T wenty years ago, I received a call that changed the course of our family’s life. My father’s home was on fire. The home was about 100 years old, which gave it character, but also a lot of dry wood that burned quickly.
Around 8 p.m., the volunteer firefighters told Dad that they had to flood the remains to ensure no embers would spark again in the night. I’ll never forget the bright spotlights and water pouring over what was our family home for 15 years.
Because of their efforts, items in the front bedroom’s dressers were saved, including my father’s Eagle Scout badges and some other family heirlooms. That was about it, but the event precipitated my dad’s decision to move closer to his children. Ultimately he lived in the same city as his grandchildren, which meant he was a much larger part of their lives than he would have been had the fire not taken his home.
This issue is themed “The Sweet Life,” and we’ve included an article about an event that was held to honor Arkansas Rural & Volunteer Firefighters. About 650 heroes attended, along with Smokey Bear.
We also bring you information about an upcoming veterans’ event as we honor their sacrifices and commitment to protecting our freedoms on Nov. 11. Another group that is making life sweeter is the Vilonia chapter of the nonprofit “Sleep in Heavenly Peace,” which builds beds for children. Four chapters in Arkansas ensure that no child sleeps on the floor.
And just in time for Thanksgiving, we have sweet options for your table. Chef Don Bingham supplies recipes for chocolate and pumpkin crepes sliced like fettuccine pasta and then topped with lemon butter or chocolate sauces. Speaking of chocolate, we feature David Lister of Kilwins in downtown Little Rock. A graduate of Kilwins University, David contributed items for our “choc-uterie” board cover and for the yummy photos you’ll enjoy as you read how a guy from Great Britain fell in love with his wife, ice cream, caramel and chocolate in Arkansas.
We have so much for which to be grateful, from the heroes among us who protect people and our belongings, to the community members who care about the less fortunate. When my family gathers around the Thanksgiving table this year, we’ll thank God for the blessings received and for those we take for granted. And for chocolate!
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.
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by Makenzie Evans
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Judy 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.
Don Brazile is a graduate of Centenary College of Louisiana and studied at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. His writings have appeared in the Lectionary Homiletics Journal and the Texarkana Community Journal. His favorite names are Stefanie (wife), Harley (son), and Claire (daughter). Contact the 501 LIFE Brand Ambassador at email@example.com
Carol Rolf graduated from Little Rock Central High School, where she was editor of the newspaper, and from the University of Missouri with a degree in journalism. She has worked for state and local newspapers. Carol edits a newsletter for Newcomers’ Club of Conway and is state public relations chairman for the Arkansas State Society Daughters of the American Revolution.
H undreds of people swarmed the Guy-Perkins High School Thunderbirds’ gym on Oct. 14 to recognize a man who served the district for 40 years and won more basketball games than any other high school coach in Arkansas.
Coach John Hutchcraft is a small-town Arkansas success story turned legend. “Coaching kids is the greatest honor and blessing in my life,” Hutchcraft said. “I have always been honored to be a coach.”
Guy-Perkins School District Superintendent Dr. Joe Fisher and the Board of Education organized a dedication ceremony to recognize Hutchcraft by naming the new basketball court for him. He retired in 2018, and now his influence is visible on numerous banners on the walls of the gym and on the new basketball court, which features his signature on each side.
In addition to the recognition from the school district, Faulkner County Judge Jim Baker declared Oct. 14, 2022, to be Coach John H. Hutchcraft Day. The Guy Police Chief honored him as well, and then former student Victor Rimmer presented the Arkansas Diamond Award--the highest-ranking award the state gives to a private citizen-on behalf of Arkansas Secretary of State John Thurston.
Coach Hutchcraft’s story began in the small town of St. Charles (Arkansas County.) He hitchhiked to the University of Central Arkansas, which he attended on a basketball scholarship. He still holds three career records at UCA, for 1,162 rebounds and 962 defensive rebounds and for a defensive rebound average of 8.8. “Hutchcraft has invested 50 years of his life in basketball and made countless investments in the lives of his players, their families and his community,” said Shara Brazear, his girlfriend.
His career coaching record is 2,103 wins to only 617 losses over 42 seasons. At 70 years old, Coach Hutchcraft, who is 6-foot-8 and continues to play on the Arkansas Travelers basketball team around the U.S., and with the USA Global basketball team internationally. He and Shara recently visited Spain and Finland with the USA Global team and St. George, Utah for the Huntsman World Senior games.
During his speech, Hutchcraft said, “I hope that basketball is in heaven, and I hope I go there too.” His daughter, Ashley, thanked him for the hours he has poured into so many lives, finishing her speech with ‘You’ll always be our coach.’”
V eterans and their supporters from all over the state will gather at the University of Central Arkansas on Nov. 3 for its annual Veterans Day celebration. UCA has hosted the event for at least 25 years.
Officials expect about 300 visitors for this year’s version, with the theme of “Honor and Education.” Veterans from all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces will be celebrated. The event will include speakers, food, live music and a veterans information fair.
“The ceremony gives the campus an opportunity to show its appreciation for those who have served,” said Greg Pelts, the first-year director of UCA’s Veteran Resource Center. “Everybody says they’re veteran-friendly and that they support [veterans], but you’ve got to demonstrate it in some form or fashion.” Pelts said that after a couple of years of pandemicaffected events, 2022’s should be a big one.
“I think people will see more participation at the information fair prior to the ceremony,” he said. “We have quite a few organizations coming to participate. Last count was 20 different organizations, from veterans’ organizations to banks to different businesses to people who have an interest in potentially hiring vets, who want to support vets, and recruiters. There will be a lot of activity.”
The information fair will begin at noon on the McAlister Lawn. The ceremony will begin at 1:40 p.m. in the McCastlain Ballroom. According to a press release, Airlifter Brass, the brass quintet of the
United States Air Force Band of MidAmerica, will provide music at the event and will also be in concert in the Snow Fine Arts Building at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 4.
Brigadier General Bradley J. Cox, director of Joint Staff, Arkansas National Guard, at Camp Joseph T. Robinson in North Little Rock, will be the keynote speaker.
The ceremony will also include the presentation of the Tidwell Veterans Scholarship and the UCA Veterans Day Scholarship. Both scholarships will be awarded to full-time UCA students who are veterans or current service members.
After the worst of the pandemic, “I think it’s fair to say our efforts for veterans on campus have more energy,” Pelts said. A native of Mountain Home, Pelts, 54, earned a degree in criminal justice at the University of Arkansas in 1990 before enlisting. After a 32-year Army career, he retired as a lieutenant colonel.
Following his retirement, he came to UCA to pursue a history degree in Fall 2019 and was hired as director of the Veteran Resource Center in January. He said UCA serves about 400 veterans and dependents.
“The 400 is about the same compared to pre-pandemic times,” he said. “I truly envision that number is going to grow once our veterans resource center is put into place. I really think the veteran and military community of Central Arkansas will see that as a go-to place.”
The new center’s mission will be to help veterans, current service members and their dependents utilize their VA Benefits, said Katrina Dupins, director of communications.
“Right now, the center is housed in Old Main while the university is working to renovate the former Communication Sciences and Disorders building,” Dupins said. “The facility will have study rooms, classrooms, a computer lab, a lounge and a gaming area to serve as a home away from home for veteran students. We hope to be able to host outreach events and to bring in VA representatives and counselors for group sessions.”
Greg Pelts, director of UCA’s Veteran Resource Center, said the center “will be an opportunity to increase our outreach efforts in many forms and fashions. We’ll offer a full range to help with the transition from the military environment to the academic environment. ”
A beautiful Thanksgiving meal ushers in a sacred season of celebration and brings families and friends together to reconnect and create new memories over treasured family recipes.
Whether you choose fine china or festive paper goods, the most important qualities at the table are the graciousness, warmth and genuine hospitality given by a host and hostess to their guests. Our patron saint of etiquette, Emily Post, wrote that entertaining begins with a code of behavior based on kindness and consideration.
Pre-setting the table tells guests that you took the time to prepare for them. Many “place setting” guides are available online.
If you anticipate more guests than your dining table will accommodate, plan ahead and create comfortable seating at smaller tables. Set this up before they arrive.
Whether you choose lovely china or colorful paper goods, make sure your family and friends know they are the greatest blessing at your table as you offer hospitality
love through a delightful menu and lots of smiles.
WHERE DID YOU GROW UP: Berryville (Carroll County)
EDUCATION: I hold a bachelor’s in English from Lyon College, along with an M.F.A. in costume design and technology and an M.Ed. in higher education administration, from the University of Arkansas.
JOB: Aaron and I operate Porch Swing Farms, and I work freelance as a costume designer.
FAMILY: My dad, Ron Payne, lives in Beaver Shores in Northwest Arkansas. My mother, Nan, is deceased. No kids of our own, but I love being an aunt to Alex, Sloane, CC, McRae and Logan.
COMMUNITY ACTIVITIES: I have volunteered with Out of the Woods Animal Rescue and Little Rock Animal Village. I serve as the event coordinator for the Progressive Arkansas Women Political Action Committee and as a poll worker in Perry County elections. I recently designed costumes for “Tales from the Crypt” for Parkview Arts Science Magnet High School and the Mount Holly Cemetery. We also support Project Zero to help great kiddos find homes.
HOBBIES/SPECIAL INTERESTS: I embroider and quilt. Does eating ice cream count as a special interest?
DESCRIBE YOURSELF: I’m a doer and am always busy with something. I want to make the best out of whatever comes my way.
ONE THING PEOPLE DON’T KNOW ABOUT YOU: I’m a master orange peeler.
MOST ENJOYED WEEKEND ACTIVITY: I love being part of the Hillcrest Farmers Market on Saturday mornings. My weekly chats with our regular customers and their dogs are the highlights of my week.
WHAT IS YOUR MOTTO: Do as much as possible.
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT THE 501: I love being near our friends and families after living out of state. And, of course, the cheese dip.
W e met on Match.com in Milwaukee, Wis. Aaron reached out to Holly, and she was delighted and surprised to meet a fellow Arkansan. We fell in love over food (cooked mainly by Aaron), theater (Holly always has a play to go to) and laughter. Aaron proposed with a beautiful diamond (gifted from LeeLee Doyle, an adopted grandparent) that he had planted in a tea bag in Holly’s morning cuppa.
We had a beautiful wedding at the Buffalo Outdoor Center in Ponca in 2012 and vowed to have a “Yes, and” marriage – a promise to back the other one up and keep bringing new things to the table.
Seeking warmer pastures, we left Milwaukee in 2013 for North Carolina. By 2014, though, with nieces and nephews popping up in Arkansas, we returned home to stay. We settled in Little Rock for the
WHERE DID YOU GROW UP: Little Rock, in the Hillcrest Historic District.
EDUCATION: I am a graduate of Central High and hold a bachelor’s from Washington University in St. Louis and a doctorate in biochemistry from the Medical College of Wisconsin.
JOB: Holly and I run Porch Swing Farms, a sustainable small farm committed to providing good-looking, delicious foods that customers can feel good about eating. I like to say, “Do you wanna speak to the man in charge or to the woman who knows what’s going on? I’m the guy who makes the sausage.”
FAMILY: My parents, Barbara and Max Baldwin, still live in Hillcrest.
COMMUNITY ACTIVITIES: I’m proud to be a poll worker in Perry County and a registrar for the Gloucestershire Old Spots of America pig registry. Holly and I also support Project Zero’s mission to find homes for adoptable children in Arkansas.
HOBBIES/SPECIAL INTERESTS: I love to eat, so cooking and watching any Razorback sport. In Muss, I trust!
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOURSELF: I hope people would say I’m passionate, dependable and dogged.
ONE THING PEOPLE DON’T KNOW ABOUT YOU: I’m a first-generation American citizen. My mother is Canadian, and my father is English.
MOST ENJOYED WEEKEND ACTIVITY: As our family grows, so does the number of birthdays. On Sunday nights, we meet at my parent's house, where mom throws amazing parties for us.
WHAT IS YOUR MOTTO: Chance favors only the prepared mind.
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT THE 501: I love so much about living in the Land of Opportunity – calling the Hogs with Razorback fans, Doe’s Eat Place, the Buffalo River, horse racing at Oaklawn and duck hunting near Stuttgart.
first three years, making connections and remembering the things we loved about our home state – the outdoors, the weather, the wonderful family and friends. We adopted three amazing dogs – beautyhounds and wonderdogs, as we call them.
We decided to make the most of something else Arkansas offers – land. We moved just outside Toad Suck, got a few chickens and started Porch Swing Farms. We added 24 acres down the road a year later, got some beautiful pigs, committed ourselves to this strange and wonderful farm life, and added a beautiful rescue Bullmastiff to our family.
We work a lot but love spending as much time as possible with our families – having our nieces and nephews to the farm, celebrating birthdays with great food and cheering on the Razorbacks.By Carol Rolf
R yleigh Homan has enjoyed the sweet taste of success many times in the livestock show ring at the Faulkner County Fair and this year took 1st Place in Senior Breeding Hog Showmanship at the Arkansas State Fair.
The 17-year-old daughter of Kris and Alicia Homan, Ryleigh a senior at Vilonia High School, began showing pigs at the county fair when she was 5. She won the showmanship championship that year, competing with others in her age bracket. She has won the championship banner in her age group each year since. She was named the Senior (17- to 19-year-old) Swine Showmanship Champion at this year’s Faulkner County Fair.
She always names her pigs, which have been mostly crossbred animals. That first year, she showed Fluffy. “He was really big – about 290 pounds,” she said. “And I weighed about 50 pounds, maybe.”
This year, she won the showmanship banner with Roscoe. “He’s not as big as that first pig,” she said, laughing. “We bought Roscoe off a farmer in Jonesboro and brought him home,” she said. “We usually get a pig when he’s about 40-50 pounds and bring him home, feed him until he weighs about 280-290 pounds. We feed them special feed – it’s kinda like mixing a cake. So many things go into it – vitamins, nutrients, supplements. “We have seven pigs in the barn right now,” Ryleigh said.
Her sister, Lainey Homan, 14, also shows pigs. Lainey was named the Intermediate (13- to 14-year-old) Swine Showmanship Champion at the recent county fair. “There’s a little bit of competition in our pig barn,” said their mother.
“Lainey does well, too, but she’s not quite as passionate as Ryleigh is,” Alicia said. “Ryleigh is absolutely passionate … she is a hard worker … spends a lot of time with her pigs.”
Ryleigh said she is in the barn at least an hour before school and an hour after school. “We do skin and hair in the morning, and after school, we walk and feed and walk … and clean pens,” she said.
“Ryleigh is a great young lady,” said Emily Dement, agriculture teacher at Vilonia High School.
“I have been able to watch her grow up showing pigs,” Dement said. “When she first started, I was still showing so we actually have shown against each other. Then I grew up and got the opportunity to be her agriculture teacher and watch her love for showing hogs grow.
“She loves helping students during the summer prepare for their show projects,” Dement said. “She has had several workshops at her house to teach young showmen what to expect that coming show season.
“Ryleigh is very focused when it comes to showmanship and is able to break down the basics to teach new showmen and give tips to advanced showmen at the same time,” Dement said. “She has a great understanding of the show ring and what it takes to be an outstanding showman.
“The work that is shown in the show ring also reflects the work she puts into her classes,” she said. “She stays on top of her school work and excels at anything she puts her mind to.”
Ryleigh’s grandfather, Garry Don Lester, was an ag teacher and her cousin, Austin Lester, was her mentor; both are from Quitman.
“They have been with me through all of this,” Ryleigh said. “My grandfather showed pigs. That’s how I got interested in it.
“Plus, Mom and Dad always told us to do everything we can,” she said.
“I always competed in showmanship,” Ryleigh said. “That’s something I can control. It was a goal for me to win showmanship. Showmanship is all about how you show the animal. It’s not about what the animal does or how good he is. It’s about how well you show it.”
Ryleigh will graduate in the spring of 2023.
“I plan to go to nursing school,” she said. “I’m not sure yet where I want to go. I want to be an RN … and go even further.”
Ryleigh used to play basketball, “but it’s just pigs now,” she said, laughing. “I plan to give up showing pigs after this year, but I still want to help younger kids.” Ryleigh is active in the youth group at Oak Bowery Baptist Church. She is a member of the Vilonia FFA and of the Mount Vernon-Enola 4-H group.WWW.UACCM.EDU
D onnie Crain has fond memories of growing up in Perry and Conway counties. He spent his youth enjoying outdoor recreation on Petit Jean and helping his parents split firewood for sale to visitors who were coming to the area for that same purpose.
After more than 20 years working in economic development and tourism all over Arkansas and the past five years in Grove, Okla., those memories are what ultimately drew him back home to the 501. “It is home,” Crain said. “It's where I grew up and where my family still lives. This is the place where my wife and I have aspired to be.”
Crain has taken the helm as president and CEO of the Morrilton Area Chamber of Commerce and Conway County Economic Development Corp..
“Morrilton is a wonderful small town situation to live in,” he said. “In today’s world, those things are more rare. I’m looking forward to helping to preserve the best things about the small-town quality of life while also progressing it toward the future.”
In Grove, he was most proud of getting people to work together. “We had a lot of good things happening, just like here in Morrilton, but there was a situation where organizations were split,” he said. “I spent a lot of time repairing and rebuilding relationships. I always want to be a collaborative leader.” He added that he’s looking forward to renewing old friendships, building new working relationships and helping a community that has great meaning to him thrive with that same collaborative spirit.
In his free time, he enjoys fishing for smallmouth bass, hiking and live music. Returning home means more time spent fishing with his dad, and he said, “I’m excited about the Holyfield Place project happening in downtown Morrilton and all the possibilities for live music and community events there.”
Crain and his wife, Melissa, also purchased the Hollis Country Store in rural Perry County in 2020 from his cousin, who was looking to retire after 30 years of owning and operating it. The store has been run by members of the Crain family since his great-grandparents purchased it back in 1940.
“The opportunity to purchase the store felt like a calling that it was time to come back,” Crain said. “It’s special to me and my family and also famous for the fried Petit Jean Meat bologna sandwiches we serve. We certainly want to preserve the charm of it and we are also looking to make improvements and add to the visitor experience.”
Over the course of his career as an economic developer and also as a member of the National Guard for 27 years, Crain has lived and served the community in small and large towns. He said what draws him back to the small-town time and time again is the “community.” “It’s the quick wave from a neighbor to say hello and knowing that if life throws you a curveball, there’s a community that’s more like family there to pick you up,” he said. “In small towns, people just take care of each other.”
I t's Thanksgiving season, and all hearts turn to home and harvest! It's a favorite time for feasting and family, for a celebration of blessings, and for the recognition of our rich heritage through the centuries. Our time-honored recipes make their way to the dining tables with great pomp and flair. New twists on vegetable side dishes and passed-down family recipes make their annual appearance.
This year we will add a new version of an old favorite. This recipe of Chocolate Fettuccini first appeared on the menu of my former restaurant, Zinzendorf's Tea Room, many years ago, and we wanted to share this showstopper with our readers for your consideration. The recipe is a take-off of the ever-popular fettuccine pasta, but made with crepes cut into fettuccine style strips, then tossed with sweetened heavy cream and finished with a rich sauce.
For the holidays, we will do a pumpkin fettuccine with lemon sauce and a chocolate fettuccini with chocolate sauce. The crepes are not intimidating to produce, and electric crepe makers are available, but we use a small non-stick skillet that works just as well. The crepes may be made the day before, refrigerated and cut into strips before presentation, and tossed with whipped heavy cream. The sauces also may be made days ahead and kept in the refrigerator.
We look forward to the meals we will share as a family and with friends, the times of special giving of thanks, as each year becomes more precious in recognition of how richly blessed we all are, and in the delight of expressing this gratitude in so many ways. May your times of faith, feasting and fellowship be rich with the joys of gratitude this Thanksgiving!
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/3 cup pre-sweetened instant cocoa powder
OR 1 1/4 cups chocolate milk
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. cooking oil
1 tsp. vanilla
Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl. Beat with a rotary mixer until blended. Heat a greased 6-inch skillet, buttered with a small pat of butter and swirled to coat before pouring in batter. Pour batter from measuring cup, two Tbsp. or 1/4 cup of batter, into the center of the skillet. Crepes will be thin and cook quickly. Turn crepes to cook on both sides. Lift and tilt the skillet to spread batter. Return to heat; brown on both sides. Batter will yield 8-10 crepes.
1/2 cup cocoa
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup light cream
3 Tbsp. butter
Pinch of salt
Boil all ingredients for 3 minutes. Remove from heat and add 1 tsp. vanilla. Cut crepes with a sharp knife into thin strips. Toss with sweetened whipped cream. Drizzle with chocolate sauce over fettuccine. Top with cherry, if desired.
1 1/4 cups whole milk
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. cooking oil
1 tsp. vanilla
1/3 cup of pumpkin puree
Dash of nutmeg (if desired)
Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl. Beat with a rotary mixer until blended. Heat a greased 6-inch skillet, buttered with a small pat of butter and swirled to coat before pouring in batter. Pour batter from measuring cup, two Tbsp. or 1/4 cup of batter, into the center of the skillet. Crepes will be thin and cook quickly. Turn crepes to cook on both sides. Lift and tilt the skillet to spread batter. Return to heat; brown on both sides. Batter will yield 8-10 crepes.
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup sour cream
2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice (juice of two lemons)
1/4 cup of butter or margarine
Place all ingredients in a saucepan and boil for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cut crepes with a sharp knife into thin strips. Drizzle sauce over sliced crepes.
‘No kid sleeps on the floor in our town.’ - Tammy WrightVolunteers with the Vilonia chapter of Sleep in Heavenly Peace are Monica Pharis (in back, from left), Alex Rhodes, Kira Livingston, Johnny Alexander, Jason Booth, Tina Booth, Corvin Booth and Robin Hall. Ellisa Clement is seated and Tammy Wright (front) is the Chapter’s president. Photo by Mike Kemp
W hen Tammy Wright learned that children not having beds is a nationwide problem, she didn’t rest until she founded the Vilonia chapter of Sleep in Heavenly Peace.
One of 314 chapters in the country, the nonprofit provides volunteer-built beds, as well as new bedding and mattresses, for children who live in the 72173 ZIP Code; at press time, plans are to be in Conway soon.
“I just felt in my heart that was what I was supposed to do,” said Wright, a mother of five sons. In 2019, she founded Vilonia Volunteers, which assists the elderly and disabled, and one of the volunteers told her about Sleep in Heavenly Peace.
“She sent me the link to it; she knows I was big into trying to help people. I checked it out online and God said, ‘You’ve got to help these kids.’” Wright said. “My heart swelled with heartbreak for kids who didn’t have beds to sleep in. It was something I couldn’t turn my back on. I jumped in feet first. I had so many people willing to help; this wasn’t something I could do on my own.”
She founded the 501 (c) 3 chapter in April with a core group of 14 volunteers, including her husband, Shaun.
“Every city, every town, has children sleeping on the floor or other unfavorable sleeping conditions,” she said. “Our motto is ‘No kid sleeps on the floor in our town.’”
The need in Vilonia was evident after she received seven requests within five hours of opening applications this fall. The requests, which are all vetted, can come from anyone, Wright said, from parents and guardians to the Arkansas Department of Human Services. She said the goal of the organization is “solving the problem of child bedlessness
while instilling a sense of unity in the community by volunteering and involvement.”
Volunteers make the twin or bunk beds by hand, and Build Days are announced on the Vilonia chapter’s Facebook page, Sleep in Heavenly Peace - AR, Vilonia. “They’re made to last a lifetime,” she said. The beds are stored until they are assembled in the recipients’ homes.
Kacee Simas of Vilonia, a single mother, has been approved for bunk beds for her children, ages 5 and 7. Simas said she sleeps in a twin bed, and her children typically sleep on pallets on the floor.
“It’s just a miracle. I can’t believe that people do that. I know there are places that help … but to actually have a bed that’s their own little space. I’m about to cry; it meant that much,” she said. Simas said she showed her children photos of similar beds on the Sleep in Heavenly Peace website. “They were so happy. They were jumping up and down and clapping their hands. I can’t imagine what they’ll do when they get here. It will be like Christmas.”
Wright said the organization operates solely on donations and accepts new twin bedding, pillows and mattresses, as well as funds to purchase the lumber, hardware and bedding. To make a taxdeductible donation, apply or volunteer, go to sleepinheavenlypeace.org and search for the Vilonia chapter under Arkansas. “All children deserve a safe and comfortable place to lay their heads. Too many go without a bed or pillow,” she said. “This can affect their happiness and health. When a child goes from sleeping on a floor to a bed, it boosts their self-esteem and confidence. That’s where Sleep in Heavenly Peace comes in.”
And that’s her dream.
C hocolate, Christmas and family traditions are the perfect ingredients for creating a recipe that can bake up holiday happiness!
In November and December, the city of Searcy hosts a variety of events called the Holiday of Lights. One of the most delicious events is the World Championship Chocolate Gravy Cookoff, which is in its second year in 2022. Organizer Kristi Thurmon of Searcy said she had the idea several years ago to create some sort of cookoff to be held at the holiday events in her hometown. “Over the years, I had been to several cookoffs and food festivals around the state and thought that Searcy needed one. I knew we needed something completely unique to differentiate ourselves,” she said.
In her initial brainstorming about a possible cookoff, Thurmon thought back to a Christmastime treat from her childhood: eating her mother’s chocolate gravy. As a banker and publisher of OnlyinArk.com — a website produced by First Security Bank — Thurmon published a story featuring biscuits and chocolate gravy. This article became one of the most successful articles published on the website in terms of readership. The article’s success solidified her thought that a chocolate gravy cookoff could be a great hit.
“It took a few years to get the cookoff outlined, but last year we had our first event,” she said. In spite of doubts as to its possible success, people from all over the state came to cook and to taste.”
The second annual World Championship Chocolate Gravy Cookoff will be held during the Holiday of Lights Jolly Jubilee on Saturday, Dec. 3 at 9 a.m. on the east side of the White County Courthouse Square. The presenting sponsor is First Security Bank and onlyinark.com; the milk sponsor is Sowell’s Furniture; the biscuit sponsor is Pillsbury; and the Holiday of Lights presenting sponsor is the Searcy A&P Commission. The Jolly Jubilee also traditionally includes a craft fair, games and activities for kids, a 5K, food trucks and a visit from Santa Claus, who reads “Twas the Night Before Christmas” from the courthouse balcony.
"I grew up eating my Memaw Yearby’s chocolate gravy almost weekly as a kid. She never wrote down any of her recipes, but I knew exactly what I was looking for when trying to recreate it decades later. Smooth, thick, rich chocolatey goodness with melting pads of butter atop fluffy biscuits. It was truly an honor to be awarded the Best Chocolate Gravy in the first ever World Championship Chocolate Gravy Cookoff with a little help from memories of my Memaw, who cooked a heckuva gravy."- Matt Cleveland, 2021 Amateur Champion
The contest has three categories with one winner for each: amateur, professional and people’s choice. The winners of each category will win $500. The cost to enter the cookoff is only $10. “Last year, we had 21 contestants from 16 zip codes. We had 275 tickets to sell, and they were sold out,” Thurmon said. This year, they plan to have 400 to 500 tickets for sale and hope to have 40 contestants. Tickets to sample the gravy and vote for your favorites are $5 in advance and $7 the day of the event. You can enter the contest and buy tickets at searcyholidayoflights.com or at First Security Bank in downtown Searcy.
This year’s judges include Kevin Shalin, food blogger of The Mighty Rib; Tommy Centola, a retired local chef and cookbook author; and Stephanie Buckley, owner of Petit Jean Coffeehouse. Also on schedule to be a judge is the returning amateur champion, Matt Cleveland.
Thurmon said the chocolate gravy cookoff is special because it dispels the myth that “all gravy is the same.” She said the contest offerings had a variety of textures and tastes. One contestant put a pat of butter directly on his biscuits before adding the hot gravy, and another contestant used cinnamon and pecans as a garnish. “All the gravies tasted a little different,” she said.
This could be particularly true for the gravy that won the People’s Choice award last year. Jerry and Teresa Belew and Jonathan and Kerri Nettles of Central Arkansas competed as “The Pearl Hawk Family” with Granny Hawk’s Chocolate Gravy recipe. Teresa said her grandmother, Pearl Hawk, is the creator of the award-winning recipe, which has been passed down through her family. “Granny Hawk taught us all how to make chocolate gravy,” said Teresa.
Christmastime for this family has traditionally included the special treat of indulging in a meal of Granny Hawk’s chocolate
gravy. Now, her grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren continue this tradition. Not only do they remember Granny Hawk, but they also remember Teresa’s mother, who was born on Christmas Eve. This tie to the December holidays was a contributing factor to the family’s participation in the Christmas festivities in Searcy. She said her son, Jonathan, thought it would be fun for two generations to compete. “He said, ‘Mom, we ought to do this.’ It was fun for all of us.”
Teresa was surprised at how many people asked for the recipe, which was not released and is a heavily guarded secret. “We stayed true to Granny Hawk’s recipe. She never measured; she just knew how to do it.” The recipe that is being passed down through the family was officially finalized after a day of Teresa helping Granny Hawk make gravy and noting the measurements. “After that, we all agreed that’s how the recipe would be,” she said. “It’s not rocket science, but it’s Granny Hawk science. She uses a different technique that we don’t share. That’s the secret in the sauce.” Teresa added that there are wonderful recipes for chocolate gravy available online, and they can be adjusted to suit your taste.
A funny story in the family comes from Teresa’s grandfather, who always called chocolate gravy “Kid Bait.” “He didn’t like chocolate gravy but said you could always catch the kids with chocolate gravy,” she laughed. Granny Hawk cooked both at home and at the school in Clover Bend (Lawrence County). When she became a widow, she still had nine of her 11 children at home.
She rode the school bus to Clover Bend each day and cooked at the school. “Granny Hawk was a sweet lady who just loved the Lord, loved her kids, loved all the kids. I hope we can continue some of her traditions, if not all of them.”
N ot the now-you-see-it, now-youdon't sleight-of-hand version, but real magic one can see, smell and taste.
For tourists and locals alike, David Lister is the Candy Man. Owner of Kilwins, a dispensary of hand-crafted candy and ice cream, his is one of the most popular spots in the city’s River Market District.
“The thing with our shop is, it’s not like other stores,” he said. “People coming into a candy shop or an ice cream shop are generally happy. Everyone’s in a really good mood. And if they’re not when they come into the store, they are when they leave with their favorite treats. How can you not have fun in an environment like that?”
Every day, Lister gets to watch the magic happen over and over again, lighting up the faces of youngsters and the young at heart with the store’s delectable treats, including caramel apples, Mackinac fudge, caramel corn and a dizzying flurry of chocolate-dipped items from strawberries and marshmallows to pretzels and Rice Krispie treats to clusters of nuts.
“I would say about 70 percent of what’s in the store, we make in the store,” Lister said. “We make our own waffle cones and waffle bowls every day; they’re still warm and crisp when we hand them to the customer. The look on people’s faces when they take hold of a freshly made,
warm waffle cone is what makes it all worthwhile.”
As the franchise holder and the man trained at Kilwins University in Petoskey, Mich., Lister is the primary candymaker in the store, which is far harder work than one might think. The tiny shop turns out confections in quantities that boggle the mind, such as 600 caramel apples alone per week in autumn.
Not only are the numbers staggering, but the process of hand-making the treats is a laborious one. Things dipped in, wrapped by or filled with caramel are among the hardest to produce, because of the complexity of the store’s signature sauce.
“The caramel we make from start to finish takes about an hour and three-quarters, and we are constantly stirring and constantly monitoring our temperature in order to make it the right consistency,” Lister said. “We don’t want it to burn. We don’t want it to boil at too high a temperature or our yield will be low or it will be too thick to coat the product. So, during that hour and threequarters, one cannot leave the kettle.
“Then once it’s ready, we’ve got about 20 minutes to do what we need to do, whether we’re dipping apples, whether we’re making Krispies or marshmallows or dipping divinity. We’ve got 20 minutes. After that, the temperature loss means we can’t do anything else with it.”
Even harder to master is fudge, a cornerstone of his two-week training at Kilwins University that took considerably longer to master, Lister said.
“It’s technique, learning how the fudge behaves on any given day for any given weather situation,” he said. “The condition of the marble table will also have an influence on how the fudge behaves. And [company founder] Don Kilwin will tell you, he doesn’t consider you a competent fudgemaker until you’ve made over 100 loaves. You’re talking at least six to eight months, really.”
With everything that’s produced here daily – and its sometimes-finicky nature, besides – you’d think Lister brought a culinary background to his business. Asked about it, the native Brit chuckles.
“I could cook dinner,” he said. “I can make spaghetti for dinner, or I can roast a chicken, that sort of thing. But that’s really my only previous experience in a kitchen.”
Which begs the question: What’s a nice man from the United Kingdom doing in a place like Kilwins, where the constant outflow of hand-crafted product rivals the famous conductor belt from the “I Love Lucy” show?
“I woke up one day and wanted to be in the ice cream
business,” he said. “Originally, it wasn’t going to be candy; I was looking to have a mobile ice cream business where I'd drive around certain spots during the summer.”
Instead, one circumstance led to another that led him to the Little Rock Kilwins franchise coming up for sale. After passing muster with the parent company, he became owner of a candy business, and one that served ice cream besides, giving him the best of both worlds.
The timing of his move, in hindsight, left something to be desired. Lister took possession in January 2020 on the brink of the candy- and ice cream-eating world shutting down. But a funny thing happened when the tourists dried up: Lister discovered just how beloved his store already was, an epiphany that continues to inspire him today.
“Initially, the store had an awful lot of success through tourism,” he said. “When the pandemic came and the tourists went away, what kept this store going, day in and day out, were the locals. They’re fantastic.
“We love having them come in, we love being part of their regular day. We love being part of their special day when they come in for a birthday present or a wedding anniversary or just as their child has finished their first chapter in their first book so it’s time to go get a treat. To be part of that is just amazing.”
‘When the pandemic came and the tourists went away, what kept this store going, day in and day out, were the locals. They’re fantastic.’
- David ListerBy Stefanie Brazile
T he 6th annual “Neighbors, An Art Show” on Oct. 1 offered an art competition, entertainment by musicians and even fire performers in downtown Conway.
“By far this was our biggest year post-COVID-19, as far as the number of artists who participated and the number of attendees,” said Morgan Lefler, Director of Engagement for Engage Management (EM), a Conway-based company that manages properties.
The event was held during the evening of Oct. 1 at The Brick Room. Neighboring businesses partnered with EM, so the full block was reserved for street performances. “The top priority is the art show, but it’s almost like an elegant festival feeling,” Lefler said. “We incorporated live performers and live art.”
About 100 artwork selections were on display inside the event center. The items were submitted for judging from people ages 8 to 80 years old. The styles ranged from photographs to digital artwork to acrylic and oil paintings. “In our minds, the purpose of this art show is to encourage artists in the community, so we accept a wide range of styles,” Lefler said.
Brian Young, director of the Baum Gallery at the University of Central Arkansas, curated the exhibition. “He came in before the show and grouped the art pieces that played off each other,” Lefler said. “The theme was ‘Reflection,’ and we had a lot of
self-portraits. He created a pyramid of those on one wall.”
EM collaborates with Conway Alliance for the Arts (CAFTA), who provides some volunteers and activities at the event. CAFTA is a nonprofit whose focus is on arts within the community. They held their annual Arts Fest during the day of Oct. 1, and then joined EM staff as volunteers to help with “Neighbors, An Art Show” in the evening.
The annual event is the brainchild of Brent Salter, president of EM. Some would find it unusual for a property management company to offer an art show, but Lefler noted that “he has a heart and passion for art within our community like none other. He’s involved on a few boards that relate to arts.”
Some of the live performances included Mallory Salter, who painted with acrylic on canvas; Arkansas Circus Arts had a stilt walker; Arkansas AcroYoga did a fire performance; Rock City Dance Center performed a hip hop routine; three performers from Gemini Fitness hung from the ceiling, doing routines on their hoops; and Sycamore Sound played inside The Brick Room, while Joey Fanstar performed outside. There were also business booths and a food truck.
The property management company’s home office is in Conway, with properties in Conway, North Little Rock, Little Rock, Russellville and South Carolina.
November really gets going with First Friday Downtown and the Conway Art Walk from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 4. Artists will set up along Oak St., inside and outside businesses, along with street musicians and live performances at Simon Park’s Kris Allen Stage.
Then, at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Nov. 5, our friends at Kassi’s Cookies will host their Ribbon Cutting and Grand Opening at their new Conway location at 1115 Oak St. Kassi and her crew are ready to help make the season bright with her fabulous cookies and treats.
November is the month we really kick off the holiday season, with the annual Downtown Christmas Open House from 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 13. Also happening that day is the Ribbon Cutting and Grand Opening of Evergreen Bride Floral at 1022 Oak St. Owner Naomi Studer and her artists create beautiful, handmade “forever florals” and will be on hand to visit and show guests around the new showroom and workshop.
On Saturday, Nov. 26, Downtown Conway will host Small Business Saturday, all day. Our shops and restaurants will be ready to help shoppers find the perfect gift. That evening, we kick off “Illuminate” and the lighting of the giant Christmas Tree in Roger’s Plaza. Other holiday attractions will also be making their return, including the giant 100-foot Ferris wheel, as well as the Tiny Choo Choo and pictures with Santa. More surprises are being planned for this year.
to 8 p.m.
Friday, Nov. 4
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What defines heroes? Selflessness, commitment, the desire to serve and the ability to spring into action at a moment’s notice to help neighbors. We do not see their superhuman costumes when we run into them at the grocery store, the gas station or even in church on Sunday. Be certain, these folks are amongst us, going about their business, working their day jobs and taking care of their families. What separates them is their ability to rise to the occasion, literally jumping out of bed at 3 a.m. if necessary to protect the life and limb of their neighbors. They are our local firefighters, and 90 percent of those protecting us do it as volunteers.
More than 650 of these everyday heroes were celebrated Oct. 1, at the Conway Expo Center. The Rural Fire Show was hosted by the Arkansas Department of Agriculture’s Forestry Division in cooperation with the Arkansas Rural and Volunteer Firefighters Association. In his heartfelt welcome, Arkansas’s Secretary of Agriculture Wes Ward said the citizens of Arkansas are grateful to the firefighters and their families for their tireless service and sacrifice for their neighbors.
“This event was ‘their day,’ a way to appreciate and celebrate volunteer firefighter efforts,” said Kathryn Mahan-Hooten, who directs the Forestry Division’s Rural Fire Protection Program. “We offered classes with updated procedures, funding sources and a vendor display of equipment and support services available. More importantly, the day was a time to mingle with other firefighters over lunch and an opportunity to win door prizes.”
Darin Dykes joined the fire department nearly 20 years ago when first moving to the rural area of Opal. His reasons were simple. The fire chief asked him, and he and his wife, Mare, love to volunteer, so it was a good fit for them. Mare has been confined to a wheelchair since birth; both she and Darin are ham radio operators. “There is a camaraderie and sense of community among the local firefighters,” Dykes said. “Working closely together in potentially dangerous or very intense situations does that. I was in the military and can appreciate that bond. This is a community service that would not be available if the department wasn’t there. Even though we do not get paid, our work has tangible results, especially in citizens’ bottom lines when insurance gets lowered because we are a properly trained and equipped department.”
Oscar Jones, president and treasurer of the El Paso Fire
Department Board, is grateful to the citizens of White County who voted for a sales tax to specifically fund county fire departments. He works with other board members to locate affordable equipment that fits specific guidelines. He is quick to give credit to Fire Chief Chris Boaz and his team. They respond to an average of 15-20 calls a month, with 58% of those being medical, also known as first responder calls.
In this line of volunteerism, the little things become the big things. Randy and Chris Boaz, father and son firefighters in El Paso, recently responded to a 911 call from the home of an elderly couple, both diabetics. They had taken their morning insulin, but because both had fallen, they had not eaten. After getting them stabilized, the Boazes determined the couple would be right back in the same shape if they did not eat soon, so being resourceful and with a willingness to help, the Boazes quickly cooked breakfast for them before leaving.
Stories like this play out every day in more than 900 Arkansas fire departments from the largest cities to the smallest communities. Most people will never see it, likely won’t even hear about it and hopefully won’t need it, but firefighters carry on, never asking for a thank you. In Kathryn’s words: “It is neighbors helping neighbors, helping others in their hours of greatest need. That is what we do and that is what motivates us.”
O ver the course of many years, some of plenty and some of lean, the elderly man had formed a habit of writing “thank you” in the lower left-hand corner of each check as he paid his bills. It was a reminder to him to be grateful for what each check represented.
When he wrote a check to the phone company or one for the utilities, he put “thank you” in the corner. He would pause and thank God for all the ways in which his life was made more comfortable by these companies that provided him with their services.
When he wrote a check to the bank for his monthly mortgage payment, he would write “thank you” in the corner and pause to reflect on the comfort of having a roof over his head.
When he paid his water bill, he wrote “thank you” in the corner. He thought to himself that the water might not be all that great tasting and probably had chemicals in it but remembered how his forefathers had to pump water at the well in the winter and worry about it going dry in the summer. He thanked God for the water.
When he wrote his income tax check in April, he even wrote “thank you” on the check! He knew that a computer might not notice it, but he did it for his own benefit. It reminded him that he was thankful for all the benefits that being an American provides.
There’s a lesson and a lot of wisdom in this gentleman’s habit. Though many of us rarely write a check anymore, maybe we
should look over our bank statement from last month and thank God for the blessings that each transaction represents, and for allowing us to have the money to pay for each item. Checking our bank statements can be a good checkup for us during the Thanksgiving season!
While you’re counting your blessings, don’t forget to give thanks for the friends who are celebrating significant anniversaries of their sobriety, and in turn, the reclamation of their lives. Be thankful for the neighbor who is recovering from serious surgery and for a church member who finally secured a job after a long and arduous search. Don't forget the relative who continues courageously with chemotherapy treatments. Be thankful for times when you sat down for a rare family dinner and, without phones, talked to one another. And give thanks for the young couple, while taking care of their newborn baby, who pause for a moment of wonder and love and gratitude.
Oh, yes, and don’t forget to give thanks for our veterans. You might even take your gratitude for veterans a step further and remember to pause on Friday, Nov. 11, at the 11th hour, and remember those who have served in the uniforms of the armed forces.
One other suggestion — no matter how you say it, say grace over your meal on Thanksgiving Day. Giving thanks can transform an ordinary meal into a celebration — of family, love and gratitude. For this holiday was never meant to be observed in a single day, but throughout one’s lifetime. One day at a time, one transaction at a time, one check at a time.By Stefanie Brazile By Stefanie Brazile Photo by Mike Kemp
L ike many other 10-year-olds, Westen “Kyler” Osborne likes football, baseball, basketball and dirt bikes. He also loves driving more than 70 mph.
Kyler competes in the Jr. Dragster Racing League (JDRL) and travels across the South racing against other kids around his age. “It feels really exciting when you get in the car,” Kyler said. “It makes me happy racing a lot of other kids my age and older than me.”
This year he’s running 72 mph on the 1/8-mile track in Paragould (Greene County). He wins trophies and money, and each race fuels his desire to keep driving – fast! The cars that JDRL competitors race are called Jr. Dragsters, which are halfscale versions of Top Fuel dragsters, according to jrdragster. nhra.com. In most races, eight to 16 kids compete. The criteria to compete includes a height and age requirement.
His mother, Beverly Osborne, said Kyler has a dragster and has raced throughout Arkansas, including in Paragould (Greene County) and at Centerville Dragway in Dardanelle (Yell County), as well as out-of-state in Byhalia, Miss.; Memphis, Tenn.; and Missouri. His car is currently black with “6x” printed on the side, with plans to wrap it in white. Kyler carries the number 6x from his cousin, Hayden Hartwick, who
competes in dirt track races. Many competitors have a charm or a ritual they follow before a race. Kyler has a drag racer’s prayer and a cross necklace that he puts in his car “to help me not get hurt and for good luck. I hope when I get older, I can still race.”
He is from Wilburn in Cleburne County and is a fifth grader at Pangburn Elementary School. Kyler became interested in Jr. Dragster racing because of his mother’s boyfriend, Brad Andrews, whom he considers his dad. His cousins and a stepbrother also share the hobby. His home base track is in Paragould where he practices his technique and reaction time.
Besides Jr. Dragster Racing, Kyler plays middle linebacker for Heber Springs Peewee Football. He will play basketball again for Pangburn Elementary and then plans to play baseball for Heber Springs in the outfield, or at second or third base.
He has a sister, Kynlee, and considers Andrews’ children family. His stepbrother is Hayden, and his stepsister is Blaire. Kyler enjoys his dogs Gypsy and Little Bit, a cat named Lilly, and a turtle named Speedy, believe it or not. His grandparents are Barbara and Steve Osborne of Wilburn and Marcus and Jackie Andrews of Tumbling Shoals. Kyler’s drag racing hero is his dad.
A thletic programs in schools teach students many important life skills, including balance, time management and hard work. The Pulaski County Special School District and Maumelle feeder schools are proud of the many accomplishments of our student athletes and athletic programs.
Athletic Director Kirk Horton said, “At Maumelle, we encourage as much youth sport involvement as possible. We have several youth teams in our community on campus for games and camps as often as possible. We also visit the elementary schools often to open car doors and facilitate field day activities.”
Horton previously served as both Maumelle Athletic Director and Head Football Coach. This year, he gave up the helm of the Hornet football team to work full time as the feeder’s athletic director, including scheduling events, scheduling officials, facility set-ups and much more.
“My proudest moments as a coach and as an athletic director are seeing our student athletes succeeding in life after graduation,” Horton said. “Our goals through sport are wrapped around the idea of developing successful men and women in our programs. We love hearing the success stories.”
There are a number of exciting projects happening at Maumelle High School this year, including a new baseball field, softball field, regulation track (with a turf infield where soccer or football could be played) and an indoor practice facility. This will allow our student athletes to be able to practice and play games on campus. The project will also give our current fieldhouse a facelift and make all of our facilities for athletics up-to-date. The project is set to start in the fall of 2022 and finish in the fall of 2023 and is expected to be a contributing factor in the efforts to increase future enrollment.
The $11 million project is part of PCSSD’s Building for the Future bond restructuring that was passed by voters in November 2021.
Pulaski County Special School District spans more than 600 square miles in Central Arkansas and requires highly skilled and passionate personnel to adapt educational policies and personalization to 26 schools. Every school is accredited by the Arkansas State Board of Education. PCSSD has served schools across Pulaski County since July 1927.
PCSSD is committed to creating a nationally recognized school district that assures that all students achieve at their maximum potential through collaborative, supportive and continuous efforts of all stakeholders.
G etting a pet is a big commitment, and for years Julie Wilson, a traveling Nurse Manager Consultant, did not think her lifestyle was stable enough to make a pet a part of the family.
Originally from Maumelle, the Wilsons lived in California and moved to Greenbrier last year. That was when her youngest turned 14, and Wilson decided to give in to her daughter’s request for a Dalmatian puppy.
Myley had been asking for a dog for a while, Wilson explained. So, they purchased a Dalmatian pup from Olympus Dalmatians in Guston, Ky. The dog’s AKC registered name is “Going for the Gold.”
“We wanted to name him Champion, but we couldn’t because that is the title they receive when they win competitions, so he is called Champ,” Wilson said. “And when she saw him, Myley said, ‘He’s just beautiful. He’s a champion!’”
Although her daughter was completely in love at the sight of the puppy, the road to getting him was not without challenges. Wilson was scammed twice online — for a loss of $1,000 by people claiming they were Dalmatian breeders who seemed very believable, she said.
Wilson said the first scammer was a woman who allegedly owned a farm and bred Dalmatians. She found her website online. “She wanted more information about me and said she wouldn’t give her puppies to just anyone,” Wilson said. “She said there was a $500 deposit to be paid online if this was something I wanted to do. I paid her and never heard from her again.”
Wilson said the other scam was similar. It also had a website, and all it promoted was breeding dogs.
“It was not a puppy farm. I knew better than to buy from a puppy farm,” she said. “A man emailed me a form to fill out and a contract to sign and said to pay how you want and then come
pick up the dog.” But what gave the scammers away after the fact was that the names in the contracts were different from the emails and the websites.
“I was able to track both scam websites to areas in Los Angeles and turned it in to the LA Police Department. They shut down the online sites, but that was just two of the thousands of sites the scammers used.
“Right after I found out that I had been scammed, my son heard a story on a Christian radio station that one of the DJs had been scammed when she was trying to find a certain breed of cat. It is a big industry. It happens every day, and there are so many scammers online.”
Wilson struggles to think of something sadder than if the $500 a parent spent on a make-believe dog was supposed to be a child’s Christmas gift.
But this story does have a happy ending. The Wilson family grew by one more pup last November when they brought Kora home to be Champ’s playmate.
“Champ and Kora are half-brother and half-sister, same dads, different moms,” Wilson said. “Kora is a liver Dalmation, so she is brown and white. And she also has one blue eye and one green eye … my daughters love them.”
And before Christmas, Wilson plans to retire from nursing and work with her husband on a new project to help low-income families rent decent homes. Having more time at home means the Wilsons may add yet another Dalmatian to their home, but this spotted dog will be a rescue from Olympus Dalmatians.
The journey to getting the pet Dalmatians was difficult, but the Wilson family is now happy to have the active pups as part of their family.
After a blazing hot summer, it’s exciting to welcome cooler weather during the transition to fall. The humidity breaks, the landscape changes colors and the holiday season begins but if you’re not careful, higher energy consumption can creep into the season, too. November is the perfect time to make sure you’re set up for savings before winter weather officially arrives. Here are eight tips to help you fall into savings this season:
Use the sun’s energy and warmth to your advantage. During the day, opening the curtains to let in sunlight from southfacing windows will help warm the room without using any energy. Solar heat through a well-insulated window can raise the temperature in a room by several degrees without the heater having to do extra work. In the afternoon, close the curtains to provide another layer of insulation to hold in heat and keep the chill out.
Before it gets too cold, check your windows and doors for gaps and open areas that could let heat out or cold in. Using weatherstripping and caulking before you’re in the thick of winter will contribute to significant savings if you catch the drafts in time. Just remember: Not all weatherstripping is alike. For example, sealing a garage door involves different weatherstripping than you would use for your front door.
You should also check for gaps and cracks around your home’s foundation and around windows, doors and areas where utilities enter your home. Sealing these with caulk can help keep heat in your home.
A simple way to achieve fall energy savings is by running your heating system less often. Keeping your thermostat between 68 and 70 degrees during the day and turning it lower at night will help reduce the cost to heat your home. If you’re willing to wear a sweater, the few degrees of temperature difference could result in savings over the season.
A good practice is to find a temperature you like and leave it there for day-to-day use. If you’re going to be away for a while, set it to 65 degrees or lower. You can also lower your thermostat at night for more savings. A programmable or smart thermostat is a great way to stay on track so you can set it and forget it.
Transitioning to fall is the perfect time to make sure your heating system is operating properly. Not only should you change the air filter monthly, but you’ll also want to make sure it is functioning properly and using the right amount of energy for the size of your system and home.
A professional has the experience and training to spot issues you might not notice and can make recommendations for how to keep your system running efficiently all year. To ensure your system will be energy-efficient for fall, it must be clean and in good working order. Dirty ducts and filters clogged with debris make your furnace work harder to heat your home.
We think of ceiling fans as tools to cool us down, but they can also work to keep us warm. Improving the circulation of
heat means you can do more with less, making it one of the best fall heating tips to follow.
Warm air rises, meaning the warmest air in the room is near the ceiling, where it doesn’t impact your comfort. Run ceiling fans clockwise at a low speed in the winter to draw cold air up from the floor. As it flows upward, it pushes the warm air out toward your walls and down into your living space. It also helps to redistribute air so the air coming out of the vents reaches all parts of the room rather than having warmer and cooler pockets of air in different areas.
If you have a fireplace in your home, that’s another opening to the outside. Fireplaces can be a major source of lost heat, so your heating tips for the fall should include making sure that doesn’t happen.
Keep your chimney and damper in good condition. The damper should stay closed unless a fire is burning so that warm air from your heating system doesn’t escape through the chimney. Check the seal to make sure the damper is as snug as possible.
Tempered glass doors and an air exchange system that blows warm air back into the room will help keep the heat where you want it – inside your home. You can also purchase energy-efficient grates that help draw cool air toward the fireplace and direct warm air back into the room. To stop drafts, make sure the fireplace is covered when you’re not using it.
One of the best and easiest fall heating tips is to make sure air can flow freely from your vents. If you have furniture or drapes blocking your vents, you could be wasting energy by preventing heat from flowing into the room and circulating. If you can’t move the furniture or drapes, an easy solution is to buy inexpensive vent extenders that direct air from vents under sofas or behind drapes out into the room.
Check the temperature setting to make sure it isn’t set too high. For most people, temperatures between 110 and 120 F degrees are hot enough for washing dishes and bathing. You can achieve even more energy-efficient heating for fall if you buy a blanket for your water heater or insulation you can fit around your unit to hold in heat.
Your home is where you hang out, play, create memories and sometimes even work – so it’s important to keep it running smoothly. The Conway Corp Entergy Smart program is here to help with energy-saving tips, free energy audits and zero percent interest loans for energy-efficiency home improvements. Call 501.450.6000 or visit ConwayCorp.com/ EnergySmart to learn more.
50 years is a long time to operate any business — especially a mom-and-pop retail store. Bill and Judy Zellner made it look natural and turned Zellner’s Appliance into a Central Arkansas staple.
From recessions, near-depressions, a pandemic and more, Zellner’s has always managed to adapt, succeed and grow. Beginning in the early days when Judy taught cooking schools about the convenience of a new microwave, through the latest Smart TVs, the company has been on the cusp of the latest home technologies.
Judy says one of Zellner’s biggest accomplishments is becoming the largest Whirlpool Exclusive Dealer in Arkansas. The Whirlpool brands have grown to include KitchenAid, Maytag, Amana and Gladiator. She also says that while the products have changed, one thing hasn’t: “We believe in giving the best customer experience which means selling what the customer needs and not pushing the most expensive products.”
Zellner's commitment to customer service includes getting to know the customer’s needs before making a sale. From asking where the appliance will be located and who will be using it, they can often save customers money by identifying the right product for their needs.
“It may sound like common sense, but we often hear that other businesses don’t take the time to listen to the customer and help them avoid the headaches of purchasing an expensive home appliance that they just can’t use.” Bill and Judy believe this respect for their customers is the reason so many come back to shop over and over.
Though Bill retired four years ago, Judy still manages the store and is often asked two questions. One, is she going to retire and two, will she promise the store is going to stay open.
Bill and Judy’s son-in-law, Chris McDonald, is a big reason that Judy can answer yes to both. He joined the team to learn the retail appliance business and will tap into 24 years experience in customer marketing systems to eventually take over management.
“I plan to enjoy some more leisurely days where I may not be at the store all the time, but I will still be involved, and I feel confident our customers will be well served by Chris and the rest of the Zellner’s team,” Judy said. “We’re thrilled that Chris made the decision to come into management of the store. We know that he has the same values and shares the same commitment to meeting the needs of our faithful customers.
T heater makes life sweeter for several thousand students each year who participate in the Main Stage Education Series at the Donald W. Reynolds Performance Hall.
Amanda Horton, executive director of UCA Public Appearances, said the program is designed for students in preschool through 12th grade. Several productions are presented throughout the academic school year.
“Productions are carefully selected to be entertaining while educating the audience on an academic topic and integrating arts into the school curriculum,” Horton said. “Before the performances, teachers are given an online study guide emphasizing history, music, social studies and language arts – all related to the production. This guide assists teachers with educational standards for the chosen field and helps ensure a valuable student-learning experience through the arts.”
Horton said the productions are held during the day to accommodate student field trips. Tickets are $5 for children and $10 for adults.
“Although some children may not be able to pay, we will not deny anyone admission to the theater because of financial constraints,” she said. “Additionally, physical accommodations are made
available to students with disabilities.”
“Main Stage has grown much more rapidly than expected,” Horton said. “When we began the series in 2015-2016, we had only three productions and our goal for attendance was 3,000. We had more than 6,000 attend that year.
“I realized the program had potential and we changed our marketing plan a little bit to reach out to more people,” she said, adding that first-year programming was aimed mainly at Faulkner County students. “People outside Central Arkansas found us. Schools that had no access to the professional arts or theater at all wanted to come here.”
Since the 2015-2016 school year, more than 52,100 students have attended Main Stage productions, including physically and/or mentally challenged students. More than 55 school districts in 29 Arkansas counties have been served; that includes students from more than 181 different schools plus home-schooled students.
Horton said the program has served counties from as far north as Izard and Lawrence counties, as far south as Chicot County, as far west as Sebastian County and as far east as Lee and Phillips counties, as well as every county in Central Arkansas.
All productions are presented by national touring artists and are geared to a specific grade range. Productions are performed in the 1,200-seat Reynolds Performance Hall.
Now in its eighth season, the 2022-2023 Main Stage Education Series opened in October. “Doktor Kaboom: The Science of Santa” is next on the schedule, set for Dec. 12. “This is a fun science show,” Horton said. “He’s been here before. He shows science tricks and, in this show, tries to figure out how Santa comes down the chimney.”
“The Gruffalo” will be presented Feb. 12-13. “This is a show from London, England,” Horton said. She said it features a mouse that goes into the woods and meets several animals, including a Gruffalo.
“Our biggest seller this year is scheduled for March 17,” Horton said. “It’s ‘The Magic School Bus: Lost in the Solar System.’ We had it here in 2020 and had two sold-out shows and had to add another show. Teachers are excited about it. So we are bringing it back this year.”
The season will close with a one-hour adaptation of “The Wizard of Oz” on April 21. Horton said this show features Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tinman and the Cowardly Lion as they travel through a reimagined Oz. It also features Munchkin puppets.
The Main Stage program depends on donations and grants for funding. “We have to raise 100% of the funds for our shows,” she said. “We have set up an endowment for the Main Stage Education Series, which will create a program-funding outlet for years to come. Our goal is $125,000 by next year. We are well on our way to reaching that.
“Our goal is to bring children to the theater … children that have never had the opportunity or access to theater,” Horton said. “Main Stage broadens the mind and gives children an opportunity to visit a college campus. Hopefully, they will think, ‘I can be here in the next 10 years.’”
For more information, visit uca.edu/publicappearances/mainstage.
E li Cranor knows all about football. He played the game at every level, from peewee league, high school and college to even a year of professional football in Sweden. He then went on to coach Arkansas high school football for five years.
Although he no longer is physically involved in the game, he draws from all those experiences to use in his writing. And if his award-winning debut novel “Don’t Know Tough” is any indication, he is on the front end of a winning streak. The New York Times called it "one of the best debuts of 2022," and USA Today listed it as one of the best books of the year.
In this murder mystery novel, Coach Trent Powers uproots his family from California to become head coach in Denton, Ark., a fictional town that will ring familiar to River Valley residents. Billy Lowe, a troubled player who reminds Trent of himself, is a star running back who is tormented by an abusive family member. Coach Powers takes Billy under his wing and into his home, but his motivation for doing so is suspect.
It’s a sometimes brutal read that evokes themes of what it means to be a man and how well-intentioned family members can be our downfall or our salvation.
Cranor’s path to becoming an awardwinning novelist shares many parallels with his football career. Both entailed lots of practice, disappointments, tenacity and the help and support of family and friends.
‘It should be illegal, the power the game has over men, a blinding, burning feeling – a drug – that’s what football is.’
Coach Trent Powers in “Don’t Know Tough”
After five years of coaching, around the time his daughter was born, he took a full-time classroom teaching job. He put his Ouachita Baptist University degree in English into use by teaching ALE (Alternative Learning Environment) students who had difficulty learning in a typical classroom. He began writing a sports column, short fiction and other online columns. But he always had the dream of writing a novel.
Over several years he revised his manuscripts numerous times, each a different version, finalizing “Don’t Know Tough” in 2017. But in order to get a large publishing house to even look at the book, he realized that he needed an agent. He sent out hundreds of pitches and received nearly as many rejections.
Just as some doors seemed to be opening in 2020, COVID-19 brought the publishing world to a screeching halt. With nothing to lose, Cranor sent his manuscript to the Peter Lovesey Crime Writing Contest. The promotion read: “Ready to wobble your way towards becoming a published author? Submit your manuscript by 11:59 p.m. on April 1, 2020, for the chance to be published — and don’t worry, this is no April Fools joke.” Cranor never believed a noted British crime writer would have any interest in a book about an Arkansas football coach, but he sent it off anyway and thought little more about it.
Determined to become a published author despite a pandemic, Cranor changed gears and self-published a children’s book, “Books Make Brainz Taste Bad.” Aimed at the middle grades, it addresses the importance of literacy and lessening screen time. The book was a hit –kids and parents loved it.
He was literally standing in the wings to talk to a group of students when he received the call that “Don’t Know Tough” was selected from more than 200 entrants as a finalist for the Peter Lovesey award. Soon after, he found that Peter Lovesey personally chose “Don’t Know Tough” as the winner.
Things changed dramatically after that. He received his award on Dec. 4 at a virtual 50th Anniversary Gala hosted by Murder by the Book, a Houston independent bookstore. Agents began to knock on his door.
As promised, Soho Press released the book on March 22 of this year and it garnered rave reviews. His schedule now includes international literary events, podcast and TV appearances and book signings where fans stand in line to get his autograph.
Part of the book’s appeal is Cranor’s unique writing style. His method of character development includes switching from first to third person and using different dialects. At times his writing is almost poetic: “Arkansas hills produce crazy like the Earth's mantle produces diamonds; enough heat and pressure to make all things hard."
Cranor now teaches online for Virtual Arkansas and the Arkansas Department of Youth Services. He loves it, believing literacy can make a difference in the lives of troubled youth by helping them to develop empathy. He even notes its importance in his book when Coach Powers has Billy read “The Old Man and the Sea.”
Recently Cranor began writing another column, “Where I’m Writing From,” that appears on Sundays in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. His second book, “Ozark Dogs” (Soho Press), will be released in the spring next year. Usually he writes early in the morning, and then at night he reads to his mother, referring to her as his “secret weapon.”
Cranor, his wife and two children love living along the shore of Lake Dardanelle, along with their black cat and an Australian sheepdog. To find out more, visit elicranor.com or his Facebook page “Eli Cranor - Author Page.”
“Don’t Know Tough” has been described as a fast-paced “Friday Night Lights” with raw characters and lots of twists and turns. It is available wherever books are sold.
S ome of us who are “elderly” observe the ways of younger generations or different upbringings and try to restrain ourselves from rolling eyes and shaking heads. And I know they do the same with us. Our years after age 60 are often called the “Golden Years,” but there is no gold — only years! Most of us might agree that the golden years were those before whatever age it suddenly hit you that your life was your own responsibility.
In our youth, household chores were expected from a family member enjoying the provisions of a “roof over your head, clothes on your back and food on the table.” I am prompted to think of others, now and especially in the long past, who had only those basics, and perhaps none in good shape. Education was minimal, and life’s jobs were hard. As I read my dad’s writings about his formative years, I am still awed by his determination to have a better chance in life regardless of sacrifices. He included his times from childhood living in a log cabin in the hills on a subsistence farm with an outhouse and a cold, clear spring with “sweet” water.
Farm chores existed every day. His dad might cast bullets from melted lead for his muzzle-loading gun. Horse equipment needed to be repaired or made. Wood troughs were made from hollow logs. Gates needed replacing, plow blades sharpened, animals marked, chairs re-bottomed, fencerows cleared. Women’s duties were, of course, sewing, quilting, spinning yarn, cooking and cleaning. Lye soap was made for cleaning and laundering. Butter was churned often and kept in a jar in the springhouse along with milk and eggs.
Raising food was everyone’s chore if they wanted grandmother’s “choked” biscuits or crusty cornbread with crackling crumbs. Fried pies and fruit or tomato cobbler were among desserts. Potatoes, sweet potatoes, peanuts and all other planted foodstuffs were grown and consumed in summer and canned or stored in the underground cellar for winter. Hams hung in the smokehouse after the hog-killing season. The only “store-boughten” ingredients were spices, sugar, flour, corn meal, vinegar and grits.
Dad finished high school in Imboden (Lawrence County) at the Sloan-Hendrix Academy, a local affiliate of Hendrix College. For two years, he walked three miles to and from school each school day, and he would sometimes be late so he could explore the deep woods and cedar glades, with frogs peeping and Pileated Woodpeckers drilling. He taught there following graduation, meeting a new student of “classic beauty” in 1921.
In that year, he decided to go to the University of Arkansas, making trips by rail, hopping box cars or coal tenders from the northeast corner of the state to the northwest corner. The latter car was an unexpected mistake, discovered when it went through a tunnel and covered him with smoke and soot.
Dad returned home in 1923 and the “classic beauty,” my mother, had graduated and applied to teach. They began dating, and dad continued his studies during the summers. They were married in 1925, and he graduated in 1929. It is not known even yet who paid his tuition. I’m still amazed that an unknown person also sacrificed because of his faith in dad’s drive and interest.
Regardless of hard times and inconveniences, he would earn
his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, lacking only a few hours to obtain his doctorate. As a soil scientist and botanist, he preferred being in the fields instead of behind a desk. Those deep woods and cedar glades had their effect.
To bring this story forward a little, I will mention that my husband, Gerald, lived a similar life until about 1966. Living “up the road” in Naylor, his family life was similar. No running water, an outhouse 50 feet from the home and cooling provided by floor fans. Heat was provided only in the living room, first by a wood-burning stove bought at Massey Hardware, then a gas heater. Things improved when his mother bought electric blankets.
Gerald picked cotton for $3 per 100 pounds of picked-clean cotton and $2.50 per pound if still in the boll. He saved up to buy school jeans that cost $3 a pair. At age 18, he got his first job at Chamberlain School Furniture and made a monumental $1.15 an hour! Even with gasoline at 28¢ a gallon, a “Show Bus” transported locals into Conway on Saturdays. The bus fare, a movie, a Coke and popcorn totaled $2 and was well worth the work.
Sometimes people ask if a completed education in whatever form, whether formal or trade-related, is worth it. Yes, for many reasons. Pride in making the commitment; preparedness and willingness to make a living; and wisdom to exercise Godgiven intelligence and common sense.
Oh, and being able to pay for the roof over your head, clothes on your back and food on the table.
Editor’s note: Two years ago, I asked Mrs. Waggoner to help develop a new monthly feature for readers: Artist of the Month. With her assistance, since January 2021, 501 LIFE Magazine has featured fine art painters, sculptors, photographers, dancers, stained glass makers, craftsmen and singers. I am grateful for her knowledge and contacts with numerous Central Arkansas artists and for her generous spirit in wanting so many of them to be featured before herself.
N o surface was safe. As a preschooler, Suzann deShazo Waggoner was drawing on lampshades, adding illustrations to books and regularly getting into trouble for doing so. Undeterred, she followed her passion for lines and colors and allowed it to flow from her hand. And now in her 70th season, the national award-winning watercolorist continues to create and to give.
“If you are a painter, it’s a gift to you. Give it away every chance you have,” Waggoner said. “Donating your talent to a cause is essential.”
The South Miami native attended Florida State University in Tallahassee, initially enrolling in home education classes to
appease her traditional parents but changing her major to art at the end of the first year. When she called home to tell her parents, she could hear the disappointment 480 miles away. “My father said he would keep me enrolled but wouldn’t pay for any art supplies.”
Always resourceful, Waggoner noticed that art students were throwing away half-used sketchbooks and tubes of watercolors that weren’t completely squeezed out, so she went “dumpster diving” for supplies. “That’s how I became a watercolorist, because I couldn’t find oil paints,” she laughed.
In 1966 she married Benjamin Waggoner and after seven years in the Air Force, the captain and his family were stationed at the Little Rock Air Force Base. “We liked Arkansas. It was a busy life, so I painted at night after all five children were in bed,” she said. She now lives on a nationally recognized wildlife habitat in Mount Vernon and hosts artists at en plein air events for group painting. She has taught hundreds of students, never charging to share her expertise. “Artists who die with their secrets – what a travesty!” she said.
Although Waggoner was raised in a city known for celebrating an eternal summer, the lady with bright, inquisitive blue eyes loves the changing of the seasons found in Arkansas and has focuses many of her canvases on its natural beauty. She likes to take photographs from which to paint because “I’m a stop-andstart artist and the light never changes in a photograph.”
Her works are in corporate and private collections throughout the eastern and southern U.S. One of her most noted wins was the 2007 Paint America Mini Top 50 Competition. The fine artist also won Best in Show at the 25th Texas & Neighbors Regional Art Exhibition and is most proud of being chosen for the San Diego Watercolor Society’s “International Exhibit” in 1994 when she received the Winsor & Newton Watercolor Excellence Award.
Additionally, her work has been accepted into the archives at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C., and has won honors with the Mid-Southern Watercolorists, which encompasses the Southern U.S. Her spacious art studio walls are lined with certificates, and an array of ribbons hang on one side of the room. Large windows drink in natural light, and massive tables with special lamps indicate someone who has light to work anytime inspiration hits or, rather, as time allows.
Waggoner is an expert at watercolor, mixed media (watercolor with oil pastel) graphite, soft pastel, hard-pressed pastel, Conté crayon and also pen and ink, which involves dipping a quill into a small bottle of the blackest ink.
She knows that her fascination with the drawn line has been part of her since birth and has strong convictions about an artist’s responsibilities to teach others, to donate one’s talent to help causes and to share one’s techniques. “You can paint your masterpieces, but when you’re not, teaching and donating your talent to raise money for a community effort are essential.”
Waggoner’s artistic efforts have included Illustrating books and creating note cards for organizations. The addition of her art increases the value of any item or space. Waggoner created pen and ink renderings from photos in Faulkner County for the Cemetery Census history book, to help rebuild the Cadron Settlement Park Blockhouse, for the Junior Auxiliary cookbook, to preserve Toad Suck Ferry, of the current First Security bank building on Front Street and for the museum.
“The idea is to serve,” she said. “Keep giving the gift. Usually, I go to an organization and offer to help.”
In 2008 First lady Ginger Beebe asked her to be part of the Arkansas Artists Calendar. “I was Miss March,” she teased. Waggoner painted the Old Junction Bridge. “It’s a watercolor, but a dry point, which is the antithesis of a real watercolor painting,” she said. “It’s missing the looseness of washes. In fact, it misses the whole point of watercolor altogether because it’s so tightly rendered. I just missed that class,” she quipped with a smile.
Although she stays in demand as a member of a dozen organizations, Waggoner is first and foremost a working artist whose talents are on full display in the pieces she creates. For example, during our interview, a watercolor landscape that is due Nov. 7 featuring purples and greens was on display in the background. It is destined for a juried evaluation by the MidSouthern Watercolorists.
A hands-on artist with a social conscience, Waggoner is passionate about “The 6 o’clock news” as a source of inspiration for paintings. Armed with a camera, she has crawled beneath floorboards in abandoned homes, climbed to dangerous places in historic buildings to photograph an interesting angle and talked with folks that many people ignore in order to understand their viewpoints. Then, she creates art that tells the background of or gives a greater insight into the issues.
Once, she helped a college preserve funding for the art department by curating a full show of her “6 o’clock news” and mixed media artwork. When she talks about the pieces, her concern and tenacity shine through. “We [artists] are illustrators of history,” Waggoner said. “From coronations to liturgical paintings, historical people and battles, it was the artist's responsibility to interpret historical events. There was always some form of artistic expression in pottery, jewelry, beadwork, weaving, even in caves.”
Waggoner is an artist of lifetime achievement with a strong conscience who uses her talents and honed skills to benefit and enhance her community. “I encourage all young artists to get as good as you can and never stop experimenting or learning.”
Since that childhood day when she drew on a new lampshade, Waggoner has continued to allow her perspective of people, places and events to flow from her hand and heart and onto canvases, to the delight of the rest of us.
s an Italian and Greek descendant of families that loved to cook and share food as acts of love, one Damascus entrepreneur is spreading sweetness in the 501. Maria Barbarotto makes and sells jams and jellies of every stripe. She simply loves to cook and says her greatest desire is to spread the enjoyment of good food while supporting local producers and farmers’ markets. She grew up at the feet of a grandmother who loved to can. But Barbarotto developed her craft by doing good deeds for those she loved.
As a young mother, she participated in a Bible study group led by Garland Gilliland, a beekeeper and retired manager of Massey Hardware in Conway. She was so appreciative of his tutelage, she wanted to do something special for him. He loved blackberries, so she delivered what he proclaimed as the “best blackberry jelly” he had ever tasted. With encouragement from him, friends and family, Maria’s Homemade Country Fare was launched, but not without great effort.
To meet all food safety laws and policies, Barbarotto built a separate kitchen, a standalone building next to her home in Damascus to process her products. She learned everything she could through classes with the University of Arkansas and has certifications from the Arkansas Department of Health with inspections twice a year.
Barbarotto uses locally grown fruits and vegetables and is
quick to give credit to the farmers who produce them. Strack Farms in Conway produces her blackberries, cucumbers, peppers, okra and muscadines. She buys mayhaws and figs from Coke Brothers in El Dorado. Furthermore, she loves helping other small businesses. She can often be found helping other vendors market their products. She gives a shout-out to Crossman Printing in Conway, who creates her signature labels.
Her fare includes 21 varieties of sweet spreads, five varieties of sliced pickles and three varieties of spear pickles. She has launched her own spaghetti sauce, with two different heats and four different heats of her prized salsa. Her products are available in Conway, Little Rock, Sherwood, Damascus, and through her Facebook page, “Maria’s Homemade Country Fare.”
For Barbarotto, what began as an act of appreciation for a favorite mentor turned into a life of sharing the sweet bounty of Arkansas produce with others. In her own words, “I never take my success for granted. The compliments and appreciation I receive from satisfied customers just blows me away. It has become something way larger than me and I am so grateful.”
For a sweet fall treat, slather some of her jam on a hot buttered biscuit! Divine!
I n February 2015, I wrote my third article for 501 LIFE Magazine. The story was about the swans that wintered in Heber Springs. I knew so little about how to author a story and share an experience. My words were clumsy, and my pictures were not so good. Over the years, writing a monthly article about our travels in the 501 area code has gotten easier. Words come faster, expressing myself on paper has improved and my pictures are better.
Last year, I spent several days at Heber Springs photographing the wintering swans. They are such magnificent animals, and few people have the opportunity to get close enough to enjoy swans like we can with only a short drive. So, I want to revisit and share the Heber Springs swans one more time.
Arkansas has become the winter home for a flock of trumpeter swans. Swans do not naturally winter in Arkansas. Normally, they nest in the arctic and migrate for the winter in either the Chesapeake area or in California, but since 1991, a flock has found Heber Springs the perfect spot for their winter home.
Every year sometime between Halloween and Thanksgiving, swans start to arrive in a couple of ponds and at Magness Lake east of Heber Springs. The phenomenon started when a few showed up 31 years ago and, as years passed, more came to Arkansas. They enjoy our mild winters and likely find food in leftover rice and grain stubble from harvested crops. It's believed the original swans got knocked off course by a storm. They must have found the Natural State was a wonderful place to winter because they came again and brought their friends and family. The Heber Springs swans have now grown into one of the largest wintering flocks in the South. During the late fall and early winter, hundreds of swans can be spotted anywhere from Greers Ferry Lake to the Arkansas River.
If you want to see the swans, plan a visit to Magness Lake or the ponds on Hiram Road between November and the middle of February. To view the swans on Magness Lake, drive east on Arkansas Highway 110 from its intersection with Arkansas Highways 5 and 25, just east of Heber Springs. Go 3.9 miles from the intersection to Sovereign Grace Baptist Church, marked with a white sign. Turn left on paved Hays Road; the road sign is small. Magness Lake is about a half-mile down Hays Road. You can view the swans from a public road, with parking space available in an S curve of the road.
Please be mindful of private property and the environment if you make a trip. Canada geese, mallards and other ducks, and some domestic geese, also share the land. We want to preserve the land for all of them.
I like to tell people that I don’t like to take pictures of anything that has eyes, talks, flies or moves, but I will make an exception for the Heber Springs swans. Or in other words, if a big white bird walks or swims into my landscape scene, then I will take its picture. Go spend some time enjoying the swans and take your camera.Story and photos by Linda Henderson
When football no longer has the need for players like him, I will quit coaching. He was a model team player,” proclaimed Todd Knight, the longest-serving college coach in Arkansas, when recently queried about a Ouachita Baptist University (OBU) player no longer in his program. Then in equally serious tones, the acclaimed coach added, “I’d love to have him as my physician when he completes medical school.”
Head Football Coach Knight is not alone on his campus in praising Bismarck High School graduate Dylan Clayton. “He helped us win two conference championships,” volunteered Brian Ramsey, the University’s Assistant Athletic Director for Communications, and Dr. Tim Knight, Dean of OBU’s J. D. Patterson School of Natural Sciences, contended that “Dylan is not only a model student, but he is also a model person. He is a great young man who is highly respected by his peers and faculty for his strong work ethic.” Truly the 21-year-old, who terms himself “a child of separation,” has displayed excellence in the past suggesting nothing less in the future.Clayton was chosen as a member of the 2016 501 LIFE Football Team.
Clayton was born in July 2001 in Malvern, where in his first years of formal education he performed handsomely while whetting his appetite for organized, competitive sports. Baseball was his first interest. At age 7, thanks to a baseball pitching machine, Dylan launched a summer playing career that lasted through his first year at Bismarck High, where he captained the squad. But by fourth grade, basketball — his father’s favorite sport — had gained his respect, and soon thereafter he was a member of several Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) teams. By junior high school, and just before leaving Malvern, never forsaking superior classroom grades, he had joined the track team and competed in several district and state competitions.
Finally yielding to the lure of “Woo Pig Sooie” that he had first consciously enjoyed in 2011, Dylan tried his hand at football in Malvern, took to the sport, and soon came to value it as his favorite. His play quickly became superior. But the unsettled and the unsettling, as well as the tragic, interrupted. In 2015 his parents separated and he moved to Bismarck to live with his grandparents. Two years later, in 2017, his father was murdered which was a shocking, lifechanging tragedy for Dylan.
Adulthood visited immediately. Immersed in discord, change and sorrow, Dylan proved unshakeable, continuing to showcase brilliance in the classroom and on the gridiron as well as in track and basketball, which he also captained. In football, he performed on “both sides of the ball for four quarters, “earning media labels like “Bismarck’s … Gridiron Ironman.” The 6’,4”, 225 pounder confessed to a “1000+ All-Purpose Yards offensively and [making] 440 solo tackles defensively, playing all positions except defensive tackle.” Yet he admits that “after the first quarter, I’m tired, but it's not about me and how I feel. I play for the town I represent. I want to win more than my body tells me that I do.” Predictably, honors followed, including in 2016, selection as a “Hooten’s Scholar Athlete of the Week” and election to the 501 LIFE Football Team presented by this magazine.
His quest for excellence allowed him to complete the school’s most challenging courses, many of them In Advanced Placement, and to graduate in 2019 with Honors and a 4.1 GPA. That quest impressed his classmates, who elected him Class President, and he was also salutatorian. Accompanying him to the podium, too, was an academic/football scholarship at OBU.
Once on the campus, Dylan declared a pre-medicine major in biology, and prepared for baccalaureate
completion this fall and medical school thereafter, to prepare for a career as an anesthesiologist. His years and interactions with his grandmother, a cancer patient with various autoimmune diseases, had converted his fascination with medicine into a love for it. Simultaneously, he concluded that his personal losses and a career in medicine would allow him opportunities to assist children without stable homes or father figures in their lives. His anguish, he planned to convert into an asset.
As a newcomer to Coach Knight’s offensive and defensive alignments and maneuvers, Dylan expected to clock little, if any, playing time in his first football season. Nonetheless, he plunged into practice assignments with the same indefatigable zeal that had characterized his Bismarck play. On the practice field, his loyalty was to his university, not to himself and his feelings. His top priority was a victory for his team. Respect from both coaches and teammates was inevitable, and as he played, he envisioned a bright OBU football future.
His academic performance benefited from similar dedication, and his grades were like those of the past. His sophomore year, however, introduced him and thousands of other student-athletes across the nation to an agonizing calamity: the cancellation of all inter-school competitions. The pandemic of 2020 eliminated a season of OBU football as well as some classes required in Dylan’s pre-med program; simultaneously, it scrambled Dylan’s timetable for preparing for the daunting Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) and hence for entering medical school. Reluctantly, he conceded that his second season of football, 2021, would be his last, that a third year of play would decimate his top priority: a career in medicine.
After consulting his football coaches, all of whom agreed with his decision, he gave tirelessly as a versatile reserve in his second, and final, season of intercollegiate football. He appeared and caught a pass in his second OBU contest. Financial aid from that sport disappeared at year’s end and relying on his academic scholarship and monies from summer jobs and grants from the institution’s donors, he devoted all his energies to his studies, in which he currently carries a near-perfect 3.9 GPA. The baccalaureate this December will precede the MCAT in March and medical school in the fall of 2024.
Dylan’s past of vision, resolve and achievement continues to transition smoothly into a future of commitment, service and self-fulfillment. For decades to come, his priorities and perseverance will elicit respect and pride in Hot Spring County and the 501.
A ll creatures great and small were among those attending the Blessing of the Animals on Oct. 2, at Conway First United Methodist Church.
Each year on or around the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi, which is Oct. 4, the church invites all in the community and their pets to stop by the parking lot for a blessing.
“In many faith traditions, St. Francis is the patron of all living creatures and for many the first saintly ecologist who saw in nature and creation the work and beauty of God,” said Jason Saugey, director of music and worship ministries at the church.
Hosted by the Children’s Music Ministry, the event included
a hymn accompanied by members of the Joyful Ringers children’s chime choir and the unison recitation of the Prayer of St. Francis. Then the fun began, as the animals and their human family members took the time to be blessed, visit with each other and even take home a treat for later in the day.
Four blessing stations were available, including a drivethrough option for those pets with social anxiety. Pet treats were also passed out. Those blessing the animals were the Rev. Michael Roberts, senior pastor; the Rev. Dede Roberts, executive pastor; the Rev. Lynn McClure; and Stuart Holt, associate director of music and praise band director.
Animals ranged in size from a gerbil named Johannes to a Great Dane named Rider. There were the usual dogs and cats of all ages, a box full of turtles and several guinea pigs — including a pair dressed in gorgeous clothes and another pair named after TV icons Lenny and Squiggy. One family is currently without a pet but brought their stuffed animals for a blessing and to allow the kids to check out all the pets of their friends. Photos of pets who were unable to attend were also blessed.
At least one dog was on his ninth blessing! Sven, the companion animal of the Walter family of Conway, always loves getting blessed. His family said that he enjoys meeting new friends at the annual event.
It was a particularly big weekend for Oreo, a 5-year-old cocker spaniel who lives with the Mathis family. Oreo was adopted from an animal shelter and welcomed to his new home on Oct. 1 and came to his first blessing event on Oct. 2. In addition to his human family members, Oreo has a dog brother named Barkley.
The annual event was a blessing to all who attended.
1. Sven Walter (right) enjoyed meeting new friends at his ninth Blessing of the Animals event.
2, Jennifer Boone and her Great Dane, Rider, met Carolina Segales and her gerbil, Johannes.
3. Lenny and Squiggy, a pair of guinea pigs, receive a blessing.
4. Rev. Lynn McClure offers a blessing for a stuffed animal named Brown Bear.
5. Oreo, a 5-year-old cocker spaniel, shows his excitement about his first Blessing of the Animals event.
6. Stuart Holt offers a blessing for Tiffany Guynes’ deaf pit bull terrier.
7. Members of the Joyful Sound Children’s Chime Choir played “All Things Bright and Beautiful” during a short worship service at the event.
8. Two guinea pigs wore their finest clothing to impress the minister.
Photos courtesy of First United Methodist Church-Conway.
Angela and I have been married for 29 years. We’re proud parents of Charlie, 23, a transportation engineer specializing in bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure in Pittsburgh, and Annie, 21, who is completing her senior year at DePaul University in Chicago.
A Bachelor of Science from the University of Wisconsin and a Master of Science from the University of Illinois.
I’ve worked for The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in Arkansas for 26 years and served as the Arkansas Director for 19 years. I followed two awesome directors: Kay Kelly Arnold and Nancy DeLamar.
Personally, it is working with my wife, Angela, to help our amazing kids, Charlie and Annie, grow into fun, positive, forward-thinking people. I’m also a Certified Prescribed Fire Burn Boss and Arkansas Outdoor Hall of Fame inductee.
Professionally, I’m proud to work with a lot of partners and supporters on projects that Arkansans and visitors cherish, like supporting Governor Hutchinson on the positive resolution of the controversial hog farm CAFO near the Buffalo River and developing a positive private lands conservation program for the watershed. I enjoy working with Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC) and Potlatch Corporation on our state’s largest conservation easement of 16,000 acres in the open pine woodlands of south Arkansas. We are also helping to develop the Arkansas Prescribed Fire Course with Martin Blaney at the AGFC, Larry Nance at the Arkansas Forestry Commission and Doug Zollner at TNC.
I’m proud to work with many partners to develop our extensive upland woodland restoration effort using prescribed burning and ecological thinning on 100,000 acres each year. And I’m working with many corporations, leaders and landowners to conserve a more than 100-mile corridor along our state’s rivers. We are supporting one of the largest habitat restoration efforts in the country, which includes the reforestation of 250,000 acres and the restoration of the rivers in the Big Woods of Arkansas. I’m also working with Gov. Hutchinson and many
partners to develop an unpaved roads improvement program to help the counties save money and improve water quality. We’re bringing additional recreational amenities throughout Arkansas at places like Rattlesnake Ridge Natural Area, the new Blue Mountain Natural Area, Smith Creek Preserve in Boxley Valley, Electric Island in Lake Hamilton, Ranch North Woods in Little Rock, Bluffton Preserve north of Clinton, and the incredible Kings River Preserve. It is so rewarding watching kids experience nature here with their families and watching landowners observe the results of healthy land and river management activities.
My appreciation for nature was developed by my parents. Among their interests were enjoying wildflowers and bird watching. A family trip to the Florida everglades at the age of 9 was mesmerizing; I enjoyed exploring the wet prairies and forested hammocks among the alligators and wading birds. I spent many of the following summers fishing the northern Wisconsin lakes, enjoying sublime, peaceful times with family and friends, listening to the call of loons and watching eagles fish. My interest in nature led to an internship in prairie restoration at the Chicago Botanic Garden and then to my first job as a field botanist at the Illinois Natural History Survey, working as one of 500 scientists! And, Arkansas is the best place in the country for any love and curiosity about nature to grow.
COMMUNITY OR CHURCH ACTIVITIES: I am very spiritual. Sundays find me at the Church of the Holy View.
MOST CHERISHED POSSESSION: My BMW R1200GSW adventure motorcycle. It is a fun way to access and experience nature and our country, and to meet all sorts of interesting people.
It has been an honor to be a part of The Nature Conservancy in Arkansas, helping to conserve these special places for families to enjoy. It has just been incredible! If you haven’t visited one of our locations, find one at nature.org. They’re open every day from dusk to dawn.
As our community continues to grow, we are growing alongside you to ensure all of your healthcare needs are met right here in Conway. When your family needs emergency care, our board-certiﬁed providers will give you the comprehensive care you deserve when you need it most. When you’re facing an emergency, trust the care you’ll ﬁnd down the hallway, not down the highway.
We’re not just growing—we’re growing together.
When you bank with First Security, you’re choosing real support. For you, and for the state. That’s because our bank is your community bank. So friends, families and fellow Arkansans find better solutions together. It’s another way First Security helps Arkansas bank better –and it’s why you should call on us today.