garment, and within days it was framed; later Jim added an autographed copy of the Arkansas Times cover carrying a Moncrief photo labeled “Superstar.”

In 1994, Jim claimed another invaluable Hog souvenir, a team-signed basketball from the Nolan Richardson-coached NCAA National Champions.

Fascinated early by football, in 1947 Santa Claus launched Jim’s ten-Christmas collection of Castle football films, soon joined by sports films from other producers. Growing simultaneously were copies of game programs from the Cotton Bowl and the Rose Bowl.

Jim welcomed a copy of the 1948 Football Annual just a few weeks short of his seventh birthday. On its cover was World War II hero Chuck Bednarik, of the Philadelphia Eagles, who in 1960 downed halfback Frank Gifford of the New York Giants with a tackle that history labels professional football’s most devastating ever: “The Hit!”

Jim also delights in the autographed cover of the 1971 Street and Smith Magazine’s College Football Preview, featuring the U of A’s Joe Ferguson, who had yet to take a snap from center in intercollegiate competition.

No discussion of the Rasco collection can be complete without citing Jim’s copy of the Official Program of the Games of the Xth Olympiad Los Angeles in 1932. Appearing as an honored guest was Native American Jim Thorpe, who was proclaimed “the greatest athlete in the world” by King Gustav V. of host country Sweden for his track and field exploits two decades earlier in the 1912 Olympiad.

Nor can that discussion end without at least a quick mention of tennis, the fifth and final sport in which Jim starred competitively. The tennis ball autographed by tennis immortal Bobby Riggs, once his doubles partner, and World Women’s Champion Chris Evert’s tennis racquet, with its cover autographed at Jim’s home, are prizes Jim cherishes.

Finally, a survey of Jim’s collection arrives where it began, with a baseball star and a youngster who idolized him, a relationship mirroring Jim’s with George Kell. The iconic Joe DiMaggio and his son adorn the autographed cover of the first issue of SPORT magazine, published in September 1946, two years before the (Detroit) Tiger great guided his team-autographed baseball into Jim’s home, hands and heart.

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Just a few of the items from the Rasco Sports Collection.

A pawsitive effect

Beebe group trains service dogs to help disabled people to get back into life

A special class of students with remarkable skills was celebrated recently at the inaugural graduation of Arkansas Service Paws (ARSP), a nonprofit organization formed to provide service dogs and mentoring for military veterans, first responders and their qualifying dependents. ARSP salutes its first class of newly trained handlers and service dogs. Bougie (“Boo”), Cookie and Fang, now have a different kind of dog’s life.

Under the mentorship and training of ARPS, two veterans bonded and trained their own service dogs. Bougie is a 2 1/2-year-old Maltese-poodle mix, and Cookie is a 3-yearold pointer. Fang, a 3 1/2-year-old Rottweiler, was teamed with and trained by a qualifying dependent of veterans Travis and Vicki Limbaugh of Beebe.

“We started the program in August of 2022 … to fill a void we were seeing with service dogs for PTSD for veterans, their dependents and first responders,” said Travis Limbaugh, the assistant executive director and one of four co-founders of ARSP. The nonprofit includes both veterans and first responders because they suffer similar kinds of trauma. “Both populations are very service-driven. It’s all about the community, the town, the country, the state or wherever they are. It’s not about them. It’s about everybody else. So, we wanted to give back to them.”

It takes more than a pretty face or wagging tail to be a proper service dog recruit. “What we’re looking for is a dog

that is calm, confident and in good health,” Travis said. “Some of the traits are natural, and some are trained.” ARSP looks for dogs that interact with people regularly, are willing to work for treats, respond to commands, and demonstrate a desire to please make the best candidates. The service dog needs the ability to pay full attention to the person it serves. Throughout the program, ARSP observes and evaluates dogs and clients, so they create a team that works best together.

ARSP has about 10 trainers and an adviser. These trainers evaluate the dogs using tests already in place, including those used for various certifications by national organizations. Clients may supply their own dogs if the dog passes the appropriate tests. If ARSP selects the dog for the client, they introduce them to the class about seven weeks into training. After several weeks of careful, intentional observation and evaluation, ARSP works with each client to match them with the most suitable canine.

Dogs are not the only ones who must qualify for the program. Only veterans and first responders, or their qualified dependents, who suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), or military sexual trauma (MST) may apply for the program.

However, once qualified, they are instructed on how to train their service dog to serve them in other ways. “If you come into our program with one of those three and you also have mobility support requirements, we can train the dogs

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to help with mobility, recognize low blood sugar issues or get medicine if someone is having breathing issues from asthma,” Travis said. ARSP doesn’t train seeing-eye dogs, as that requires a different type of training, but if they can train for it, they will do it.

Three of the ARSP co-founders are former military, and the other is the mother of two veterans. Travis’ former colleague, Wendy Cook, also a veteran, serves as the executive director and a co-founder of ARSP. Wendy and Travis, along with Travis’ wife, Vicki, and his mother, Mary Jo Blacker, formed the organization out of a shared passion for their mission. The Limbaughs’ interest grew with their daughter’s need for a service dog, which added to their motivation. Vicki is one of three primary trainers, though every trainer is important to the program.

Success stories affirm their mission. “We’ve had individuals tell us stories of people not wanting to leave their property for years because of [past trauma], and now they’re out in public weekly with their service dogs. And that’s a lifechanging effect when you see it,” said Travis. “I’ve seen it in my wife and my daughter,” he said. “Our daughter is 17 and will be starting college this fall. Her service dog is helping

her want to live on a college campus.” Fang accompanied Suzy at ASU Beebe this past year as a concurrent student, and they will move to UCA in the fall. “Without him, she would be in panic mode,” he said.

ARSP holds two classes per year. One starts in January, the other in June. Classes can accommodate up to 12 dogs. While only three dogs graduated ARPS’s first class, they started with five. Not all dogs will complete the training because things happen, just like with people. ARSP’s next class is poised to have as many as eight. Classes meet weekly in Ward (Lonoke County), and once classes reach public access training, they train throughout Central Arkansas.

By giving veterans, first responders and their qualified dependents the skills and support they need to train their own service dogs, ARSP is giving more than a service dog. They are teaching a skill and providing support. ARSP’s clients may learn to transform a canine companion into a service dog, but they are also transforming their own lives. That’s worth saluting.

ARSP is funded by donations, local fundraising events and grants. For more information, visit ARServicePaws.org, or find them on social media.

July 2023 501lifemag.com | 79


Little Rock Air Force Base welcomes new installation commander Photos by Mike Kemp

The 19th Airlift Wing welcomed its new commander during a ceremony at Little Rock Air Force Base on June 1. Col. Denny Davies succeeded Col. Angela Ochoa during the ceremony, officiated by the 18th Air Force Commander, Maj. Gen. Corey Martin.

“In every aspect of wing command, Angela has excelled,” said Martin. “She set a pace, an enviable pace, and so now I need a commander that will be able to match that pace. I am confident that Denny will be able to match the pace, and then push it… because the Black Knights deserve it, and they’re going to demand it.”

Davies, who most recently served as the vice commander of the 86th Airlift Wing, Ramstein Air Base, Germany, is no stranger to the Home of Herk Nation, having served in a variety of positions, including C-130J instructor pilot and flight commander for the 41st Airlift Squadron and 19th Operations Support Squadron and as the Chief of the 19th AW’s Commanders Action Group.

Entering the Air Force in 2001 after graduating from the U.S. Air Force Academy, Davies is a command pilot flying more than 2,500 hours and has served in U.S. Air Forces in Europe, Pacific Air Forces, Air Mobility Command, Headquarters Air Force, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, and the Joint Staff. He deployed to the Southwest Asia region six times in support of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.

As installation commander, he is responsible for organizing, training and equipping the personnel who operate, maintain and sustain more than 52 C-130 aircraft, enabling support for combat, contingency and humanitarian requirements around the world. He is also accountable for ensuring the readiness and well-being of more than 10,000 personnel and families at Little Rock AFB.

In his first address as wing commander, Davies expressed his excitement as he returned to the Home of Herk Nation. “Erika and I are absolutely thrilled, humbled and honored to finally make it back home to our favorite base and the best military community in the United States,” said Davies. “We’ve created a ton of memories in Arkansas and look forward to creating more over the next two years.”

Davies offered his expectations as the wing stands at the precipice of this summer’s Mobility Guardian 2023 activities, both here in Arkansas and in the Indo-Pacific.

“Our Mobility Air Forces will project and connect the Joint force in ways not seen in recent history, while emphasizing the importance of a free and open IndoPacific that operates under the precepts of a rulesbased international order,” said Davies. “Your diligent preparation and Warrior Heart culture will lead our tactical airlift community into the future of Rapid Global Mobility. You truly are ready for the next challenge – and that challenge starts now.”

In Ochoa’s outgoing address, she thanked the 19 AW for their hard work and dedication to the Undaunted Tactical Airlift and Agile Combat Support mission. “The world today is very different from the world two years ago, and I believe that history will look back on and show how our efforts here at the Home of Herk Nation paved the way for American success and victory,” said Ochoa. “You, the Black Knights, responded in every effort and led the way for change. I could not be prouder.”

Ochoa leaves Little Rock AFB to become the commander of the 89th Airlift Wing at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, which provides global Special Air Mission airlift, logistics, aerial port and communications for the president, vice president, cabinet members, combatant commanders and other senior military and elected leaders as tasked by the White House, Air Force chief of staff and AMC.

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LIEUTENANT COLONEL THOMAS H. SPECK, USA (RET) _____________________________


I was born in Arkansas and raised in Wyoming. Home in the military was always where you were at any given moment. Conway has been our home for the past 20 years.


My beautiful wife, Kelly, has been putting up with me for 30 years. We have three children. Libby, 28, is a Physician Assistant at CHI St. Vincent in Little Rock; Andy, 27, got his history degree and travels extensively; and Carolyn, 24, is a certified veterinary technician and manager at Horse Power Equine Rehab and Fitness in Conway.


I graduated from Jackson Hole High School in Jackson, Wyo., in 1977. I then attended the University of Arkansas and graduated in 1981 with a Bachelor of Science in agricultural business. After I joined the military, I attended numerous military schools, including the Command and General Staff College and the Defense Intelligence College.


I served in the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Army from 1982 until 2003. I then served as an Assistant Professor of Military Science at UCA from 2003 until 2007. That year I accepted the Senior Army Instructor position at Conway High School JROTC. I served there until my retirement on June 30.

I worked my way up from enlisted to officer ranks. I worked with outstanding people at every base that were focused on mission accomplishment. Because of these people, I received various military awards, including the Legion of Merit, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Joint Meritorious Unit Award, Army Superior Unit Award, and the Public Service Commendation Medal. I was also selected by my peers as the 2012 Conway HS Co-Teacher of the Year along with 1st Sgt. Thomas North.


Growing up, I never had the military or education fields on my list of things to do. God had His plans and I had mine. Guess who won?


The Army JROTC mission is to motivate young people to be better citizens. We have tried to do just that. We give them information, training, and the tools to make their lives and that of the city, state and country better. We are not recruiters for the military, but we give advice and counsel to those students that desire that way of life. The only requirement we have for students is to come to class prepared to get better each day.


We have had graduates do great things in many different fields of endeavor. I try to keep up with as many of our graduates as possible, but there have been so many. We have had roughly 12 percent of our students go into one of the military services, including the military academies. We have doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, and most importantly, good mothers, fathers, and citizens.


I am involved with numerous veterans’ organizations like the Disabled Veterans of America, American Legion, and Patriot Guard Riders.


A 1978 Arkansas Razorback Orange Bowl Ring and a U.S. flag that was flown over the USS Arizona Memorial.

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