|Larry Wilson of Jacksonville holds a plaque presented to his family in Little Rock on Tuesday in honor of his father, Pat Wilson, founder of Jacksonville State Bank, now known as First Arkansas Bank and Trust.|
Leader staff writer
Without the sale of a cow, there might not have been a Little Rock Air Force Base, a Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce and the city instead of pushing 30,000 in population might still be a sleepy hamlet with no water, sewer or electricity.
It was the sale of a prized family cow that allowed Kenneth Pat Wilson, better known as just Pat Wilson, the founder of Jacksonville State Bank, to go to college. The cow covered the tuition, but the rest of college was paid for by Wilson working three jobs.
Wilson, along with two other economic stalwarts who helped put Arkansas on the map, were honored posthumously Tuesday.
Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller, Wilson and Mike Wilson (no relation to Pat) of Osceola (Mississippi County) were honored with the “Leadership in Free Enterprise” award by Economics Arkansas.
More than 500 friends, family members and those in the financial and education community attended the awards luncheon at the Marriott Hotel in Little Rock.
Family members of the three men accepted the honor.
“Wow,” said Wilson’s son, Larry Wilson, president of First Arkansas Bank and Trust, accepting the award honoring his dad.
“My dad was always interested in lifting all boats in the economic ocean,” Larry Wilson said. “A better leader and promoter of Jacksonville, the military and Arkansas, you wouldn’t find anywhere.”
Kenneth Pat Wilson (1919-2002) was founder and president of First Jacksonville Bank and Trust, now known as First Arkansas Bank and Trust.
Wilson organized Jacksonville State Bank in 1949 so that his home town would have a bank, plus he didn’t like the fact it took him almost half a day to travel to Little Rock for his banking needs.
That institution later became First Jacksonville Bank and Trust and then First Arkansas Bank.
“The bank was an extension of his family,” Larry Wilson said.
His father’s loyalty to his roots went beyond building a bank. Always a driving force, he wanted his community to be the best place to work and raise a family. Throughout his life, he was dedicated to Jacksonville’s economic growth, civic services and educational resources. His vision and energy helped boost the population from 400 to more than 30,000.
Among his notable accomplishments was his work on the Pulaski County Committee of 100 to bring the Little Rock Air Force Base to Jacksonville. Wilson also organized the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce and lead efforts for Jacksonville to become the site of Little Rock Air Force Base.
Wilson’s life is a lesson of earned success through a combination of hard work, ambition and community service, according to Bob Hamilton of Digital Benefit Advisors, who gave the award to Larry Wilson.
“Grandpa would have been proud (of the award),” said Larry’s son, Mark, adding that all nine of Wilson’s grandchildren went to college “and we all took accounting and finance courses no matter what our major was. He was always thinking long term and education was a biggie.”
Another of Wilson’s concerns was industrial development. He served as president of the Jacksonville Industrial Corporation. He helped bring manufacturing facilities to the area, including Arkansas Hairworks, Standard Rendering and Reasor-Hill Corp.
In 1952, Wilson worked with others to bring an air base to the city. He helped raise $1.2 million to buy the 6,500 acres needed, an acquisition that included the Wilson family’s 1860 homestead property.
His other contributions to the community included building the Jacksonville Shopping Center in 1957 and organizing the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce in 1947. During his 30 years with the chamber, he helped acquire 23 new manufacturing companies, employing 3,000 in Jacksonville.
Wilson’s legacy of economic education is carried on through his family, who in 2004 established the Kenneth Pat Wilson Center for Economic Education at UALR.
First Arkansas Bank and Trust also supports Economics Arkansas through the Arkansas Bankers Association Campaign, plus the family has provided scholarships for Jacksonville students to receive hands-on experience with the stock market through a program by Economics Arkansas.
The family continues to serve the state as leaders of free enterprise and champions for economic education.