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The Alumni Magazine of the University of Arkansas - Fort Smith



Pierce McKennon

Survivor of two downings behind enemy lines, the WWII ace would be dead a year after coming home

5 Meet Numa / 10 Library Plans / 18 Teacher Appreciation / 30 Lion Files


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This fall, nearly 350 residents of the brand-new Lion’s Den are living it up in comfy lounges with big-screen TVs; slick, stainless kitchenettes; sunlit study rooms; high tech laundry facilities with machines that—get this—actually send text-messages when clothes are dry; an airy dining hall serving seriously good food; and a big, grassy courtyard perfect for throwing a Frisbee or kicking a soccer ball around. Between the Lion’s Den complex and Sebastian Commons apartments, more than 700 students now live on this traditionally commuter campus, which is feeling warmer, tighter-knit, and more animated than ever.


courtesy of Fort Smith Air Museum

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volume I, number 2


FROM THE CHANCELLOR A place you can be proud of


@UAFORTSMITH Alumni letters


GRAND + WALDRON strategic plan | top nurse | meet Numa | Lion Rifles | alumni art | IT advances | new programs | library addition


5Q Dr. Ragupathy Kannan, passionate conservationist


SENSE OF PLACE Math-Science 240


WHAT’S IN A NAME? The Fullerton Administration Building


EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITY Dr. Rager Moore, choral director/farmer


LIONS LOWDOWN women’s tennis | Womack Awards | Blake Branham | summer camps


f ea t u re s 18

TEACHER APPRECIATION Why local principals love UA Fort Smith-trained teachers—and how the University is changing public education in the region. By Zack Thomas with photos by Kat Wilson ’96


TOO GLORIOUS TO LAST By the time of his tragic death at 27, Pierce McKennon ’39 had already lived more than a life’s worth. By Bobby Ampezzan

28 ALUMNI + GIVING new alumni director | class notes | Speakman’s legacy | Mardell Christello McClurkin ’58 | alumni-run magazine | Mike DeSanto ’08 | new Foundation website | Fred Davis III ’70



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From the Chancellor

Bell Tower Fall/Winter 2010 Volume 1, Number 2

A Place You Can Be Proud Of

The University of Arkansas – Fort Smith

CHANCELLOR Paul B. Beran, Ph.D.




EDITOR Zack Thomas

CONTRIBUTORS Bobby Ampezzan, Erica Buneo, Liz Synder, Leslie Yingling



Working the chow line at the Alumni Weekend pancake breakfast, where senior staff did the serving.

coordinators for regional receptions in their hometowns. Others wanted to know how they could help with next year’s event. And all had a great time catching up with each other and their University. What we’ve learned over the last few years is that an institution’s alumni are more important even than we imagined. Without you—even a single one of you— this University would not be exactly what it is today. We honor you for that, and in everything we do, we strive to make this a place you can be as proud of as we are.

John Sizing

ADVISORY BOARD Dr. Paul B. Beran, Chancellor; Dr. Ray Wallace, Provost; Dr. Marta M. Loyd, Vice Chancellor for University Advancement; Dr. Arleene Breaux, Vice Chancellor for University Relations; Dr. Lee Krehbiel, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs; Anne Thomas, Development Officer


hen I arrived at the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith in 2006, I was surprised to find that, although our Foundation was communicating with a number of former students, there was no organized alumni association. Changing that was high on my priority list as a new Chancellor. We hired our first Director of Alumni Affairs, Anne Thomas, and started the long process of tracking down all 48,000 of you and building a community that each of you can feel like you’re a part of—whether you attended Fort Smith Junior College, Westark, or UA Fort Smith; whether you got your technical certificate and went to work, finished your associate degree and transferred, or earned a four-year degree; whether you came here as a studious 18-year-old, an athlete with D1 aspirations, or a working adult taking night classes toward a better life. That process has been intensely rewarding. We’ve created a highly interactive online community, a variety of young alumni programming, a student alumni association, and an alumni travel program. Early this year, we hosted a series of regional receptions in Tulsa, Dallas, and Northwest Arkansas, and we’re looking forward to them again this winter. In April, we debuted Bell Tower, edited by Zack Thomas. And just before this issue went to print, we marked another major milestone—our first-ever Alumni Weekend on campus, spearheaded by Elizabeth Underwood, our new Director of Alumni Affairs. Far more rewarding than what we consider our accomplishments, though, is the reception we’ve had from you. During Alumni Weekend, I heard several folks say things like, “Next year, I’m bringing 10 people!” Others volunteered to serve as local

BELL TOWER is published semi-annually by the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith Alumni

Association, P.O. Box 3649, Fort Smith, AR 72913,

for alumni, friends, and faculty of the University. Tel: (877) 303-8237. Email: Web:

SEND ADDRESS CHANGES, requests to receive Bell Tower, and requests to be removed from the

mailing list to or UA Fort Smith Alumni Association, P.O. Box 3649, Fort Smith, AR 72913.

LETTERS ARE WELCOME, but the Publisher reserves the right to edit letters for length and

content. Space constraints may prevent publication of all letters. Anonymous letters will not be

published. Send letters to belltower@uafortsmith. edu or Bell Tower Magazine, P.O. Box 3649, Fort Smith, AR 72913.

Views and opinions expressed in Bell Tower do not

PAUL B. BERAN, Ph.D. Chancellor

necessarily reflect those of the magazine staff or advisory board nor of the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith.

Contents ©2010 by the University of Arkansas –

Find Us on the Web!

Can’t wait six months for your next issue of Bell Tower? Visit us at for exclusive web-only content!


BELL TOWER fall/winter 2010

Fort Smith.

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@Belltowermag A GOOD MAN On August 27, 1951, I returned from Korea and was separated from active duty with the Army. I immediately returned to Fort Smith and enrolled in Fort Smith Junior College. When I was enrolling, Dr. [E.T.] Vines inquired whether I would be interested in earning a little money. The next week a group of men and I went to the old glider plant off Midland Boulevard and began transferring furniture, mostly desks and tables, to the college. These had been stored at the empty plant temporarily while the college was renovated. It is hard to believe the difference between the college then and UA Fort Smith as it exists today. Dr. Vines would be so proud of the progress that has been made. He was a good man and a hard worker. It was sad that he died an untimely death. JIM MOSELEY ’52 Fort Smith

enough to figure out how to make coffee in the lab beakers! After all, isn’t the proper combination of ground coffee, water, and temperature just applied chemistry? Similar dormer windows were also on the back of the building overlooking the parking area. I recall looking out those windows and watching the girl who would become my wife park her car and head into

building I can remember was the Fine Arts Building [today’s Ballman-Speer] where I took Art History, taught by James “Pete” Howard. DON RUTH ’69 Temple, Tex. What a nice surprise to receive the first issue of Bell Tower! On the back cover, you asked for memories of Old Main. I attended FSJC from 1960-62. Old Main creaked and

OLD MAIN MEMORIES During night school in 1957-58, chemistry was taught in the top-floor attic of the Old Main building. There were probably only six or eight of us in the class, several of whom were also GIs from Fort Chaffee. Our instructor was just a couple of years older than we were. His teaching approach was, “Guys, we aren’t going to the next chapter until everyone gets the one we’re working on. We don’t have to be at the end of the book by the end of the semester.” We indeed learned and were bright

Old Main in the 1960s, with Holt in the foreground and the Fine Arts Building (today’s Ballman-Speer) between.

Tom Fullerton’s history class, which happened to also be my next class! Thanks for the memories. HARRY FOSTER ’58 Seguin, Tex.

I attended Westark the first time in the fall of 1964, and I remember taking Freshman English taught by Betsy Altman and Economics taught by Mrs. Pryor in the Old Main building. I can still hear the wooden stairs squeaking. At that time, the student lounge was located at one end of a long, wooden World War II-vintage building moved from Fort Chaffee. The snack bar and bookstore were at the other end. You could buy great chili fries or “blue books,” which cost 5¢. The only other brick Card games in the “surplus” student lounge, 1963.

groaned and its windows could be opened and closed! Most students attended a variety of classes in that building and then descended the wide front steps into the world. In a future issue, I would very much like to know more about and see photos of the buildings on campus. Keep up the good work! PHYLLIS YOUNG ’62 Lawton, Okla.

WHAT’S ON YOUR MIND? We’d love to hear from you! Tell us what you think of the magazine, respond to an article, suggest an idea for a future issue, or ask us whatever burning question comes to mind. Email your letter to or mail it to Bell Tower Magazine, P.O. Box 3649, Fort Smith, AR 72913.





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Strategic Plan Formalizes Top Nurse Fort Smith University’s Priorities, Direction

JUST BEFORE THE start of the fall semester, Chancellor Paul B. Beran rolled out UA Fort Smith’s Five Year Strategic Plan: 2010 – 2015 in an evening presentation at the Fort Smith Convention Center. Eighteen months in the making and incorporating input from across the university and the community, the plan sets forth UA Fort Smith’s mission and vision and formally directs all the activities and resources of the institution toward fulfilling them. UA Fort Smith’s vision is to “be a premier regional university connecting education with careers.” Its mission is to “prepare students to succeed in an ever-changing

global world while advancing economic development and quality of place.” The plan calls for the mission to be accomplished by concentrating on six priorities, which are in turn supported by 24 initiatives and more than 100 specific action steps. “We will use [the plan] to set funding priorities, to make decisions about a multitude of topics, to drive growth that is sure to happen in a reasonable and sustainable way,” Beran says. “It will be a bedrock from which other plans are made.” MORE ONLINE: See the plan at

I never learned anything from talking. Learn to listen; you might be surprised what you hear.

—NEAL PENDERGRAFT, attorney, entrepreneur, cattleman, and musician, speaking at a May 8 commencement ceremony


BELL TOWER fall/winter 2010



Chancellor Paul B. Beran

WHITNEY WEBB ’10 isn’t one of those people who decided in second grade what they wanted to be. In fact, she didn’t really figure it out until well into her college career, when she transferred to UA Fort Smith in 2007, chucked her pre-dental major, and entered the brand-new Bachelor of Science in Nursing program. It was clearly the right decision. Three years later, Webb, carrying a perfect 4.0, was named one of the top five nursing students in the nation as part of the Student Nurse of the Year competition sponsored by StuNurse magazine. The honor is based on academic performance, community involvement, and dedication to the nursing profession. “I’m really loving what I’m doing,” she says of her new job in the ACE (acute care of the elderly) unit at Washington Regional in Fayetteville. “I love helping people. That’s where I get my high, just taking care of somebody like I’d want to be taken care of.” Remarkably, Webb was a member of the BSN program’s first graduating class. “I actually had to wait a semester for the bachelor’s program to start,” she says. “But it was worth it. I was looking for the best nursing program I could get into, and when I visited UA Fort Smith I was just blown away. The technology was amazing, and the teachers were just excellent. They’ve really invested something.”



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points of pride Spotlight Artist In March, Jazz Band Director Dr. Ryan Gardner was named Spotlight Artist of 2010 by Music for Autism (M4A), an international nonprofit that enriches the lives of autistic children through autism-friendly, interactive concerts. The concerts are held in roomy halls that allow audiences to respond freely to the music through spontaneous dance and movement in an environment that celebrates individual differences. Additionally, the music itself may have a significant therapeutic effect, according to researchers. The Spotlight Artist honor is reserved for “extraordinarily talented and gifted musicians who have made a significant commitment to supporting the work of M4A and aided in the charity’s expansion.” Hear Gardner perform at

An April unveiling ceremony drew hundreds to meet Numa.

Gold Medal Design


ON A GORGEOUS, BREEZY APRIL While Numa may be the first major afternoon at the Stubblefield Center, UA commissioned outdoor sculpture on Fort Smith and the Fort Smith community the UA Fort Smith campus, he won’t be were first introduced to Numa, a 15-foot, the last. The UA Fort Smith Foundation 2,000-pound bronze sculpture commisrecently created the Numa Society to sioned with funds from estate gifts made help raise funds for additional pieces. by Pearl D. Raney and Sally McSpadden Fifty charter members were invited to Boreham. give $3,000 each (or pledge $3,000 Numa is intended not only to serve as over three years) to be used specifa dramatic embodiment of the University’s ically for sculpture. Of those, 37 charter spirit and culture, a piece around which memberships remain available. traditions will be built, but also as a showAs a commemorative gift, charter piece and symbol for the greater Fort Smith members will receive one of only 50 community, to which UA Fort Smith owes limited-edition, numbered bronze so much gratitude for more than eight maquettes—miniatures of Numa decades of support. on black granite bases. Contact the Over the years, the University’s mascot, Foundation at (479) 788-7020 or like the institution it represents, has taken to a variety of forms. They have ranged from learn more. snuggly to savage, realistic to modernistic, but Numa is hands-down the most imposing incarnation in UA Fort Smith’s 82-year history. Stop by the corner of Waldron Road and Kinkead Avenue for a quick visit next time you’re in the area.


Numa Says HELLO

Erica Buneo’s elegantly simple logo for the fictional Dos Gatos Inn & Spa, created for Travis Brown’s Identity Design course, won a gold award in the Fort Smith ADDYs (the American Advertising Federation’s awards program), then a silver in the regional competition, and finally one of just 16 student golds in the national ADDYs. Buneo earned her associate degree in May 2009 and is on track to graduate with a bachelor’s in 2011. Surprisingly, she got interested in design only after earning a bachelor’s in history in 1992 and then working for 10 years in publishing and law. She still has her research and writing skills, though; in fact, she contributed two stories to this issue of Bell Tower.

Superior Skills

Graphic design major Lois LaBuda and IT major Dennis Guzman both brought home bronze medals from the SkillsUSA National Championships in Kansas City in June. LaBuda was third in the postsecondary Advertising Design contest and Guzman third in post-secondary Computer Maintenance Technology. Twenty-two other students from UA Fort Smith and the Western Arkansas Technology Center (a UA Fort Smith program for area high school students) earned awards in categories ranging from Welding Fabrication to Medical Math and Prepared Speech to 3D Visualization and Animation. The SkillsUSA Championship draws some 6,000 of the country’s best career and technical students, who compete in more than 90 events.

‘Visionary Leadership’

Dr. Carolyn Mosley, dean of the College of Health Sciences, was inducted recently as

(continued on page 7)





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On the Mark Air rifle club finishes fourth in nation HERE’S THE GAME: stand still as a statue while supporting an 11-pound rifle with your off hand, its stock pressed against your cheek. Through the rear peep sight, steady the front sight over a dot roughly the size of the end of a mechanical pencil lead. At 10 meters, you can’t actually see it—not even close—so just visualize it there at the center of the black target circle. Now draw and hold a breath, clear your mind of everything but the sight-picture—whatever you do, don’t over-think it— and squeeze the trigger with robot precision. In a match, members of the Lion Rifles, UA Fort Smith’s air rifle club, make 60 of these shots each over the course of an hour and forty-five min-

Precision shooting is ultimately a mental game, but heavy, stiff clothing and 11-pound rifles make it more physically demanding than it looks.

utes. It demands monolithic focus, intense concentration, and a surprising amount of physical stamina. In addition to raising and holding the rifle, shooters wear heavy, stiff pants, jackets, and gloves—imagine a whole outfit like a dentist’s x-ray apron—to help steady themselves. This spring, at the first-ever national championship for collegiate club teams—as opposed to NCAA varsity teams—the Lion

Ten-meter air rifle targets (above, shown actual size) are almost comically small.

Rifles finished fourth, behind Clemson, University of Michigan, and Illinois State, but ahead of the likes of Michigan State and Purdue. Their top-scorer, Morgan Welch, shot 535 out of a possible 600, averaging a hair under nine points per shot. The ninepoint ring, by the way, is about the size of a small pea. Shooting at the time for Northeastern State University’s ROTC team, new Lion Rifles member Kelli Trammell, who transferred to UA Fort Smith this year, shot a remarkable 561, the fourth best score in the championship.


Exceptional Professors


BELL TOWER fall/winter 2010


THE PUSH BY Randy Wewers ’58 to recognize Lucille Speakman and other revered faculty members (see p. 29) got us wondering which professors you all remember most fondly. The names of some of them—Luella Krehbiel, Dr. Sidney Blakely (left, celebrating accreditation by the North Central Association), Dr. Hattie Mae Butterfield, Tom Fullerton, and of course, Speakman—are woven deeply into the University’s history. But there are of course hundreds of other UA Fort Smith faculty members who made the same kind of impressions on their own students—who showed them how to see things in ways they’d never considered before, or worked with them outside the classroom when they needed a boost, or administered a healthy dose of reality when it was called for, or steered them in a new direction that turned out to be exactly right. Did you take a class from one of those exceptional professors? Tell us about it, and we’ll share your story in the next issue. Mail to or Bell Tower Magazine, P.O. Box 3649, Fort Smith, AR 72913.



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Art Department Retrospective IN EARLY OCTOBER, UA FORT SMITH opened its largest-ever exhibit of alumni art, curated by longtime art professor Don Lee and including painting, drawing, photography, sculpture, and design by 25 artists who studied at UA Fort Smith (or Westark) between 1972 and 2006. Among the works shown: Junichi, metallic fabric and dye, by Arlene Wilson ’88, one of the first Westark graduates to go on to a top-tier art school (Rhode Island School of Design) and who later studied under famed textile designer Junichi Arai in Japan; Economy Folding Table and accompanying oil-on-canvas paintings by Kevin Arnold ’99, who also went on to the Rhode Island School of Design, earning his MFA in 2010, and who currently teaches at UA Fort Smith as an adjunct faculty member; an untitled pencil sketch by Brad Neely ’97, creator of the web series Baby Cakes and The Professor Brothers, who has consulted on two seasons of South Park and is now developing his own animated TV series for Fox; and Fragments in Green, oil and damar on canvas, by Michael Moss ’96, who now paints full-time in a 100-year-old building in San Antonio that he plans to open soon as a gallery.

a fellow in the National League for Nursing’s Academy of Nursing Education. Academy fellows are nurses who have made “enduring and substantial contributions to nursing education” and are expected to “continue to provide visionary leadership in nursing education.” Mosley is one of just 19 new fellows nationwide inducted this year. “They serve as important role models to anyone aspiring to make a difference in nursing education,” says NLN President Cathleen M. Shultz, “and ultimately to the delivery of healthcare in the U.S.”

Prize Writer Tanya Gentry ’09 took first place in the Informal Essay category of an undergraduate writing contest associated with this year’s Southern Literary Festival, held at the Mississippi University for Women in Columbus. The essay, “Jenny’s Café,” originally appeared in the 2009 issue of Applause, UA Fort Smith’s annual creative arts magazine (which celebrated its twentieth anniversary this year). Six Applause staffers attended the conference and accepted the award for Gentry. Since 1937, the Festival has been hosted annually by members of a broad coalition of Southern colleges and universities. Read Gentry’s essay at belltower.

Chapter Record

Junichi, Wilson ’88


Economy Folding Table, Arnold ’99

In July, members of UA Fort Smith’s chapter of Phi Beta Lambda—the national organization for students preparing for careers in business—received a total of 15 awards at PBL’s National Leadership Conference, leading the state of Arkansas for total number of awards received by a chapter and setting a school record for number of awards at a PBL national conference. Students competed in disciplines like impromptu speaking, financial services, hospitality management, international business, and accounting. More than 1,700 students attended the conference in Nashville.

Mark of Distinction

UA Fort Smith’s College of Education earned high marks from a board of examiners sent to campus in April by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education. NCATE accreditation—a mark of distinction the College has held since 2005—indicates that a program has undergone rigorous external review by professionals and that its students are ready to handle the demands of the classroom from day one. That’s no secret to school principals throughout the region, who snap up UA Fort Smith-trained teachers as fast as the university can produce them.

Fragments in Green, Moss ’96 untitled, Neely ’97





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Information Technology, 1970-present

SOMETIME IN THE EARLY 1970s— no one recalls exactly when—state Rep. B.G. Hendrix heard that Strauss Distributors, Inc. in Little Rock was buying a new computer, and talked the company into donating its old punch-card setup to Westark. Hendrix and Westark President Shelby Breedlove borrowed a pickup and drove to Little Rock, where they were photographed with Strauss’s Jake Barrow before hauling the World War II-era monster back to campus.

A lot has changed since then. Today, via the new Arkansas Research and Education Optical Network (ARE-ON), UA Fort Smith boasts data transfer rates of around 10 gigabits per second. For perspective, that means a typical 5 GB, DVD-quality motion picture downloads in around four seconds. A new “cloud-based” computing system incorporates highly redundant virtual servers that are connected via a 10 gigabit network to shared, centrally managed storage in excess of 30 terabytes (about 30 billion kilobytes, or roughly 500 million printed pages worth of information). New “thin clients” replace bulky PC workstations across campus. In the cloud model, these “thin” workstations— which use less energy, The IBM Type 31 run cooler, and hold up key punch on the left better than PCs—serve in the photo translated Forty years after B.G. Hendrix and primarily as portals to the letters and numbers Shelby Breedlove (top, left and right) “cloud” itself, where data entered via the keyscored a hand-me-down punch-card is stored and processed. board into patterns of system for Westark, cutting-edge That means techs no holes punched in stiff “thin clients” (above) are replacing longer have to visit indipaper cards. The other PCs across campus. vidual workstations; punch, which nearly instead, updates—new applications, for hid Breedlove in the photo, could duplicate example—can be “cloned out” to hundreds existing cards and punch out pencil marks of workstations within a matter of hours. to create new cards.

SNAPSHOT “It’s right in the middle of town, but it’s kind of like you’re in a different world when you’re there on the grounds,” says junior English major Leslie Hassel (second from right) of Rowan Oak, the 32-acre estate where William Faulkner lived and wrote in Oxford, Mississippi. Getting a firsthand glimpse of that world helped Hassel and other students in a Maymester course called “Faulkner’s Mississippi” come to better terms with the author’s famously


BELL TOWER fall/winter 2010

challenging work. “Just seeing what he saw when he was writing,” says Hassel, “made his work come alive.” Rowan Oak has been preserved exactly as it was in Faulkner’s time—a sort of Graceland of American literature. And although Faulkner would have trouble recognizing much of Oxford, its old courthouse square remains surprisingly reminiscent of Jefferson, seat of the fictional Yoknapatawpha County, where much of Faulkner’s work was set. MORE ONLINE: Check out the video the class made about their trip to Oxford at



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Nursing (online completer for RNs) Applied Science Biology w/ Life/Earth Science Teacher Licensure Middle Childhood Education: Math and Science Mathematics: Teacher Licensure Music Education Law Enforcement Administration Crime Scene Investigation



Chemistry w/ Physical/Earth Science Teacher Licensure Administrative Professional and Office Technology Imaging Sciences: Management Imaging Sciences: Diagnostic Medical Sonography History/Historical Interpretation (discontinued 2009) Biology Chemistry English w/ 7-12 Teacher Licensure History w/ 7-12 Social Studies Teacher Licensure Mathematics Early Childhood Education



Workforce Leadership History English Music Psychology Rhetoric and Writing


Graphic Design Criminal Justice Criminal Justice Middle Childhood Ed.: English Lang. Arts/Social Studies Nursing Spanish Spanish w/ 7-12 Teacher Licensure


Marketing (reconfigured as BBA 2009)


Studio Art Theatre Organizational Leadership

Minor Minor Minor Minor Minor Minor Minor Minor BBA BBA BBA Minor Minor Minor Minor Minor Minor Minor Minor Minor Minor Minor Minor Minor

Business Administration English Creative Writing History Mathematics Psychology Spanish Speech Accounting Marketing Business Administration Historical Interpretation Biology Chemistry Criminal Justice IT-Database Technology IT-Web Development Music Philosophy Political Science Rhetoric and Writing Sociology Studio Art Theatre

Minor BA TC BS

Anthropology Media Communication Diesel Technology Animation Technology (pending)


Liberal Arts (discontinued 2010) Early Childhood Education Accounting (reconfigured as BBA 2009) Business Administration (reconfigured as BBA 2009) Associate of Fine Arts (discontinued 2007) Information Technology IT: Web Development and Networking IT: Networking


New Programs Come Online



Majors and Minors Added, 2002 – 2010

majors, minors, certificates OVER THE LAST THREE YEARS, UA Fort Smith has added bachelor’s programs in theatre, organizational leadership (a “completer” program for working adults who have already completed lower-division courses), studio art, and, most recently, a bachelor’s in media communication and a technical certificate in diesel technology. Provost Ray Wallace spoke to us about how programs make the cut, what else is on the horizon, and the happy coexistence of studio art and diesel technology on a single campus. What we’re looking at: We look to see where there’s an

obvious gap in our offerings, where we have enough faculty and enough resources to offer something different that is in demand. There’s a fine line, though. Let’s say we had demand for a major in philosophy. While in and of itself an important major, it doesn’t really fit with our role, scope, and mission. When we look at a program, what we’re looking at is not only the academic rigor and importance of the subject, but also its marketability within the community, state, and beyond. Down the road: In the College of Applied Science and Technology, there are faculty members working on an animation technology degree. It will be an exciting program, but we wanted to research it fully. With the downturn in the economy, I can’t agree that something go forward until I’m absolutely certain that it will help our students find work. We’re also beginning to look more closely at graduate programs in healthcare administration and nursing. Down the road, we’ll be looking at graduate education programs. Smart programs: Completer programs [like the BSOL and the Bachelor of Applied Science] are very smart—smart for an area and for a state that don’t have as many four-year degree recipients as they could. And there’s another way of looking at it. We’ve got a better chance of graduating, say, a working 32-year-old with two semesters to go than we do of graduating an 18-year-old with four or five years to go. We can help that person probably stay in the area, maybe get a promotion, and at the same time graduate from us. A good indicator: The fact that we’re adding programs as divergent as studio art and diesel technology is a good indicator of what we are. We haven’t lost sight of our two-year and our certificate programs, even as we’ve begun to offer more courses in the sciences and the liberal arts. That’s what a university should be—a growing, vibrant entity—and that’s what this is.

2008 ’07 2006

Demand drives steady addition of





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The Next Big Step UA Fort Smith plans major library addition

Extensive south-facing glass on the planned library addition will flood the interior with natural light. The existing library is visible at far right in this view from near the light at Waldron and Alabama.

IN 1987, WHEN IT was completed, today’s Boreham Library was a state-of-theart facility—29,000 square feet of soundproofed, humidity-controlled, student-centric real estate complete with spanking-new CD-ROM technology, and, not long after it opened, an automated checkout system to

replace the old manually stamped cards. But things have changed in the intervening 23 years, and UA Fort Smith—now primarily a four-year institution with twice the number of students it had in 1987—has outgrown its library. Raising funds to expand the current


BELL TOWER fall/winter 2010

In 1985, Westark’s administration set aside $2.6 million for a new library (below) that was completed in 1987. It was named several years later, when Roland and Sally Boreham gave $1 million to create an endowment for purchasing books and equipment. Remarkably, librarian Wilma Cunningham kept the library in operation throughout the transition, even as maintenance workers, students, and volunteers trundled tens of thousands of volumes between the two buildings on dozens of book carts borrowed from public school libraries.


This isn’t the first time that the institution now known as UA Fort Smith has outgrown a library. After Fort Smith Junior College moved to Grand and Waldron in 1952, its 6,000-volume collection was crammed into a single small room in the Administration Building. It wasn’t ideal, but with only about 100 students, it was tolerable. By the late ’50s, though, with enrollment topping 500, the one-room library was no longer cutting it, and administrators started planning a new one. Completed in 1960, the Holt Library (left) was named to honor the parents of donor Melanie Holt Speer, who gave $50,000 toward it. Holt served well for two decades, but by the ’80s it was full to bursting with 40,000 volumes. Its other shortcomings— a cranky ventilation system, echoing tile floors, noisy steel shelving built by welding students—were made worse by the crowding.

library was one of five designated priorities of the UA Fort Smith Foundation’s current capital campaign, and preliminary plans were unveiled this fall. Those plans show a roughly 40,000 square-foot addition along the south side of Boreham with what looks like several acres of south-facing glass to flood the stacks and reading areas with natural light. A dramatic tower marks the entrance at the southwest corner, where wide stairs face the Reynolds Bell Tower and the Campus Green. Impressive as the renderings are, the plans are equally so. They call for increasing total seating from 384 to 920, including 214 computer stations, and creating space for roughly 52,000 new volumes. A 24-hour study area and computer lab welcome night-owls, and an on-site café serves coffee, refreshments, and snacks. The addition will also house the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Resource Center, a complex of high-tech teleconferencing spaces, conference rooms, mentoring and instructional rooms, team work rooms, and interactive presentation venues available for community use and devoted to advancing economic development in the region— a key part of UA Fort Smith’s mission.



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Dr. Ragupathy Kannan When the ornithology world was abuzz in 2006 with news that an ivory-billed woodpecker—thought extinct for over 60 years—had been sighted in the swamps of eastern Arkansas, biology professor and Fulbright scholar Ragupathy Kannan was part of a team of crack birders hand-picked by Cornell researchers to wade in after it. Although the team didn’t turn up the conclusive evidence it wanted, Kannan reveled in simply being there—paddling


Your gut feeling—is there any ivorybilled woodpecker out there?

Yes. We have very clear evidence from the Choctawhatchee River basin in the panhandle of Florida. There are huge, circular holes in the trees, and there’s not another creature in North America that consistently makes such big, perfectly circular holes. And the bird has been seen again and again by professors like me. So yes, but the question is, is it a viable population? That’s what we conservationists worry about. Of course, until we get a photo, the skeptics have every right to keep questioning the existence of this bird, re-appearing from the woods after 65 years of oblivion.


You’ve visited some of the planet’s most spectacular landscapes and ecosystems. What’s the most aweinspiring place you’ve seen?

My field site in the southern Western Ghats [a mountain range running along India’s west coast] is one of the most spectacular places on earth, not only because of the lush rainforest and the landscape—the sheer beauty of it all—but also the thrill of working there in tiger and elephant and king cobra country. I had many a thrilling encounter


Q 5 the labyrinthine bayous, slogging through boot-sucking mud, sidestepping cottonmouths, spending whole sweltering days in tree-blinds, living on trail mix and PB&J. That enthusiasm for field work—especially in the speciesrich tropics—has a way of infecting Kannan’s students, particularly during his popular Maymester field biology courses in the Caribbean and Central America. “You just show the passion,” he says, “and they get hooked.”

with wildlife, including two close encounters with tigers. There are also hundreds of tribal villages there, and they are the most simple, most primitive, most happy, most wonderful people on earth.


How do we draw the line between species that are naturally expanding their ranges and species that are “invasive?”

A natural expansion of range is not humancaused. In our global peregrinations, we’ve introduced species that we shouldn’t have. And we are causing climate change—that’s the consensus among most scientists. Because of that, some species are expanding in their ranges. Unfortunately, they have to be controlled. Since we know that these are bad things that we shouldn’t do, we should at least try to offset the negative consequences. We messed with it, so let’s fix it.


In simple terms, what does “biodiversity” mean and why does it matter?

It’s simply the plethora of life out there—not just the species, but also their interactions among themselves and with the planet. So what we’re looking at is an entire picture,

like an intricately woven tapestry. You can’t pull out one thread—“oh, it’s just one species, who cares”—and expect the tapestry not to fall apart. Why do we have to conserve biodiversity? We are one of those threads. There is no law in nature that says what happens to the frogs, for example, cannot happen to us. Frog species are now becoming extinct in large numbers all over the world. We are all susceptible, and we’d better be careful.


If you had a group of first-timers you wanted to “hook” on birding, where in Arkansas would you take them and when?

You don’t have to go far to see great birds. Start at the local parks—Tilles, Creekmore, Frog Bayou—in the first week of May. That’s when hordes of colorful neotropical migrants—birds that winter in South and Central America—are passing by on their way to the boreal forests of Canada. I take my students and play a recording of a painted bunting at Lee Creek near Van Buren. The painted buntings come because they think it’s a rival male, and the students go ecstatic. They are stunning birds— arguably the most beautiful in the world.





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Sense of Place


5 2


MATH-SCIENCE 240: the Anatomy and Physiology Lab The roomy, modern A&P Lab was created just last year by knocking out a wall between two existing classrooms—the Riley “Pop” Donoho and A. Curtis Goldtrap Classrooms, officially speaking. It’s one of four new labs in the Math-Science building opened in response to big enrollment increases for the College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math—an 8% jump from fall 2008 to fall 2009 and another 11% in fall 2010. 1. Behavioral ecologist: “I had my own lit-

tle microscope growing up,” says Dr. Amy Skypala, “because I was a nerd.” Whether the nerd shoe still fits is up for debate, but she never strayed far from the microscope, majoring in zoology at Oklahoma, earning her Ph.D. at UNC-Chapel Hill while researching parental care in mockingbirds, and then, as a post-doc at Montana Tech in


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Butte, slogging through the snow catching deer mice potentially infected with deadly hantavirus. At UA Fort Smith, where she’s starting her fifth year, Skypala was chosen in August by students as one of three “namesakes” for Cub Camp, the welcome program for incoming freshmen. Namesakes—essentially mascots for camp groups—are picked to exem-

plify the characteristics students most admire in faculty and staff. High praise for an erstwhile nerd. 2. BIOL 1521: Most students in Anatomy and Physiology I and the co-requisite lab course are taking them as requirements for admission to one of the health sciences programs. Most of the rest are biology majors planning to go on to medical or pharmacy school—or taking the course simply for lower-level elective credit. They learn about the structure and function of skeletal, muscular, digestive, and reproductive systems as well as cellular structure and general body organization. Students in A&P II, a direct continuation of A&P I, also use the lab, as do students in Basic A&P, a less in-depth, single-semester course. So it’s a very busy place, with classes in session 28 hours a week during fall 2010.




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3. Torso models: They’re not weird or creepy, even with their gritted teeth and single, staring eyes. Really. What they are is incredibly expensive—in the neighborhood of $5,000 apiece. (“I’m totally in the wrong line of work for using my biological knowledge,” says Skypala.) Fortunately, the price includes three interchangeable genitalia attachments—female, male, and a Barbie doll-ish “neuter,” which isn’t the least bit creepy either. Their makers consider them “unique works of art,” says Skypala, which presents a problem, since their many parts— lungs, hearts, digestive tracts, and so on— aren’t necessarily interchangeable. 4. Extremity models: “The thing about the legs that can be challenging for students,” says Skypala, “is that they’re all left legs. And the pictures in our book are generally of right legs. I tell them, ‘When you’re a

doctor or a nurse, you don’t get to specialize in just one side of the body. Don’t worry about right and left. Just think medial [toward the middle] and lateral [toward the sides], and you’ll be okay.’” Curiously, the arms are all rights. 5. Ethel: The university’s only real human skeleton, affectionately known as Ethel, was originally given to the art department sometime in the early ’70s by nuns from St. Anne’s Academy. Later, the art department gave her (it?) to biological sciences. Along the way, says Skypala, “Ethel has obviously seen some hard times.” She’s missing one lower leg, for instance, and her skull is stored separately. A few years back, a Cherokee student in an A&P lab performed a purification ritual on Ethel with smoke from white sage “smudge sticks” fanned onto the bones with a feather.

6. Microscopes: A&P I begins with histology—the study of tissues—which students examine under the lab’s compound microscopes. Unlike the microscope Skypala remembers from her nerd-ish formative years, which had an adjustable mirror for illumination, these have electric light sources. “They’re pretty nice,” she says, with maybe just a hint of proprietorship. “I try to remind the students a lot to make sure they handle them correctly and store them correctly.” 7. Cleaning supplies: There’s no dissection in A&P I lab, but there is in A&P II, where students dissect sheep eyes, brains and other goodies that are collected when the animals are slaughtered and then sold by scientific supply companies that deliver them in big white buckets. Inevitably, there’s some splatter. Pass the paper towels, please.





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What’s in a Name

ed the yearbook to Fullerton, writing, “For being an outstanding promoter of education when it is the hope of the world; for the interest he has shown in each individual student; for sponsoring the Student Board and the Freshman class; for his willingness to help the students in anything they undertake; for his easygoing manner that spreads a friendly warmth to everyone; for chaperoning our parties; we offer our thanks, our sincere admiration, and this yearbook.” In 1958, Fullerton succeeded Dr. E. T. Vines as dean of the college. He would serve as dean until his death in 1965 at the age of 56. In a tribute to Fullerton in the 1965 yearbook, his friend Pete Howard wrote, “Our dean was a slow man. He talked that way. He moved that way. He hated his office, but was there every day. Then you’d see him moving quietly around the campus, conversing with students and teachers … Each of us will remember many things about him. All good.” Just five years after his death, in 1970, the Fullerton Union, now the Fullerton Administration Building, was named in his honor. The building replaced the former student union, an old barracks from Fort Chaffee, where Fullerton liked to check in with students. Susie Fullerton Smith, the oldest of Fullerton’s four children, lives in Fort Smith and enjoys meeting locals who knew her father. “Still today,” she says, “I run into people who say my father was the most influential person in their lives,” she says. —Leslie Yingling

Fullerton Administration Building

Tom Fullerton (right) in 1964. Six years later, a new student union building was named in his honor and served as the center of social life on campus (above) until 2001, when a new campus center was opened and the Fullerton building was remodeled to house the university’s administrative offices.


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IN HIS MID-30s, Tom Fullerton—a school principal with a wife and four children—lined up alongside 17- and 18-yearolds and enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps to help with the World War II effort. In the end, it was only a minor detour from a career committed to students; the Army sent him to the College of William & Mary, where he was trained to teach on troop ships to help prepare young soldiers for what they’d encounter abroad. Back home after the war, Fullerton joined the faculty at Fort Smith Junior College in 1953. He taught social studies and coached basketball, and in his second year was named dean of men. By all accounts, Fullerton was kind and approachable, a lively teacher and a friendly colleague, the kind of man who liked to share a conversation and a smoke. Students’ recollections of Fullerton paint him as good-humored, offering generous help and forgiving reprimands. In 1956, the editors of the Numa dedicat-



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Dr. Rager Moore, Choral Director/Farmer



“That’s when you hope your cattle were on the north side, on the high ground,” Moore says, “and after everything dries out, you come back and you’re fixing fence for a couple of weeks.” It’s hard, never-finished work, but not without its perks. There’s the satisfaction, for instance, of growing and making much of what you need— good, grass-fed beef, sun-ripe vegetables, drinking water pumped straight from the spring down the hill, boards and beams milled at a little open-air sawmill on the property, houses and barns raised by the hands of family and friends. Beyond that, though, there’s the sense of almost-transcendence that comes with getting so close to a place. Rattling around every day in his banged-up half-ton Dodge, Moore falls into a certain harmony with this tangled, half-wild bit of land—its weather and seasons and moods, its possums and deer and ticks and copperheads, wild mint along the field edges and dogwoods in the April sunlight, rusting relics of other times and other lives turning slowly back to dirt, clear springs littered around with flint tools left by people who couldn’t have imagined cows, let alone Dodge pickups. “You get out here driving around the farm,” Moore says, “checking the cows, just reflecting ... it’s a kind of worshipping.”

“You always have some barbed wire with you … and if you see something that needs to be fixed, you stop and fix it.”


t’s another good hay year on the 300-acre farm Rager Moore runs with his brothers-inlaw outside Prairie Grove, and the herd is living easy—grazing on sweet grass, laying up in the oak-shaded glades, cooling off in the ponds, even enjoying an occasional vocal performance. “I still sing to ’em every now and then,” says Moore. “When I was in college and working on this place, I’d sing ’em my literature all the time. I’d be on a tractor or in the truck, out here by myself, so I’d practice that way—just singing to the cows. They thought I was nuts.” No matter how good life gets for cows, though, they never transcend that basic cow compulsion to break through fences. So they spend much of their cow free time cruising the perimeter of the farm, a gang of lumbering jailbirds bent on escape. Keeping them in makes up a big part of Moore’s work on the farm. “You always have some barbed wire with you,” he says, “always have a pair of gloves, always have a fencing tool, always have a fence stretcher, and if you see something that needs to be fixed, you stop and fix it.” At least a couple times a year, the Illinois River— “a living organism,” Moore calls it—undoes much of that fencing work, breaking out of its banks and roiling over the bottomland, turbid and deadly.

Dr. Rager Moore on the farm.





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Lions Lowdown


Womack Awards Honor Athletes with Top Grades

Lady Lions star Emily Singleton went 24-7 last season and in September won the Women’s Open division of the Fort Smith Athletic Club’s City Tennis Tournament.


At the Top of Their Game

ESTABLISHED IN 2008 by Zero Mountain, Inc. president (and UA Fort Smith Foundation board member) Mark Rumsey, the Rebecca M. Womack Distinguished Athlete Awards are named for the woman Rumsey calls “his brain”: Becky Womack, vice president and secretary of the Zero Mountain board of directors since 2001. The annual awards go to the male and female Lion athletes with the highest GPAs. A dedicated, humble, and professional woman who side-steps center stage herself, Womack is the first to recognize and appreciate the qualities of leadership in others. Prior to joining Zero Mountain, she worked in the banking industry and as an assistant to Oklahoma Congressman J.C. Watts. She has also served on the the board of the Fort Smith Public Schools Foundation.

Coming off a 12-match streak, Lady Lions look dangerous


WHEN UA FORT SMITH tennis coach Bob Huckelbury goes recruiting, he probably doesn’t talk about the fact that the earliest form of the game was devised a thousand years ago, give or take, by monks as a diversion during overlong religious ceremonies. And it’s doubtful that any of his players has ever shouted a lusty “tenez!” while serving, as was the style in sixteenth-century France. Though they may be unaware of the strange origins of their sport, or that its name derives from tenez (“take that!” roughly translated from the French), the Lady Lions emerged last season as serious contenders in the Heartland Conference, capping an impressive 19-5 campaign with a 12-match winning streak. This season looks even more promising, with six veterans returning at peak performance level and rookies Amy Belanger and Whitney Hobson—both ranked among Texas’s top 50 singles players under 18—adding depth to the roster. Tenez!

Last year’s Womack Awards went to golfers Jena Morton and Ethan Adamson, with Mark Rumsey (left), Becky Womack (second from left) and Dr. Lee Krehbiel, vice chancellor for student affairs.

Lions Claim New Online Territory Stop by the brand-new for scores, stats, schedules, analysis, bios, video, photo galleries, polls, and more interactive goodies. While you’re there, sign up to receive scores via text message, subscribe to sport-specific RSS feeds, and get the inside line from AD Dustin Smith with the “Ask the Director” feature.


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The inaugural awards were presented to golfer Will Fogleman and tennis player McKenzie McCullough. Last year’s awards went to Ethan Adamson and Jena Morrow, both of coach Mark Curlett’s golf team. The presentation traditionally takes place on All-Academic Night at the Stubblefield Center during basketball season, when the athletic department recognizes all student-athletes with a 3.0 or higher. This year’s event is set for Jan. 20. —Liz Snyder



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High School Highlight Reel Three-year starter for Hackett Hornets


For Branham, a native of Hackett, the choice of 18.8 points, 6.5 rebounds, UA Fort Smith was an easy 3 steals, 4.5 assists per game one. “A lot of it had to do All-Conference, All-State, with staying home, and the All-State Tournament other half had to do with Team honors dad going here,” Branham Led Hornets to Class 2A says. “We had a bunch of state championship game talks about it. After I told him I’d like to stay home, VYPE magazine’s Tough Guy Award he encouraged me to come here. He said it was a great McDonald’s place to go.” All-American nominee Branham has played Times-Record All-Area under his father’s tutelage Player of the Year for years, including throughout his high school career, where Tim coached Blake’s team. The 6-1 point guard credits his father for giving him the confidence to believe in his abilities on the court. “One thing my dad taught me,” he says, “is that if you’re good enough, they’ll Red-shirt freshman find you.” Blake Branham and his Branham will red-shirt his first year and father Tim are UA hopes to see some tournament action in Fort Smith’s first father2012, after the Lions transition from provison athletic dynasty. sional to full membership in NCAA Division II and become eligible for post-season play in the Heartland Conference. “Next year,” says Branham, “if things look pretty good, there could be three more years after that, Freshman point guard following in father’s footsteps with hopefully great success.” And then? Branham admits going pro is a goal, but if that doesn’t work out, he’d father, Tim, played basketball at Westark FRESHMAN HOOPS STANDOUT and like to become a coach—just like his father. for legendary coach Gayle Kaundart, and history major Blake Branham made a little —Erica Buneo ’09 that makes the pair the university’s first history of his own last spring when he comfather-son athletic dynasty. mitted to playing for the Lions. Branham’s

Lion Legacy

Athletic Connections


Come summertime, you’d think UA Fort Smith’s coaches and student-athletes would put their feet up and take it easy for a bit. But you’d be wrong. Instead, they host an extensive series of summer camps for area kids—kindergartners to high school seniors—in cross country, basketball, baseball, and volleyball. Hundreds of campers a year not only tune up their running, shooting, hitting, and serving, but also, perhaps more importantly, have fun, develop selfconfidence, and get lots of one-on-one time with strong, positive role models. “Our student-athletes and coaching staff are able to connect with the youth in our community through basketball while developing skills related to both basketball and life,” says men’s basketball coach Josh Newman. Baseball coach Dale Harpenau puts it more simply: “We look for lots of smiles.”





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Teacher App “IT’S ATTRIBUTABLE IN PART TO THE fact that we’re such a young university,” says UA Fort Smith’s Laura Witherington. “When we started to develop these programs, we brought in local school partners in a very real way and listened to what they needed. It wasn’t a bunch of academics that had been here forever saying, ‘We know what’s best for schools.’ The attitude was, ‘We’re going to prepare the kind of teachers you tell us you actually need.’” The “it” she’s talking about is the remarkable achievement record of UA Fort Smith’s College of Education and, more specifically, the fact that the 100 to 120 graduates it produces each year are snapped up by area schools almost before the applause dies down at commencement—and then go on to do all kinds of amazing things in the classroom. In fact, says Witherington, who heads the Western Arkansas Education Renewal Zone headquartered at UA Fort Smith, the university is rapidly becoming the major supplier of teachers in the region. More than 10% of public school teachers in Sebastian, Crawford, and Scott counties are UA Fort Smithtrained—which doesn’t sound like much until you consider the fact that until seven years ago there was no such thing as a UA Fort Smith-trained teacher. That’s due not just to the involvement of public school partners in the development of the programs, but to an ongoing, authentic collaboration. Public school administrators and teachers are directly involved in decision-making about curricula, field placements, and more via the Teacher Education Council, which meets monthly, and through a variety of other venues for frank, direct communication about how the college can better prepare teachers. The college even goes so far as to carry out yearly “employer satisfaction surveys” of the school principals who have hired new graduates. Those surveys often elicit comments like, “…came into our school system more prepared than anyone we have had as a beginning teacher.”


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reciation Why local principals love UA

Fort Smith-trained teachers— and how the University is changing public education in the region

Text by Z AC K T H O M AS Photographs by K AT W I L S O N ’ 9 6

Local administrators aren’t the only ones that like what’s going on, though. Last year, the College of Education was named one of five finalists nationally for the American Association of State Colleges and Universities’ Christa McAuliffe Award for Excellence in Teacher Education, which honors innovative programs that show clear evidence of their graduates’ success improving learning outcomes in the classroom. Then, early this year, the college was one of just four institutions in the country to receive a 2010 Award for Outstanding Institutional Practice in Student Learning Outcomes from the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. The award recognizes excellence in articulating desired student outcomes, tracking progress toward those outcomes, and using the data collected to further improve the college—in a word, accountability. Unlike the other three winners, UA Fort Smith goes a step further, continuing to track teachers’ performance after graduation. Finally, in April, the college breezed

Alma Middle School’s UA Fort Smith-trained teachers (left to right): SARA CRAIG ’07, who worked as a medical office manager before going back to school for a bachelor’s in history with teacher licensure and now teaches 6th and 7th grade special education classes; ALICIA PEERSON ’08, who teaches 6th and 7th grade language arts; KIM DICKENS ’07, 6th and 7th grade social studies; JENNIFER AUSTIN ’08, 7th grade language arts; DAVID WILLIAMS ’05, first graduate of the biology with teacher licensure program, who worked in home improvement for years but “always wanted to be a teacher” and now teaches 8th grade science; JESSE MACY ’08, who actually teaches 10th grade English at the high school but dropped by the middle school to visit; KRISTIN FOGEL IOVINELLI ’09, 8th grade science; SAMANTHA DOOLEY ’08, 8th grade math; MEGAN DEAN ’06, 6th grade science; and AMANDA RHODES TEFF ’06, 7th grade science.





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through a rigorous external review by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, which examined every aspect of the programs and returned not a single “Area for Improvement” finding—a rare feat among education programs. The NCATE examiners also found that collaboration between the college and school partners was “Target”—its highest accolade. Pat Whorton, principal of Alma Middle School, which employs a whole crowd of UA Fort Smith-trained teachers, puts it more directly: “They put out a good product,” she says.

Degree Options Since 2002, when Westark became UA Fort Smith, the university has gradually added degree programs in the College of Education. The first bachelor’s degree offered was in Early Childhood Education, which remains a popular major. Candidates like Natasha Shoate ’09, who teaches third grade at Cavanaugh Elementary in Fort Smith, have often known since their own early childhoods what they want to do. “They’re so lovable at that age,” says Shoate, “and I love when I can see their little light bulbs go off.” It’s something she apparently sees quite a bit; in her first year, Shoate’s class had the school’s highest math scores for third-graders on a state assessment test. Robert Snyder ’09, on the other hand, is the first graduate of UA Fort Smith’s newest teacher education program, a B.S. in Spanish with teacher licensure for grades 7-12. It was while on a mission to Ciudad


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Juárez, Mexico in 2006 that Snyder decided to switch his major from English. He was hired right out of school by Har-Ber High in Springdale, where in his first year he received near-perfect scores in a survey of students. Candidates that want to teach at the secondary level can also choose to major in biology, math, chemistry, English, and history, all with licensure to teach grades 7-12. Another option is middle childhood education with an emphasis in either language arts/social studies or math/science and licensure to teach grades 4-8.

Desire and Ability Among the things public school administrators say they need from their teachers is the desire

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to work with diverse student populations—along with the ability to do so effectively. UA Fort Smith prepares students by exposing them to a wide variety of field experiences—not just traditional student teaching. Through placements like ACCESS: DESTINY, an afterschool tutoring program, candidates work with students of a wide variety of ethnicities and socio-economic groups. “That way,” says Witherington, “they know what it looks like, they’re comfortable in any situation, and often they develop the desire to help those students and go to schools they wouldn’t have otherwise.”









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Joey Berrios ’07, a 10th grade English teacher at Fort Smith’s Northside High—which has students of more ethnicities speaking more languages than any other high school in the state, along with a poverty rate of more then 70%—feels exactly that desire. “It’s rewarding,” he says, “to work with students from difficult family situations, poverty situations, and see the difference you can make, see them jump two or three grade levels in their reading skills. Sometimes students come back, and they’re in college. That’s encouraging, and that’s why I want to stay at Northside.” Berrios is just one of four UA Fort Smith-trained English teachers at Northside.

Breaking Molds Innovation is also key to excellent teaching, and James Perry ’06 breaks every mold he can. When he went to the advising


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office to change his major to early childhood education, he recalls, his advisor looked at him and said, “You know that’s all women, right?” She wasn’t exaggerating; Perry was the only man out of 60 students in the program. Now, at Sunnymede Elementary in Fort Smith, he runs what he calls “Mr. Perry’s Boot Camp,” a high-energy, camo-curtained classroom full of third-graders who never know exactly what they’re going to see next but can’t wait to see it—stuff like the “Hulk hands” to demonstrate strong verbs. In his first year teaching, Perry won the Shelby Breedlove Outstanding Young Educator Award from the Fort Smith Jaycees. And then there’s Kelly Bisby Peterson ’07, who led a sort of academic revolution at Fort Smith’s Northside High, implementing a program to increase the number of high scores on AP (Advanced Placement) exams. The effort, funded by a grant from the Arkansas Advanced Initiative for Math and Science, involves teacher training, weekend tutoring, and a variety of incentives, like pizza and door prizes at tutoring sessions. In English AP courses, where Peterson oversaw program implementation, enrollment roughly quadrupled. “Instead of saying, ‘You can take AP if you want to, but it’s going to be really hard,’” Peterson says, “we were saying, ‘Don’t you want to challenge yourself?’” The answer was yes. “The entire culture of the school changed within a year,” Peterson says. “It was amazing seeing these kids walking into that AP test with confidence in



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know I can pull ’em up.”

Traditional—and Non While the majority of the students in UA Fort Smith’s education programs enter college right after high school, there are also plenty of nontraditional students mixed in. Newman, for example, is a former paralegal. And Cordelia Heffner ’07, worked in insurance offices for years before entering college for



the first time and eventually earning her degree in middle level math/science education. Heffner had wanted to be a teacher ever since volunteering in her daughter’s kindergarten class almost 20 years ago, but, as a non-native English speaker (she’s German and moved to the U.S. for the first time at 19), she was scared she wouldn’t be able to cut it at an American university. Eventually, a friend who was attending UA Fort Smith themselves and in what they could do.” Peterson, who has since moved to Farmington High where she teaches 11th grade English, now also works as a consultant for AAIMS, traveling the state to help other schools increase AP enrollment and scores.

Adapt as Needed Versatility is important too, and the College of Education works to train teachers willing and able to adapt the needs of the students. Take Amy Newman ’06, the first graduate of the English with teacher licensure program, who has taught both

English and speech at Mountainburg High School and this year made the transition to special education because she had come to realize that was where she could accomplish the most. Gregarious and … well, loud, Newman has a record of reaching students that others can’t. Recalling how she got a completely non-verbal 17-yearold to talk for the first time, she says, “I harassed him all the time.” It was because of that experience she decided to go into special education. “They’re great kids,” she says, “and I

pushed her through the application process. Ironically, many of Heffner’s students at Darby Junior High, where she’s one of two 7th grade math teachers, face the same challenges she did—learning in a non-native language. “I have students in my math class who don’t speak a word of English,” says Heffner, who is now working on her master’s in the teaching of English as a second language, “but I have to teach them somehow.” She’s doing pretty well at it, too. When she started, 38% of 7th-graders scored “Proficient” or “Advanced” on math assessments. Now, around 70% do. The region’s schools may see results like that more often in the coming years; enrollment in the College of Education is up 6.3% over last year, with more than 1,100 declared majors.







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Ridge Runner III, the last of Capt. Pierce McKennon’s famous P-51D Mustangs, carried German crosses representing 20 enemy aircraft destroyed. A pair of parachute markings indicated he had survived two downings.

By the time of his tragic death at 27, Pierce McKennon ’39—fearless ace, 24

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Too Glorious to


by B O B B Y A M P E Z Z A N

THEY WERE THE “SCOURGE OF THE HUN,” the 4th Fighter Group out of Debden, England, responsible for the destruction of more than a thousand Nazi planes by the close of World War II, 20 of which were the handiwork of one man, an erstwhile pugilist and blazing pianist from Fort Smith named Pierce “Mac” McKennon. After the Nazis fell, he came home a genuine war hero jingling with medals, miraculous survivor of two downings over enemy territory, and married his sweetheart, the first-ever Miss Fort Smith. It was a life that seemed too glorious to be real, and in the end it proved to be exactly that—or at least too glorious to last.


‘Kind of a rebel’ Inside the coffee lounge of the Fort Smith Public Library, Pierce McKennon’s only child, a son who is now 62, sifts through a pile of curled photos. He strains to call forth a cogent thesis of the father he never knew. “I remember reading all his flight logs, but there’s a lot of pieces missing,” he says. “Flying is, um, it can be an intoxicating thing. When you’re up there, all the stuff that’s down here is down here. I guess that’s the way he felt, and that was probably why he became a flight instructor. He could have made a career in music, I’m sure, but he was kind of a rebel.” The third and last son of a dentist and a homemaker, McKennon was supposed to be a concert pianist, not a fighter pilot. He was so precocious on the keys that he was playing dances before he could

blazing pianist, dashing beau—had already lived more than a life’s worth. UA Fort Smith BELL TOWER




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On the ground at Debden, McKennon pounded out boogiewoogie and blues late into the night. He was later described as “a one-man morale section.”

date, but his talents and tastes ran a different direction than his mother, Inez, hoped. “He was a ‘free spirit’ and loved a party,” recalled Lt. Col. Frank Hessey, U.S. Air Force (ret.), in a letter to the Southwest Times Record five decades after McKennon’s death. “[He] had an upright piano in his room and played it very well—mostly ‘whorehouse’ style.” His taste in music wasn’t the only departure from his parents’ notions. When, as a senior at St. Anne’s Academy in 1937, McKennon won the Civilian Military Training Corps’ boxing championship in his weight class, he kept it from Inez. She thought, after all, that he’d been on a church trip to Little Rock. “I know a lot about Pierce I wouldn’t want to tell,” said a lifelong friend, A.W. “Bill” Callan, in an interview with J.C. Hoffman for an unpublished paper. “He was supposed to be a girl, at least in his mom’s thoughts. She dressed him like a sissy when he went to the Catholic school. He rebelled at that.” Before the war, McKennon did follow a music scholarship to the University of Arkansas, but he dropped music in his first semester then dropped out altogether at year’s end. He moved home and in the fall of 1938 enrolled in Fort Smith Junior College, where he was president of the a capella choir and an intramural athlete.

‘Keen to be operational’

“washed out” of the Air Corps. But the 20-year-old wasn’t going to give up on flying that easily. He ran straight up to Canada and enlisted with the Royal Canadian Air Force, where they were mobilized for war and thus somewhat less capricious in their evaluation of pilots. Flight training went better this time, but Mac’s wild streak remained. On weekends, he escaped the air base in Windsor, Ontario, to play the nightclubs in the Motor City, just across the Detroit River. He brought boogie-woogie to the revelers—“Slow Train through Arkansas,” or “That Hypothetical, Theoretical Son-of-a-Bitch Colombo”—and they lapped it up. McKennon could have earned $100 a week playing the club circuit, a friend wrote his mother after his death. Shortly after the Army Air Corps mobilized in 1942, McKennon was commissioned—essentially transferring from the Canadian Air Force to the American. His discharge papers from the RCAF included just two demerits, one back in Canada for flying under the Niagara Bridge for sport, and this simple assessment: “Pilot. Above Average. He is very keen to be operational,” and very soon he was. Between 1942 and early 1944 he scored four aerial kills flying P-47 Thunderbolts with the 4th Fighter Group. In February of 1944, though, the 4th transitioned to the hot new P-51 Mustang, which suited McKennon perfectly. His, christened Ridge Runner, was (along with two replacements) to become one of the best-known planes of the war.

On March 6, his 335th Squadron hit Berlin in an affair he called “the biggest show I’ve ever seen.” McKennon’s fifth kill came that day, making him a bona fide flying ace. Hermann Goering would later say he knew his Luftwaffe had lost when he saw the red noses of the P-51s over Berlin.

‘Wow, who’s that guy?’ At Fort Smith Junior College, McKennon was a popular athlete (above right, in letter jacket). The first time he was shot down, the French resistance smuggled him back to England with forged papers that identified him as a cheese maker named Max.


BELL TOWER fall/winter 2010

The spoils of valor would never be so sweet as when McKennon rotated stateside for a brief furlough in the summer of 1944. He was asked to give interviews to all the papers and speeches at civic club luncheons. But McKennon really preferred to keep the


In 1940, McKennon joined the U.S. Army Air Corps as a “flying cadet.” He was listed at an even six feet, and under What special military qualifications or occupation have you? responded, “None.” His check pilot agreed; after just a few weeks of training he

He had survived 200-plus combat sorties,




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annihilating 20 aircraft—12 in dogfights—and damaging another nine. company of the daughter of a friend of the family’s, Beulah Irene “Bootsie” Sawyer, and, less enthusiastically, her sometime boyfriend Bob Rebsaman, himself recently discharged from the Army. “You gotta admit he was a good looking dude,” Bootsie said recently. “He would stand in front of the phone company waiting for me to get off my shift, and [the other ladies] would say, ‘Wow, who’s that guy?’ Well, that’s how we felt, both of us, about each other.” It’s hard to imagine a more toothsome suitor. McKennon was tall and trim with a fighter’s chin and a great coif of dark hair. His glance was open and brooding at once, like Orson Welles’, and when his fingers hit the keys women and men too boogied for him. Above all, he was an air ace, a real war hero who “never fell in love with himself,” she says.

into the one-seat cockpit, and flew 600 miles back to Debden, passing a single oxygen mask between them. On McKennon’s very last mission, April 16, 1945, an artillery shell obliterated his instrumentation panel, but he got back to Debden. Fine metal fragments had damaged the cornea of his right eye, but, incredibly his vision was back to 20/20 within a year. He had survived 200-plus combat sorties, annihilating 20 aircraft—12 in dogfights— and damaging another nine.

‘It was time to go’ ‘More nerve than I ever had’ Just days after his return to action, a captain now and the commander of the 335th but perhaps a bit unfrosted by the Arkansas sun, McKennon was brought down by flak on a strafing run over Neuweiler, France. His plane exploded, but McKennon parachuted safely into a plowed field. A French farmer directed him to a local member of the French resistance, and by the time the headline “McKennon Is Missing Over France,” ran in the Fort Smith paper, the ace was already stowed away in the attic of an elderly school teacher, with a freshly forged photo ID in his pocket. He even assisted the resistance with sabotage missions at night, earning another distinction to go with his Distinguished Flying Cross and Air Medal—the French Croix de Guerre. Smuggled back to England by the resistance and back in command of his squadron, McKennon wrote his mother in late September, “I thought being shot down would break my nerves and I wouldn’t ever be any good for combat flying anymore. But it did the very opposite. I feel better and have more nerve than I ever had. Personally, I don’t think my nerves will ever break—they are too good for that.”


‘You damn fool!’ In the spring and summer of 1944, as the air war heated up, McKennon kept tallying victories in the P-51, destroying six enemy planes in the air and at least two on the ground in a period of less than a month from late March to mid-April. In his free hours, he continued to bring the boogie to the boys, which at times was nearly as hazardous as flying, as in a medical report dated Nov. 2, 1944: “Laceration, perforation, 1-1/2 inch in length to the naso-buccal area, incurred when a knife thrown at a target rebounded at patient’s face ... Officer’s Mess ... 2300 hours.” In March 1945 near Berlin, McKennon was brought down by flak a second time and again parachuted to safety. This time, he was rescued by his wing man, Lt. George Green, who landed his own Mustang in a field, strictly against protocol. “You damn fool,” McKennon hollered, “what do you think you’re doing?” The two ditched their parachutes to make more room, wedged themselves

On May 13, 1946, en route to a new billet as a flight instructor in Arizona, he married Sawyer in Fort Smith in the First Christian Church across from the telephone company. “It is a good thing we married when we did, considering what happened,” she told J.C. Hoffman in a 1996 interview. “Look what we could have lost.” The “what” could have been their brief period of marital bliss, or she might have meant the unborn boy she had been carrying with her for two months when on June 18, 1947, the 27-year-old ace was run into the ground by one of his own students. “Compared to flying Mustangs in combat, or flying jets in Arizona, instructing students was like the strafing missions. No amount of skill could save you from some situations,” wrote C. Michael Irvin, an Arkansas aviation historian and pilot who himself rolled his plane into the ground at age 31. Mrs. Pierce McKennon gave birth to a healthy baby boy at the end of the year and named him after his father. Four years later, she married her earlier crush, Bob Rebsaman, and upon his request, agreed to change the boy’s surname. She could not, however, honor her new husband’s full request; her oldest son would keep the name Pierce. “I believe in reincarnation, and a dynamic person like that? He’s already off and doing something else,” says Pierce Rebsaman. “He was a take-charge, go-after-it kind of person ... after accomplishing what he came to accomplish, it was time to go.” Except where noted, information for this story was gathered largely from James J. Hudson’s “Major Pierce McKennon: Arkansas’ ‘Boogie Woogie’ Playing Air Ace,” published in the Spring 1964 issue of Arkansas Historical Quarterly.



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Alumni+Giving WHAT’S NEW WITH YOU?

A Very Special Institution reetings from your new Alumni Director! Originally from North Carolina, I have lived in Arkansas and worked in the alumni relations field for the past seven years. My previous work has focused on developing student programs, providing regional programming for alumni, and directing constituent alumni groups. I look forward to further strengthening the Alumni Association here at UA Fort Smith. I have now been on campus for seven weeks—enough time to get acclimated to the UA Fort Smith environment— and it has been a pleasure to experience Lion culture. I had the opportunity to welcome the incoming class of 2014 and to see the Campus Green transformed when the mums were planted. I also arrived in time to facilitate our inaugural Alumni Weekend, during which I enjoyed the warm hospitality of the alumni and guests, some of whom live locally and some who traveled great distances to return to campus. I am continually impressed by the talents of our alumni and students. Earlier this month I attended an art exhibition featuring some amazing pieces of alumni work (one of which came from the Museum of Modern Art in New York). On the same night I enjoyed a student performance of the play Imogen. And it seems that nearly every week there’s a musical performance on campus. All of these talents are treasures that make UA Fort Smith a very special institution, but the best treasure of all is you—our alumni. I am proud to call UA Fort Smith home and look forward to serving as your Alumni Director.

Let us—and the people you went to school with—know what you’ve been up to! Please take five minutes to sit down and tell us what you’ve been up to since your time at UA Fort Smith, Westark, or FSJC. Tell us about your job, your family, your hobbies, your adventures, your plans— whatever you want to share with other alumni. We love to get photos too, and we’ll happily run them in this section. Be sure to include your name (and your name while you were in school if it has changed since then) and the year you graduated or the years you attended. Email your class note to or mail it to Alumni Office, UA Fort Smith, P.O. Box 3649, Fort Smith, AR 72913.


ELIZABETH S. UNDERWOOD Director of Alumni Affairs


BELL TOWER fall/winter 2010



1940s Wanda Rogers Foster ’48 and Jim Foster recently celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary. Foster was clerk/registrar at Fort Smith Junior College for the year after she graduated and later served for 27 years as an administrative officer with the U.S. Marshals Service in the Western District of Arkansas.

its Draper Museum of Natural History. Previously, Preston served as Chairmain of the Department of Zoology at the Denver Museum of Natural History. He has authored four books and more than 70 articles dealing with wildlife behavior and ecology, human dimensions of wildlife management, and the role of working scientists as public educators and interpreters.

Jimmie ’58 and Billie Hegmann McGee ’58 were married shortly after graduating from Fort Smith Junior College and eventually ended up in Cincinnati. Billie retired from Rilco Inc., where she spent 25 years in sales and accounts payable positions. Jim retired from Cincinnati Gas and Electric Co., where he worked in information technology. They have two children and four grandchildren.

Doris Christopher ’74 has served since 2007 as Chief Administrative Officer for the Center for Graduate and Professional Learning at Georgia College and State University. Along the way, Christopher taught full-time at Westark from 1981 to 1990. From 1990 to 2007, she was at Cal State Los Angeles, where she was a professor, department chair, and associate dean. Winifred Howe Gover ’75 celebrated her 97th birthday in July. She resides at Cardigan Nursing Home in Scituate, Mass.



Charles R. Preston ’72 is Senior Curator at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyo., and Founding Curator of

Mary Burger ’85 was honored in May as Nurse of the Year by St. Vincent Health System of Little Rock.


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Lisa Beattie Evans ’86 was married in May. She has five daughters and three grandchildren and works in the housekeeping department at Sparks Regional Medical Center. Juanita Elliot Nave ’88 lives in Elizabethton, Tenn., where she’s working on her master’s in healthcare management.

Lucille Speakman in 1963. That year, the Numa editors dedicated the yearbook to her, recognizing her “untiring effort, dignity, integrity, and scholarship.”


ALUMNUS SEEKS TO PERPETUATE SPEAKMAN’S LEGACY When Randy Wewers ’58 began trying to reconnect with his alma mater 20 years ago, he had one simple reason: he wanted to do something to recognize a professor he’d had by the name of Miss Lucille Speakman. But he wasn’t sure exactly what; she wouldn’t have cared much, he knew, about having a building or a fountain named after her. But, as he became more deeply involved with the University—stopping by frequently while visiting family in Fort Smith from his home in Georgia—an idea started to percolate. What if he could do something to perpetuate Miss Speakman’s legacy of great classroom teaching—


Qiana Clements McGhee ’04 was recently promoted to Branch Manager of Arvest Bank’s Zero Street location in Fort Smith. She has been with Arvest more than eight years and also serves on the board of the Single Parent Scholarship Fund of Crawford and Sebastian Counties. Kevin Farrell ’06 was hired in October as Coordinator of Student Activities, Major Events, and Student Leadership at Emmanuel College in Boston. Previously, Farrell had served as Assistant Director for Student Access, Transition, and Success Programs at Purdue. Maureen Levy Austin ‘06 is a teacher at Bonneville Elementary in Fort Smith. She has also taught for Polk and Osceola County schools in Florida. In July 2009, Austin presented at the National Kindergarten Conference in Las Vegas and currently serves as a mentor to practicum students majoring in education at UA Fort Smith. Joseph ’08 and Sarah Blackford Kilbreth ’08 married shortly after graduation and currently live in Wahiawa, Hawaii, on the island of Oahu, where Joseph serves in the Army.

the vivid, evocative lectures; the devotion to her students’ success; the clear-eyed fascination with her world that generations of alumni still talk about? With time, that idea evolved into the Lucille Speakman Legacy Endowment—a fund to help current UA Fort Smith faculty members do the same kinds of things that made Speakman so admired. Full-time and adjunct faculty will be able to apply for grants for selfguided travel, international study, curricula development, and research—all with the specific goal of improving their classroom teaching. Wewers is leading an effort to raise $100,000 to establish the endowment, which, he emphasizes, is intended Randy Wewers ’58 to honor not just Speakman, but all of the professors who have similarly distinguished themselves in the eyes of those whose opinions matter most—their students. Alumni can make gifts in the name of any faculty member, past or present. A plaque placed on campus—a sort of “faculty hall of fame”—will bear their names. Alumni can expect a note and more details from Wewers in November. If you’re interested in getting involved sooner, though, call Development Officer Anne Thomas at (479) 788-7033.



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Alumni+Giving LION FILE

DRIVING DISCUSSION ‘Interest and Enthusiasm’

UA Fort Smith grads staff new political mag

Mardell Christello McClurkin ’58 at the West Central Center on Aging in Fort Smith, where she September 2010, and as FSJC registrar

It isn’t easy to find a registrar who will teach bowling, sponsor the cheerleading squad, and plan orientation and graduation. But in 1960, UA Fort Smith (then Fort Smith Junior College) found it all in Mardell Christello McClurkin ’58, who returned to campus to work full-time—and then some. In the registrar’s office, transcripts were rolled into the typewriter and each GPA was manually calculated. There were “lots and lots of filing cabinets,” McClurkin says, full of hand-typed records dating to the start of the college. They often worked until 2 a.m., she says, even when the campus was running on tuition payments and donations and payday might be two months away. “There were very hard-working, dedicated people,” she says. “It was like a big family. I’ll be forever grateful to Fort Smith business people for the generous support that kept it going. They dug deep and contributed—and the average person did, too.” McClurkin says she “just tried to be industrious,” which is probably how she ended up driving a station wagon full of cheerleaders to each ball game and going back to school so that the college could offer women’s physical education. In the Registrar’s office, she set up a card table with a big jigsaw puzzle, her friendly version of “take a number.” She always admired the hard work and community support that helped the college grow, but, she says, “never would have expected the school to be where it is today.” McClurkin left the college after she married in 1967 but stayed busy with family, teaching, church, and volunteer work. “I’m thankful for interest and enthusiasm,” she says. “You can find time to do what you want to do—otherwise it’s a chore.” —Leslie Yingling


BELL TOWER fall/winter 2010


serves on the board, in

When Luke Hobbs ’09 graduated from UA Fort Smith’s rhetoric and writing program, he envisioned a life ahead as a freelance writer. But within a year his name would be at the top of the masthead of Progressive Arkansas, a free monthly that strives to take a nonpartisan look at government and politics in the Natural State. Hobbs was working part-time in Fort Smith when the magazine’s publishers approached him to serve as editor. He now manages a staff of four writers, all of whom are also UA Fort Smith graduates or students—Richard Eby ’10,

Ashley Eubanks ’10, Tonya Loftin-Gentry ’09, and student Maria Fox. Lana Loukota ’09 is assistant editor. “We’re proud that our writers have all come out of the writing and rhetoric program,” Hobbs says. “There are some really good writing professors [at the univer-

sity] who I think have done a very good job at preparing us for this sort of thing.” Currently Progressive Arkansas is distributed throughout the River Valley and parts of Northwest Arkansas, but Hobbs hopes to grow it into the state’s premier political news source and expand circulation statewide. In addition to the print magazine, Progressive Arkansas maintains a web presence at with an online newsroom that Hobbs updates daily. The magazine has also sponsored debates and other events in the community that focus on helping voters to become better educated about the issues facing them. “As long as people are getting good, accurate information, that’s where we see our role,” Hobbs says. “We want to provide facts that will help drive discussion.” —Erica Buneo ’09

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Alumni Weekend 2010 UA Fort Smith’s first-ever Alumni Weekend, Oct. 15-17, gave the institution a chance to do a little showing off for folks who might not have been back to campus for years or even decades. Fortunately, Mother Nature seemed in the mood to show off too, serving up one of those perfect River Valley autumn evenings as guests visited over hors d’oeuvres Saturday on the patio in front of ZACK THOMAS

Fullerton. MORE ONLINE: See the Alumni Weekend slideshow at belltower.


‘The Best Thing that Could Have Happened’



where he earned a job and climbed the ladder quickly. He In 2006, Mike DeSanto ’08 lost his job at Whirlpool after a works as a lead systems analyst, managing programming year and a half of work on the production line. What didn’t look projects and supervising the GIS team. like a happy ending became “the best thing that could have “I’ve done my best with whatever they’ve given me to do, happened” when his layoff—the result of labor outsourcing— and the job and every promotion found me,” DeSanto says of made him eligible for Trade Adjustment Assistance, a federal his work at AOG. It’s amazing to compare that to what he was program that helps trade-affected workers who have lost their doing before opportunity knocked at UA Fort Smith, he says. jobs as a result of increased imports or shifts in production “Doors have just opened.” —Leslie Yingling out of the U.S. The program helped him and his family get by while he earned his B.S. in information technology at UA Fort Smith. It was his third stab at college—he had attended two other schools before “life happened” and he went to work—and because of the progress he’d already made, he was able to complete his degree in the two years of support that the TAA program provides. He finished with a 4.0 and a position on the dean’s list. DeSanto gained skills and experience quickly. After only one programming class, he was an easy pick for the programming team. “It gave me my first real exposure to programming under pressure,” he says, “and it got my name out there.” In early 2008, just as he was thinking about internship opportunities, a position opened at Arkansas Oklahoma Gas Corp., Mike DeSanto ’08 at the AOG business office in Fort Smith, September 2010


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Alumni+Giving LION FILE Fred Davis III ’70 at an alumni reception in Dallas, February 2010, and on the court at Westark, 1970


Thinking about giving to UA Fort Smith but not sure what your options are? Wonder what the Giving Opportunity campaign is all about? Want to meet fellow donors, or see how your gifts impact the University? Curious what exactly it is the Foundation does? Visit the brand-new site

www.uafortsmithfoundation. org for answers to those questions and lots more.

CHECK OUT OUR NEW MOBILE APP Update your information, keep an eye on our alumni event calendar, and create a customized alumni news feed with the brand-new Alumni Association mobile app. New grads will also find tons of useful (and funny) real-world advice about work, money, taxes, real estate, and other fun stuff. Always over-dress for the first day of work, for example, and wait to buy most of your work clothes until after you see how everybody else dresses. The name of the app, which should be available mid-November, is UA Fort Smith.


BELL TOWER fall/winter 2010

‘What Coaches Do’ Fred Davis III ’70 is a true team player, the kind who uses “we” more than “I.” He got plenty of practice playing basketball at UA Fort Smith (then Westark) before beginning a decades-long career in coaching and school administration. Davis is now principal of John B. Hood Middle School, the second-largest middle school in Dallas. Athletics was a likely springboard, he says, because “as a player and a coach, you’re competitive and team-oriented, and you know how to work toward goals.” When he took over at John B. Hood, his goal was to improve what he calls “a neglected school.” His first step was to secure the campus and the school’s best teachers. The school serves a diverse and growing population of students in a crime-ridden area amidst turnover and transition, but, he says, “we’ve built a strong foundation for a good educational environment, and we’ve made steady gains.” Under Davis’s leadership, students’ math and science scores have nearly doubled over the past five years. Last year, the school moved to a block schedule to maximize classroom time and impact. “It was our best year yet,” Davis says. He credits his colleagues—“great people who have worked hard through difficult times”—and compares himself to a turtle on a fencepost. “You know that turtle didn’t get there by himself,” Davis says. “The teachers teach,” he says. “My job is simply to set attainable goals and to create momentum toward them. That’s what coaches do.” From high school student body president to college ball player, and high school coach to middle school principal, “leadership is all I’ve ever known,” Davis says. “It’s about identifying talent, working with potential, earning trust, building relationships, and motivating people. If you walk and no one follows you, you’re just taking a walk.” —Leslie Yingling


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C3r1_UAFS_FW10:alum news

STILL LIFE—For almost 170 years—from 1836 to 2005—the Drennen-Scott house in Van Buren was continuously occupied by a single family, descendants of John Drennen, the town’s founding father. Had the house ever changed hands it would likely have been emptied out, its contents divided up, sold off, discarded. Instead, for 17 decades, history accumulated literally layer upon layer. When UA Fort Smith purchased the house in 2005, the Historic Arkansas Museum acquired its most valuable contents—furniture, art, silver. But the things left behind are just as fascinating for the stories they tell, the mysteries they suggest. For this image, university photographer Kat Wilson retrieved a tiny fraction of the collection from storage— a little boy’s ornate velvet suit, World War II trophies, a carven-handled parasol, charcoal drawings of family dogs, tattered maps of an earlier Arkansas. Watch for a feature on the Drennen-Scott house—which the University will open as a museum in the spring—in a future issue of Bell Tower.

C4r1_UAFS_FW10:covers 1&4


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Bell Tower UA Fort Smith Alumni Association P.O. Box 3649 Fort Smith, AR 72913


A Look Back

IN WHAT PASSED FOR the “regular season” of 1931, the Fort Smith Junior College football team went 1-5, scoring 39 points to their opponents’ 89. It was only their second season, but, frankly, things weren’t looking much better than they had the first season, when the Lions had been outscored 85-43 on the way to a 1-4 record. Somehow, though, despite their losing record, the FSJC gridmen—as the 1932 Numa yearbook called them—ended up playing Little Rock Junior College at the end of the season for the Arkansas Junior College Championship. It appears there just wasn’t much competition; Little Rock and El Dorado are the only Arkansas junior colleges the Lions played in their three seasons. In the showdown with Little Rock, according to

the Numa, “The two elevens were evenly matched the greater part of the game, although the mud bothered both.” In the fourth quarter, though, the Lions drove 80 yards for the only touchdown of the game and the championship. The following season—and the last for the Lions—things started to look up. With the help of a freshman kicker/receiver named Clair Bates, they went 2-2-2 and shut out Little Rock for the third season in a row. It was hardly a football dynasty, but a championship is a championship. Any particular games, seasons, athletes, or teams you remember from your time on campus? We’d love to hear your recollections! Drop us a line at or Bell Tower Magazine, P.O. Box 3649, Fort Smith, AR 72913.

Bell Tower, Fall 2010  

The Alumni Magazine of the University of Arkansas - Fort Smith

Bell Tower, Fall 2010  

The Alumni Magazine of the University of Arkansas - Fort Smith