Monday, October 02, 2017

TOP STORY >> Hall of Fame inductees

Leader staff writer

The Cabot Panther Foundation inducted a businessman, a police officer, a school board member, a superintendent and a teacher into the Cabot Schools Hall of Fame during the ninth annual banquet on Tuesday.

Retired NBA player Joe Kleine was the guest speaker and 2012 inductee Channel 11 weatherman Tom Brannon was emcee.


Ronnie Abshure is a 1964 Cabot High School graduate and lifelong resident of Lonoke County who was born in the Bethlehem community. He was on the junior and senior high football teams.

He was drafted into the service and did two tours in the Vietnam War from 1967 to 1969. Abshure returned to Cabot after the military and married Rita Mulkey.

Abshure was a pipe fitter and later founded Arkansas Automatic Sprinklers in 1984 in Cabot. Abshure and business partner Bob Walton sold the company in 2009 and retired.

Gene Crouch nominated Abshure to the Hall of Fame. Crouch said Abshure was a strong supporter of Cabot schools.

He helped nonprofit groups with food and financial assistance for Lonoke County’s less fortunate citizens.

“He is content being a quiet, humble, unheralded man doing good things for others without recognition expected,” Crouch said.

“I’m honored to be inducted to the Hall of Fame. I thank the Panther Foundation, Gene Crouch for the nomination and my family and friends,” Abshure said.


Joseph Gunter (1904-1972) was a state representative in 1945 and served on the Cabot School Board for 15 years. He helped commission the building of the Cabot High School gymnasium in 1962 after a fire destroyed the old gym.

Gunter petitioned the state Highway Commission in the 1960s to have Hwy. 5 come into Cabot from El Paso.

Gunter was born in a log cabin on Hwy. 319. He attended a one-room school in the Sixteenth Section community until the fifth grade. He was self-educated and left home at age 15.

He returned to the area in the 1920s to teach, although without a diploma, at his old school he attended.

He married Berthal Fiddler, a school teacher at the Baugh’s Chapel community, five miles east of Sixteenth Section, and started a family.

Gunter had a passion for politics. He was Lonoke County treasurer in the 1930s.

“He was known in the Sixteen Section community for his math skills. Many of the neighbors would come to him to figure the pitch of a roof. He had a love of politics we didn’t quite share with him,” Joseph Gunter Jr. said.

Gunter drilled for oil in the area and hit natural gas in the early 1940s. It was during the war and he could not get parts, water seeped in and sealed the natural gas his son said.

In the 1940s, he purchased land on West Lewisburg Road and dug a large lake and two small lakes to irrigate a truck patch garden and for recreation. The property was sold in 1957 and renamed Indian Lakes.

Gunter opened a small grocery store in the Sixteenth Section community. In the early 1950s, he managed a farmer’s cooperative in Ward, formed to sell strawberries shipped out by rail.

Gunter lived to age 68. He died from lung cancer due to smoking.

“My family is honored with this award,” Gunter Jr. said.


Larry Rogers was superintendent of the Cabot School District for 10 years from 1991 to 2001.

Rogers grew up in Oden (Montgomery County) and graduated from Oden High School. He earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in political science from Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, where he met Sharon, his wife of 52 years.

Rogers earned a doctorate in educational administration at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville in 1972.

He was director of special education and gifted programs for the state Department of Education before coming to Cabot in 1980 as an assistant superintendent.

Rogers became superintendent in 1991. During his time, Cabot’s enrollment doubled from 3,500 to 7,500 students.

He established an in-house construction management system. It saved the district 20 percent in construction costs and the school district only went to public once for a millage increase.

As superintendent, Rogers saw the construction of Ward Central Elementary, Middle School North, Middle School South, the original Junior High North, Magness Creek Elementary and the Central Administration Building.

One of Rogers’ fondest memories was when then- Gov. Jim Guy Tucker came to Cabot to promote a plan to consolidate school districts and remove local control.

The crowd of 2,000 filled the Fine Arts Auditorium that held 1,200 to show opposition to Tucker’s plan. Opposition was shared by school board members.

Two weeks later Tucker revealed a new plan that supported local control.

Rogers’ top priorities were a strong curriculum, healthy learning environment and support of staff members. Rogers said he talked Jack Carrington out of retirement returning to the high school as principal because of his experience and community trust.

He talked Gene Crouch into retiring from the FBI and returning to teaching and coaching.

Rogers was recognized in 1997 by the Cabot Chamber of Commerce as Man of the Year.

“I want to thank the Cabot Panther Foundation for this honor. I will treasurer it for the rest of my life. Any success came from support from work and at home,” Rogers said.


Brenda Shurley is a 1967 Cabot High School graduate. She was homecoming queen. She earned her master’s degree in education at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro. Shurley had a 20-year teaching career with 10 years at the Cabot School District.

She returned to Cabot in 1972 as a teacher. After leaving due to her husband’s job relocations, she came back to Cabot in 1985.

Shurley found in her first year of teaching, students were having trouble with grammar. She began developing her own curriculum, “Shurley English.”

In 1989, Shurley Instructional Materials was published.

Ruth Wetsell worked with Shurley for 25 years after her son had Shurley as a fourth grade teacher in 1986. Many former students can remember the jingles.

“She wrote her own curriculum at night, on weekends and during vacation,” Wetsell said.

Shurley’s curriculum expanded to 360 instructional materials for kindergarten to eighth grades.

There are eight editions of Shurley English taught in public, private and home schools in the U.S. and 10 countries. All titles are shipped directly from Shurley Instructional Materials, a family-owned and operated company in Cabot with 21 employees.

The Shurley family is a supporter of ASU-Beebe by funding the Shurley Learning Center and the Shurley Greenhouse. A scholarship bearing her name is provided each year since 2004 to a student pursuing a career in education.

“I can’t think of anyone more deserving to receive this award that represents Cabot more than her,” friend Gale Baker said.

“She is one of the most humble, generous and committed individuals I know,” Baker said.

Shurley thanked the Cabot Panther Foundation to be selected to the Hall of Fame.

“It is great honor, and I’m appreciative. Teaching has been a passion I’ve had forever. As a teacher I was looking for better ways to help my students and that’s the reason I created Shurley curriculum,” Shurley said.

“I have, over the years, received support from family, friends and the Shurley team. I could not have done it without you,” she said.

Shurley thanked Cabot for teaching her and giving her the foundation she needed to follow her dream.


Mike Verkler is a 1976 graduate of Cabot High School. He holds a bachelor’s in criminal justice from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and an associate’s in agriculture from Arkansas State University in Jonesboro.

Verkler retired in 2010 after a 31-year career in law enforcement, 28 of those with the Little Rock Police Department.

He and his wife, Dawn own and operate Woodlawn Ranch and Arena in the Woodlawn community.

He is a past member of the Lonoke County Quorum Court. He received the Lonoke County Citizen of the Year Award in 2016.

Verkler is a member of the Cabot Scholarship Foundation and president of the Cabot Panther Foundation and is on the Cabot FFA Advisory Board.

“Mike Verkler is giving. He finds a way to get the job done or finds someone who will help him. Mike knows everyone and has more friends than anyone I know. He helped many people by loaning them money, to mending fences or loaning equipment and tools,” Panther Foundation board member Joey York said.

“If he gives you his word and handshake that is all you need. He will give you 110-percent of hard work and dedication – proven time and again,” York said.

“This is a great honor. Thanks for supporting the Panther Foundation. I serve a great board,” Verkler said.

He said the 33 prior inductees had a great impact on his life and there is a whole room of people attending that are deserving and will be inducted in the future.

The Cabot Panther Foundation Hall of Fame was started in 2008 to celebrate the successes of public education by honoring talented graduates of Cabot Public Schools and local leaders who provided distinguished service to public schools.

The group awards up to 10 $1,000 scholarships to graduating seniors annually.