Friday, October 11, 2013

TOP STORY >> Hall of fame inductees

Leader staff writer

The Cabot Panther Foundation inducted three former school board members, an interior decorator and a former mayor into its hall of fame during the foundation’s annual banquet on Tuesday at the Junior High North cafeteria.

Honored were Nina Butler, Fred Campbell, John C. Thompson and the late Willie Ray and Oris Spence.


The late Willie Ray was honored for his work as mayor and his leadership when downtown Cabot took a devastating hit from a killer tornado in 1976.

Ray and his wife, Imogene, moved to Cabot after the Second World War. He opened a small caf√© and gas station. His wife opened a beauty salon. They purchased some land and developed a mobile home park. He was one of the leading businessmen in Cabot. He was a member of the Cabot Chamber of Commerce and the Lions Club. During the club’s annual pancake breakfast, Willie Ray would be in front the stove helping the fundraiser become a success.

Ray was elected to the city council in 1958 and then was elected mayor in 1960. He was mayor for 19 years until his death in 1979.

During that time, Cabot’s population grew from 1,300 to nearly 4,000 people. Ray oversaw the construction of a new city hall, fire station and jail. Under his administration, a second fire station was built along with a library and the parks and recreation program was developed and a new swimming pool was constructed. Many new streets were paved. Railroad safety crossings were installed. The water system was improved with two water tanks and distribution lines. Housing for seniors and low-income families was established. The police department grew from one officer to six.

Following the aftermath of the 1976 tornado, Ray called the governor and National Guard for help. Ray coordinated state and federal efforts to help rebuild the community.

Will Feland said Ray was walking the streets, always encouraging.

“I don’t think he slept during those days. He was there night after night,” Feland said.

Fred Campbell said Willie Ray had a passion for Cabot. Campbell said after the tornado hit he’d never seen anyone go to work so fast to get the community back running together as Ray did.

In 1978, the city held a “We’re Back” celebration, now known as CabotFest.

Billye Everett, Ray’s niece, accepted the award on her uncle’s behalf.

Everett said Ray was more of a father to her, since Everett’s dad died during the war when she was 5 years old.

Ray returned from the war and Everett looked to him as a father figure.

“My Uncle Willie loved this community almost as much as he loved us,” Everett said.

“He loved Cabot. He would be amazed to see how our city has turned out to be. He enjoyed every minute of what he did,” Everett said.


The late Oris Spence was a school board member for the Sylvania and Cabot school districts.

Spence attended all 12 grades in the one-room Oak Grove School near Sylvania. He and his wife, Arlene, bought his family’s farm from his mother in 1937 and grew cotton. Spence was in the dairy business for 39 years.

In the 1940s, they ran the Sylvania Country Store for 14 years. They operated a meat-processing plant in Cabot and the candy store next to Cabot High School.

Spence’s political career began in the 1940s. He was elected to the Sylvania School Board, then was elected Lonoke County judge for four years and later was a justice of the peace for 16 years.

The Sylvania School District merged with the Cabot School District in 1947. Spence was elected to the Cabot School Board from 1959 to 1964. During that time a new gym, cafeteria, band building and 20 classrooms were built.

Spence was twice appointed by the governor to serve as Lonoke County judge. He was appointed in 1967 to fill the vacancy of the county judge position for W.F. Walker, who died. Spence was appointed county judge again in 1975 to succeed Charles Benefield, who also passed away.

“Most people in Lonoke County knew him as Uncle Oris,” Dearl Dixon said.

Spence passed away on Sept. 2, 1997.

Dixon said Spence always told people to further their educations.

Spence was a supporter of the 4H Club Key Club. He also helped organize the Kiwanis Club.

Spence drove a flat-bed school bus to Beebe. He worked at a creamery during school time. If anyone in town needed supplies, he would pick it up during his lunchtime and drop it off on the way home.

Spence’s daughter, Gale Sikes, accepted the award.

“He would have been so happy surrounded with all these people being honored tonight.

“My dad was a tremendous influence on my sister, myself and our families. He encouraged us to put God first in our lives, to further our education and to be an active part of our communities, both Sylvania and Cabot.

“If he was here tonight he would humbly accept this award with a big ol’ smile, and then he would give each of you a pat on the back and say thanks, friends,” Sikes said.


Interior decorator Nina Butler is a 1980 graduate of Cabot High School. While in high school, she was a member of the student council.

Butler continues to serve the high school as a board member of the Cabot Scholarship Foundation and on the Cabot Panther Foundation advisory board.

“Nina is the kind of person that hears a need in the community, and she just takes care of it. Nina has a heart for service,” school board member Donna Nash said.

Butler was appointed to the Arkansas Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention board by Gov. Mike Huckabee. She was reappointed for a second term by Gov. Mike Beebe.

“Her continuous sharing and her caring for her alma mater, her church, our youth and our community sets her apart and makes her a perfect candidate for the Cabot Panther Hall of Fame,” Nash said.

Butler said, “I’m very humbled and honored to be elected to the Cabot Panther Hall of Fame. I’ve always been very passionate about Cabot and the public school system we have available to our students.”


Retired banker Fred Campbell is a 1966 graduate of Cabot High School. He was born 66 years ago where the Middle School North office building is today.

Campbell served on the Cabot School Board for 12 and a half years.

Former school board member David Hipp said Campbell is always upbeat and has a positive attitude that uplifts the spirits of others.

“He always had a smile on his face before every school board meeting and usually left the meeting with that same smile. He helped set the tone for the meetings. He always looked for the positive in everything but was not bashful when he disagreed and always had sound justification behind his reasoning,” Hipp said.

Campbell served the Cabot community as a member of the Jaycees, Lions Club, Chamber of Commerce, Kiwanis Club, the Home Builders Association, Open Arms Shelter and the Scholarship Foundation.

Campbell is a Vietnam Veteran who was in the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division. He is a supporter of the armed forces and was part of a committee to get a National Guard Armory in Cabot.

“I thank the good Lord for giving me the opportunity to grow up and be raised in Cabot,” Campbell said.

Long-time friend John C. Thompson said, “If you talk to (Campbell) very much, very seldom when you finish a conversion with him, especially if you know him well, he will always tell you he loves you. It’s very unusual coming from a man to tell you that he loves you.”

Campbell was once asked why he does that and said, “I had one of my best friends pass away and never had the opportunity to tell him I loved him,” according to Thompson.

Thompson said, when he and Campbell talk to each other, they seldom end their conversion without saying they love each other.

“Sometimes that’s what we need to remember is to tell people that you care about how much you love them,” Thompson said.


John C. Thompson graduated from Cabot High School in 1969. He earned a bachelor’s degree in agricultural business in 1973 from the University of Arkansas and has had a long career in banking.

Thompson was on the Cabot School Board for 10 years. He continues to be part of the educational system by serving as a Panther Foundation board member and on the Cabot Scholarship Foundation.

Panther Foundation board member Brent Larsen said, “(Thompson) tries to give me credit for suggesting the creation of Panther Foundation Hall of Fame, but only after he mentioned it to me.”

Thompson said, “It is unbelievable what I’m fixing to become a part of. It means a lot to me.”

“Cabot gave me an education. It provided me with a job and a place to live. All my children have graduated from Cabot. Most of them live in Cabot and hopefully their children will be graduating from Cabot and be part of Cabot,” Thompson said.

Thompson said he tries to give back to the community because it has given him so much. He has been a member of the Cabot Jaycees, Lions Club and a Chamber of Commerce board member.

“We need people to continue to support Cabot, the community, support the school system,” Thompson said.

He said Cabot is and will continue to be one of the top school districts in the state due to the community’s support.