Friday, December 26, 2008

EDITORIAL >>Complaining won’t help

Mike Huckabee has a fresh complaint about the way the media covered his campaign for president. It turns out that Huckabee resented people referring to him as “a former pastor.” He is convinced that they did that to “minimizalize” his career in political office dealing with serious issues of government. Oh, he was just a Baptist preacher so what would he know about running the country?

What next? Will Sen. John McCain denounce the people who kept referring to him as a former prisoner of war? McCain was a United States congressman and senator longer than he was a POW. Huckabee told a crowd at the Clinton School last week that he was a lieutenant governor and governor longer than he was a pastor although to be factual the lieutenant governor is a ceremonial office whose occupant does not deal substantively with the issues of governance. He was governor for 10 ½ years and a pastor for 12 years but a worker in the ministry for longer.

Huckabee was defined as a presidential candidate by his assertion of religious leadership and McCain by his courageous triumph over his long captivity in Vietnam. Such success as both men had in the presidential campaign in 2008 owes directly to admiration of both men for those life experiences and their skillful exploitation of the past.

Throughout the campaign, Huckabee was guest pastor at churches in primary states. It was a staple of his campaign. He organized fellow evangelical preachers, which became a pivotal part of his effort in the caucuses in Iowa and in the early primary states.

Before the Iowa caucuses in January, Huckabee rallied evangelical ministers, who led the big turnout of worshippers who gave him the big victory that catapulted him to the top tier of candidates. It was called the Renewal Project and it funded a pastors’ convention at Des Moines before the caucuses. The Renewal Project did the same during the next few weeks, in New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida and Texas. He rounded up the support of big TV evangelists and worked to turn pastoral gatherings into Huckabee rallies and fund-raisers.

Frequently throughout the campaign, Huckabee made references to his faith and to his work as a pastor, which he said brought him into personal contact with all the social pathologies that confront the country. In his Iowa campaign, his TV commercials carried the words “Christian leader” beneath his picture and a glowing cross behind him (unintentional, he said).

Actually, in the debates, in news stories and in TV and radio broadcasts, Huckabee was almost never referred to as a former preacher and then only after mentioning his considerable years as a governor. It was mentioned about as often as Barack Obama’s early career as a community organizer and it clearly had a far bigger role in Huckabee’s success than Senator Obama’s few years as an organizer in Chicago’s poor neighborhoods had in his nomination and election.

But Governor Huckabee was only hinting at his real point. He faltered because he could never expand his appeal much beyond the evangelicals who thought his ministry of conservative churches and his embrace of the churches’ social doctrines was the core of who he was. That failure cannot be laid at the door of the media for occasionally mentioning that he was a preacher, but to the narrow dimension of his own campaign.

He is deeply engaged in running again in 2012, thus his new book and his book-signing tour of early caucus and primary states: Iowa, South Carolina, and Florida. He needs to shed his image as a one-dimensional evangelical while holding the loyalty of the base that he built so well. That will be hard to do, particularly with Gov. Sarah Palin cutting deeply into his conservative church constituency.

Talking knowledgeably and rationally about the real issues confronting the country will do it. Complaining about deeds that never occurred won’t.

TOP STORY > >It’s the year of the blues, or how blue can you get?

Leader editor-in-chief

This has been a tough year for almost everyone, and things could get worse in 2009. Times are bad, or in the words of the immortal bluesman B.B. King, “How Blue Can You Get?”

More than ever, this is the right time to listen to the blues, which poor black farmers created more than a century ago while they toiled the land on both sides of the Mississippi River.

You’d have to include Howlin’ Wolf (Chester Burnett) on anyone’s list of top blues recordings. Although he was born in Mississippi, he farmed for more than a decade north of Parkin in Cross County and made his earliest records in Memphis and West Memphis. (See list below.)

Congress declared 2003 the year of the blues, but let’s declare 2008 another blues year. To mark yet another milestone, here’s a list of our favorite blues recordings: Charley Patton: “Complete Recordings, 1929-1934” (JSP). The son of a black woman who worked on a plantation and probably a white landowner or overseer, Patton was also part Indian. Out of this mixed racial background, he created amazing music that evoked the hardships of Delta life: He growls about poverty, floods, droughts, boll weevils, troubles with the law and women. “Pony Blues” and “High Water Everywhere” are the epitome of the genre. His guitar playing influenced generations of other bluesmen: Son House, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf and many others.

Patton lived for a time on a plantation near Lula, Miss., just across the river from Helena. The late critic Robert Palmer, a Little Rock native, said Patton “is among the important musicians 20th Century America has produced” and ranked him with Louis Armstrong and Elvis Presley.

Although much of the music was transferred from scratchy 78s, Patton is indispensable. The inexpensive five-CD boxed set — it’s available online for under $30, or about $6 a CD — also includes other early Delta blues artists. Besides Son House, there’s seminal music by Henry Sims, Willie Brown, Louise Johnson and others.

Muddy Waters’ “The Complete Plantation Recordings: The Historic 1941-1942 Library of Congress Field Recordings,” with photos of Muddy’s cabin and notes by blues scholar Mary Katherine Aldin.

These are Muddy Waters’ first records, made on Stovall Plantation near Clarksdale, Miss., and in front of the train depot in town. He soon left on a train for Chicago. He made historic records there for the Chess brothers, who helped preserve Delta blues by recording Muddy, Howling Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson and others.

Muddy Waters' Chicago recordings are available on “The Best of Muddy Waters” with Don Bronstein’s striking closeup profile of Muddy, and “Trouble No More,” a collection of his earliest Aristocrat and Chess singles. Covering the same period are two collections, “Rollin’ Stone: The Golden Anniversary Collection” and “The Complete Chess Masters, Volume 2, 1952-58.” The second, from Hip-O Records, is attractively packed with a booklet that contains several rare photos and another essay by Mary Katherine Aldin. This is essential music, as important as any in the American canon.

Robert Johnson, who absorbed the blues while growing up near Tunica and created his own style before his untimely death at the age of 27 in 1938, is considered by many, especially by British rockers who copied his music, as the most important blues artist of all time. His “Complete Recordings,” a two-volume CD set, helped fuel the blues revival, although I prefer his two “King of the Delta Blues” LPs reissued by Columbia for about $10 each. The LPs sound better — he’s more youthful than on the CDs, which sound like they were transferred from tapes played at the wrong speed. Johnson was in his mid-20s when he made his records in San Antonio and Dallas, and he does sound like a much younger man on the LPs. (A new Japanese CD package is supposed to correct the problems with the complete recordings, which sold about a million copies on CD.)

Johnson’s early death has been told many times: He was probably poisoned in a juke joint near Greenwood, Miss., by a jealous husband. Johnson is said to be buried in a small church cemetery outside town and it is worth going there if you love the blues. (You could stop at the nearby Viking factory and see if they’ll sell you a display-model stove at a discount.)

Howlin’ Wolf was a part-time musician who was farming in eastern Arkansas when he was discovered after the Second World War by Sam Phillips of Sun Records. Phillips recalled, “When I heard Howlin’ Wolf, I said, ‘This is for me. This is where the soul of man never dies.’”

Wolf’s earliest recordings appear on two CDs, “Memphis Days” Vol. I and Vol. II, which include his complete Sun recordings with several alternate takes. They were sold to Chess in Chicago and the Bihari brothers in Los Angeles, who released them on their own labels.

The brothers were Hungarians who had been in the jukebox and record business on the West Coast, although one of them set up an operation in Memphis and often recorded in Arkansas.

The Biharis also recorded the Wolf in West Memphis. Those re-cords appear on “Howling Wolf Sings the Blues.” His “Moaning the Moonlight/Rocking Chair” CD from Chess is also essential. You might also consider the three-CD “Chess Box,” if you like this kind of rough, gruff music, and who doesn’t?

Wolf modeled himself after Charley Patton, who taught him the blues back in the 30s at Dockery Plantation near Drew, Miss. (where the quarterback Archie Manning, the father of the Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks Peyton and Eli, was born).

B.B. King, the biggest blues star of all time — one of the few who became a millionaire and who is still performing at the age of 83 — did his best work, in my opinion, back in the 1950s and early 1960s, when he recorded for the Bihari brothers. B.B. thought they were the best at recording blues and considers his “My Kind of Blues” on the Biharis’ Modern label his favorite record, which has been reissued on the British Ace label.

His “RPM Hits, 1951-1957,” also from the Biharis, has been beautifully remastered by Ace and contains some of his most important numbers, including “Three O’Clock Blues,” “You Upset Me, Baby,” “Every Day I Have the Blues,” “Sweet Little Angel,”
“Troubles, Troubles” and much more. This is the work of an artist at the peak of his powers.

The harmonica player Little Walter Jacobs also recorded for Chess and is considered the greatest blues harp player of them all. His “Best of Little Walter” is terrific, but so is everything he did for Chess, although as a singer he was just so-so. (Of the many harp players, George Harmonica Smith, who was born in Helena, sang the best, although Junior Wells, from West Memphis, and Sonny Boy Williamson II weren’t far behind.)

Otis Rush is one of the greatest blues artists alive, although, sadly, he stopped performing after a recent stroke. We caught him in Helena a few months before he fell ill. But almost everything he’s recorded is worth hearing. His “Classic Cobra Recordings,” made in the late 1950s, was an astonishing debut and is as impressive as ever. You get the feeling Eric Clapton has worn this record out.

John Lee Hooker’s “Legendary Modern Recordings” also belongs on any Top 10 list. According to Muddy Waters — they were born in neighboring Mississippi counties — the original boogie man looked and sounded more African than any of the top bluesmen. His beat helped create rock-and-roll.

Rounding out our Top 10 list: “Bessie Smith: The Collection” and Elmore James’ “The Sky Is Crying.” Just hearing their music will help make your blues go away.

(Next: Beyond the pantheon — 10 more recommendations.)

TOP STORY > >High school dropout rates considered crisis

Leader staff writer

By any reckoning, the high school dropout rate in Arkansas constitutes a crisis, and the Arkan-sas Department of Education has resolved to tackle the problem, which impacts lives of individuals, as well as communities, the state, and the nation as a whole.

In Arkansas, 68.7 percent of all students graduate, a rate slightly below the national average. For those without a diploma or GED, earning potential will be reduced almost $10,000 a year and almost a half million dollars in a lifetime. Their health will be imperiled by more chronic disease, and their length of life eclipsed by an average of nine years.

The impacts of not graduating high school extend far beyond the life of the individual. The 7,000 kids who drop out of U.S. high schools each day will be more likely to rely on public assistance, need more health care, and be more prone to anti-social or criminal activity.

A one-day summit last week hosted by the Arkansas Department of Education launched the Arkansas Greater Gradua-tion Project, an initiative devoted to reducing dropout rates and part of a national alliance started by retired General Colin Powell.
Representatives of 14 school districts with some of the worst graduation rates, as well as business and community leaders, parents, and students, were invited to the meeting to learn about the seriousness of the problem and the need to work together to solve it. The hope is that the 14 districts will become regional hubs for engaging all districts statewide in dropout reduction efforts.

Among the 14 districts were the three Pulaski County districts – Pulaski County Special, Little Rock and North Little Rock, all of which have graduation rates below the state average. Gov. Mike Beebe opened the event by urging everyone to collaborate to solve what is a complex, community problem, not just something to be left to the schools to deal with.

“Schools can’t be responsible for every aspect of a child’s wellbeing and upbringing,” Beebe said. “We need to bring as many players together as possible – the bankers, the judges, and civic leaders. And parents. They have to step up and do their part.

Everybody has a stake in this issue.”

State education commissioner Ken James told the group that the days are over when someone could make a decent living and amass wealth with just a high school education.

The number of Arkansans who finish college must drastically improve or the state will be left behind economically, he warned. Nationally, 27 percent of the population age 25 and older has a four-year degree. In Arkansas, the rate is 18.7 percent, the lowest in the nation. Among developed nations, the college graduation rate is 55 percent.

“That is one statistic we need to change if we are going to continue to grow,” James said.

He urged educators to talk to youth to understand why they leave school. According to one national survey, young adults said that they were not challenged in high school, and should – and could have – worked harder.

“They said they were much more prone to apply themselves with vigor if they had a teacher who cared and knew the subject matter,” James said.

State Chamber of Commerce president Randy Zook was explicit about what businesses expect in entry-level workers and how well public schools are doing in preparing students for the work force.

“Are your customers happy? In a word – ‘No.’ Customers are not happy with the product you are producing,” Zook said.

Businesses are looking for four things, he continued: reasonable math skills, not calculus, just the basics; the ability to read instructions; the ability to find and interpret information – and the willingness to show up for work every day.

Zook knows of an east Arkansas manufacturer who could create more than 200 good-paying jobs, but can’t find enough dependable workers.

“Attendance is horrific, so he is unwilling to make the commitment.”

Increasing graduation rates will take dedication, time and personal involvement in the lives of individual students.

“It will take hand-to-hand combat, one teacher persuading one student at a time,” Zook said.

Forrest City School District, which put a dropout reduction program in motion last year, was showcased at the event. A coalition of educators, community and business leaders and parents was formed to keep kids in school in the 3,700-student district, which was identified by the state as academically distressed.

A big motivator, it turns out, was challenging students to meet criteria of the Arkansas Scholars program. Those who made the grade were honored by the local chamber of commerce and they get a “Smart Core” seal on their diploma.

“This helped catch kids who were falling between the cracks, not necessarily the top 10 percent,” said Tara Thomason, director of communications for Forrest City Schools. “Now they are more likely to go to community college.”

Zook agreed that the Smart Core curriculum that does not skimp on course requirements in English, science, math, and social science is a must for today’s entry-level worker.

“If you don’t have a Smart Core high school diploma, good luck,” he said.

The Arkansas Greater Grad-uation Project is made possible by a grant from America’s Promise Alliance, an organization dedicated to the wellbeing of youth, as well as a $100,000 grant from A&T Arkansas and a $15,000 grant from State Farm Insurance.

The AT&T grant comes from a national AT&T Foundation program that has committed $100 million by 2011 to improve high school graduation rates and workforce readiness across the country.

TOP STORY > >Overpass won’t open until ’09

Leader staff writer

The new railroad overpass in Cabot that was supposed to open in November and then in December will actually open about the first of March. And that new date is a definite maybe.

The delay was caused by a problem with culverts, city officials say.

The $7.2 million overpass will connect Hwy. 38 to Hwy. 367. On the Hwy. 38 end, the road needs to be widened, but the weather has not cooperated, so now the estimated completion date has been set for 60 days from the first of the year.

Mayor Eddie Joe Williams said this week that he would like for the overpass to be ready by the time students are back in school following the spring break.

Williams said he has met with school officials and it shouldn’t be a difficult transition for most if not all the buses that cross the railroad track about 100 times a day, to use the overpass instead.

The overpass, which has been in the works for a decade, has always been Williams’ project. He worked on it with Alderman Ed Long when they were on the city council together. At that time, the mayor worked for the railroad, and he said he saw near misses at the Polk Street crossing that will close when the overpass opens.

“I’ll tell you this,” the mayor said Friday, “I’ll be there when they open it.”

In addition to keeping buses off the railroad track, the overpass is the first phase of a $20 million north interchange connecting U.S. 67/167 to Hwy. 367 that the mayor also hopes will be built within a few years.

“You have to have an overpass before you can have a north interchange,” he said. “That’s done. Now it’s time to move on to the next step,” the mayor said after an appreciation dinner for the Highway Commission in November.

“Somebody’s going to get it. It might as well be Cabot. We’re here. We’re committed. We’re not asking for a handout; we’re asking for a hand up,” he said.

In the meantime, the mayor is widening Locust Street to get it ready for the increased traffic load that he believes will be dumped there when the railroad overpass opens.

The overpass and Locust Street will become the new bypass for traffic congestion downtown, he said.

TOP STORY > >So long to area payday lenders

Leader senior staff writer

As of the first of the year, Jacksonville will have only one remaining payday lender as such businesses shutter their doors or pull up stakes.

Payday lenders typically make small loans, perhaps $300 for a fee of $50, but on an annualized basis, such interest is more than 300 percent, far in excess of the state’s usury cap of 17 percent.

Borrowers can get caught in a cycle of debt, able to pay off old loans only by taking out new ones.

It’s too bad for the lenders, who would no doubt have been reaping a windfall Christmas bonanza in the face of a shrinking economy, but it’s great news for the consumer, who must now find alternatives to such predatory lenders and will avoid the debt trap they represent, according to Hank Klein, founder of Arkansans Against Abusive Payday Lenders.

On Dec. 3, Peggy Matson, director of the regulating agency, sent a letter to all remaining licensed payday lenders notifying them that the Arkansas Supreme Court had found the so-called Check Casher’s Act unconstitutional. She ordered them to return their licenses and released them from the necessity of keeping a $20,000 per store bond in the bank, Klein said.

“I’m feeling great,” Klein said, “Feeling ecstatic.”

“I always felt it was unconstitutional and the court affirmed that belief Feb. 6.”

As for the remaining payday lenders, Klein said, (the attorney general) has made it very clear he wants to drive every one of them out of the state.

At the beginning of the year, there were 275 payday lenders operating in the state. After the Attorney General’s Office sent cease-and desist-orders to many of them, that number fell to 139 and then to 80, according to Klein, a consumer activist who turned his focus on payday predatory lenders in the state.

That’s because the state attorney general’s office, the state Supreme Court, the military, the Federal Insurance Deposit Corporation and even the once-disinterested regulator of payday lenders have piled setback after setback on the companies.

This time last year Jacksonville had five such lenders, but three shut down this fall alone, two of those since the beginning of the month.

The only remaining payday lender in Jacksonville is First American Cash Advance, located on Loop Road next to the Subway shop.

There also is a check-cashing-only shop on Main Street between Double R Florist and Subway.

Payday lenders also have closed or are closing in Sherwood, Cabot and Lonoke.

C. Cosby Hodges had two stores remaining in Jacksonville, but they stopped initiating new loans in late December and remain open until the first of the year only to collect on loans already out.

“As far as I know, my stores in Jacksonville are still open.Check with me after Christmas,” Hodges said in a voice-mail response Tuesday.

Hodges of Fort Smith, and his partner, Robert Srygley of Fayetteville own 53 such stores in Arkansas, which they claim to operate under a South Dakota charter and are thus not subject to the Arkansas interest limitations.

If they are in fact closing all 53, that would leave only 27 payday stores in the state, Klein said.

First American Cash Advance, a Delaware corporation, owns the other 27 stores.

On Dec. 3, Matson, director of the state Board of Collection Agencies—the governing agency for payday lenders—sent a letter to all remaining licensed payday lenders notifying them that the Supreme Court had found the so-called check-casher’s act unconstitutional.

She ordered them to return their licenses and released them from the necessity of keeping $20,000 per store in the bank, Klein said.

There are still about 45 check- cashing stores around the state.

TOP STORY > >Sewer troubles dog Sherwood

Leader staff writer

Sherwood is a community that believes in investing in quality of life. An impressive ballpark complex, a spacious recreation center, and a welcoming seniors’ center are but a few of the amenities that Sherwood residents can point to with pride.

Less of a priority perhaps has been Sherwood’s wastewater system.

Persistent violations of state and federal regulations triggered a visit in December 2007 by investigators from the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ). When they found that a long list of violations dating to 2004 had indeed not been remedied, the ADEQ fined the city $23,000 – since reduced to $15,500 – and issued a consent order last month to ensure a speedy resolution.

City officials insist they had absolutely no inkling of the violations until late last January.

The mayor and members of the city’s sewer committee say that Michael Clayton, who as former city engineer was responsible for oversight of the wastewater utility, never told them of its problems. Clayton allows that “maybe there was not an announcement from a roof top,” but insists “it was no secret” at city hall that there were problems at the sewage treatment facilities. Clayton says he did not intentionally ignore the citations, but that inadequate staffing is partially to blame for repairs not made.

Mayor Virginia Hillman says that the first she knew of the longstanding violations was two days before Clayton resigned at the end of January to start his own business. She feels blindsided by problems that were brewing long before she took office in August 2007.

“I only found out because I called ADEQ about something else, and they told me,” Hillman said. “It is really no excuse, all that has happened.”

Cecil Robertson, who has served on the sewer committee for 50 years, and Amy Sanders, a committee member for 10 years, say that Clayton never shared any reports indicating non-compliance with water-quality regulations.

“I suppose he decided to not mention it for some reason,” said Sanders, who became committee chairperson a few months ago. “We have been upset about it, but our aim is to comply, and that is what we are working towards.”

Hillman says she fully appreciates the action of the ADEQ and is ready to do what it takes to satisfy the agency.

“It is like when you get onto your kids; the first time, you have a little mercy, but the second time, you are frustrated,” she said.

“This gives the appearance we don’t care, but we intend to take care of this.”

In June, the city hired a new engineer, Ellen Norvell. Under her direction, the wastewater utility staff of seven has received additional training and corrected the most egregious problem at the two treatment plants – repeated releases of treated wastewater into neighboring streams with fecal- coliform bacteria up to twice the legal limit.

State and federal regulations mandate regular testing of the discharged effluent by an independent lab, because of the potential threats these pollutants pose to public and environmental health.

The north plant, located in Indianhead Estates at 19 Algonquin, releases its effluent into a creek that feeds into Kellogg Creek, which flows into the Bayou Meto and the Arkansas River. The south plant, located at 2000 Stafford, releases effluent into Woodruff Creek, which flows into Five Mile Creek, then the Bayou Meto and Arkansas River.

According to the consent order, the treatment plants violated allowed effluent limits 18 times for fecal coliform between September 2006 and June 2008 and for ammonia nitrogen 22 times between August 2005 and November 2007.

The consent order also describes a release of 100,000 gallons of raw sewage into Silver Creek from an overflowing manhole on Silver Creek Drive. The ADEQ learned about the problem from a citizen two and a half days after the overflow started. By law, a wastewater utility must report such overflows within 24 hours to the ADEQ.

Municipalities are required to alert the public about excessively high bacteria counts in waterways. The consent order mandates the city of Sherwood in the future to have a process for public notification about sewer overflows and fecal-bacteria pollution of its waterways.

According to Norvell, the wastewater staff has now dealt with the majority of the violations cited in the consent order – inoperable or malfunctioning equipment and the lagoons, inadequate monitoring and record keeping, improper storage of effluent samples, too high sludge levels in treatment lagoons, and overgrowths of vegetation on lagoon levees that threatened their stability.

However, resolution of the most costly problems is on hold until a study is done of the entire sewage collection and treatment system and the city’s future needs. Reconstruction of weakened lagoon levees and a breach in one, as well as replacement of outmoded equipment and aging sewer lines, are expected to take considerable time and money.

No one is sure yet what all the repairs may cost. Norvell has ventured that the tab could run as much as $2 million to $7 million. City officials sound confident that there will be enough money for the work, some of which will come from a surplus of tax revenues. But there is discussion of increasing wastewater rates, which have not been raised in 20 years.

Staff capacity is an issue that the city may have to confront if it wants to have an effective wastewater utility. Clayton says he tried to tackle problems with the lagoon levees, but was stymied by a crew that dwindled to four workers and the fact that levee repairs could only be done during summer months. With limited manpower, repairs to the sewer lines, some of which are 50 years old, has been largely complaint-driven. Norvell would like a more systematic approach to line testing and maintenance, but that will require hiring contract labor or more regular workers.

Not all of Sherwood’s wastewater is treated by its two plants. Sewage from older areas of the city is piped for treatment at a North Little Rock facility. The two Sherwood plants handle wastewater from 4,700 customers. But all sewer lines are the responsibility of the Sherwood utility, which has a crew of seven full-time workers.

By comparison, Jacksonville’s wastewater utility has 35 full-time employees and 8,900 customers. In addition, all sewage from Little Rock Air Force Base goes to Jacksonville for treatment. The air base maintains its own sewer lines. The Jacksonville utility does not rely on contract labor but rather its own crews for daily, area-by-area testing and maintenance of the sewer lines within the city limits.

The ADEQ has set target dates over the next year and a half to bring the utility into full compliance. Failure to meet deadlines could cost the city as much a $500 per day in fines. This Tuesday, at a special meeting, the city council is expected to approve Norvell’s recommendation of Crist Engineering to do the study, so the work can begin.

“We would like citizens to know what we are doing and have all of this behind us in a year,” Norvell said. “Our goal is to be a responsible utility.”

SPORTS>>Welcome to the sports celebrity gift-exchange counter

Leader sports editor

All right everybody, form a line and we’ll get you taken care of as quickly as possible.

My, but there are a lot of you Dallas Cowboys here today wanting to exchange gifts. I guess we ought to start with you, Mr. Jones, you being the owner and all.

I’m sorry, sir, we can give you your money back for your facelift, but we can’t give you your old face back … Oh, I’m sorry, I meant no offense … No, I assure you I was not about to make a wax museum joke … I see, you want to return your brand-new stadium for a win over Philly tomorrow. I think we can do that.

Who’s next? Why, good morning, Mr. Owens. What seems to be wrong with these top-of-the-line Isotoner gloves Tony Romo got you? … Yes, I understand you’d like to trade them in for more passes thrown your way, but I’m afraid that’s going to be up to your quarterback … Mr. Romo, can you come to the front of the line, please? … Please calm down, sir. I don’t think Mr. Owens meant any offense by wanting to exchange your gift … Well, now, yes, Mr. Romo, I agree it is better to give than to receive … No, no, no, Mr. Owens, Mr. Romo wasn’t implying a quarterback is more important than a receiver.

Mr. Romo, do you have anything you’d like to exchange? … Yes, I understand that you’d like to take back the gift you gave Pittsburgh a couple of weeks ago. But you can only exchange gifts you’ve received.

Why, good morning Mr. McNabb … Something wrong with the fully-loaded Hydra-Matic, Vortec V-8 Platinum Cadillac Escalade your wife gave you? … Well, sir, it’s certainly your right to exchange that for a 2008 NFL Rule Book … Yes, sir, that does include the rules for overtime.

Step right up, Coach Phillips … Now, what seems to be the problem with this nice vote of confidence Mr. Jones gave you? … No, I didn’t know that every coach who has ever received that gift was fired two weeks later.

Mr. Burress, limp right up here. So you’d like to exchange your Super Bowl ring for a Beretta sub-compact pistol? Suit yourself … No, sir, I assure you I said ‘suit’ yourself!

Mr. Nutt, what seems to be the problem with this nice offensive coordinator Ole Miss athletic director Pete Boone was kind enough to get you? … You say you told him you didn’t need an offensive coordinator but he got you one anyway? How thoughtless.

Well, if it isn’t Iowa State head football coach Gene Chizik! How may we help you? … I’m sorry for laughing, sir, but I just assumed you were making a little joke … Oh, my, you really meant that about trading in your 10 straight losses this season for the Auburn head coaching job? … Sir, if you’ll just glance at our list of policies on the wall there, you’ll see the exchange must be of equal or lesser value.

What do you have there, Mr. Shanahan? I see, a gift card from NFL official Ed Hochuli …. Hmm, I’m sorry sir, this card was redeemed back in September against San Diego. I’m afraid you can’t use it again tomorrow.

Howdy, Mr. Tebow, what have we here? … Yes, the Heisman is a beautiful statue … While I find it admirable that you would want to unselfishly trade it in for a national championship, the receipt on this Heisman shows it was last year’s gift … You say it wasn’t a gift? ... Mr. McFadden here apparently disagrees.

Mr. McFadden, how may we help you? … Yes, I understand you want to turn in your multi-million- dollar contract for a bus ticket out of Oakland? Going where, may I ask? … Anywhere but Detroit, you say?

SPORTS>> Dual threat

Leader sports editor

Back in Week 4 of the 2008 high school football season, Demetrius Harris turned in a performance that put him on the map.
The 6-foot, 5-inch Jacksonville senior caught everything quarterback Logan Perry threw his way and Perry threw a lot of passes in his direction. When the damage was tallied, Harris had hauled in six passes for 180 yards and four touchdowns.

Harris also caught the attention of opposing defensive coordinators and the rest of the season he was hounded by two, sometimes three defenders.

Harris’ performance this season — 44 catches totaling 743 yards and 9 TDs — caught our attention, too. So much so that we failed to notice something else: As good a receiver as he was, Harris was an even better defensive player. The Red Devil free safety put up numbers that somehow managed to eclipse his sterling offensive output, recording 145 tackles — 109 solo — four interceptions and two fumble recoveries.

So, after including Harris in our final round of Offensive Player of the Year candidates, the Leader sports staff happened to glance at those magnificent defensive numbers. We were as surprised as Jacksonville head coach Mark Whatley and his staff were when they watched game film each week.

“We’d come in and look at the film and we were starting to put a highlight film together from an offensive standpoint for Demetrius,” Whatley said. “And then, when you start crunching his defensive numbers you say, dang, that’s what’s going to get him signed right there.”

Whether it gets Harris a scholarship or not is yet to be determined — Arkansas, UCA, Arkansas State and Arkansas Tech are all showing interest. What it did get him was the Leader’s Defensive Player of the Year honor.

Harris grew up in North Little Rock and attended Horace Mann and Little Rock Parkview until he transferred to Jacksonville his junior season. Whatley is certainly glad he did.

“He’s a free safety with a linebacker mentality,” Whatley said. “He made some tremendous hits right there within three yards of the line of scrimmage and did it over and over and over again. He was a huge impact player for us.”

Whatley knew he had a good one when Harris arrived at Jacksonville. The only question markwas his maturity level. Whatley said Harris made a complete turnaround from his junior season, calling him an unselfish player who was easy to coach. That unselfishness took a couple of important forms. For one thing, Harris was willing to give himself up for his fellow receivers after Jacksonville’s foes turned most of their attention on him.

“Even when you’re not getting the ball thrown to you, you have to blow those routes out,” Whatley said. “So even though he wasn’t catching passes, he was creating catches for his teammates. He understood this and sold out to it.”

Harris said it was frustrating at times, being the object of so much defensive attention. But he understood his role.

“I just worked harder to get open,” he said. “I was like a decoy out there. And other players were getting involved. (The defense) would have one on top of me and another one on me, and the other guys were wide open.”

Harris was also willing to stay on the field for nearly the entire 48 minutes each game, something he said he didn’t mind, despite the toll it took on him mentally and physically.

“At the games, I’d think, dang, I’ve been in the whole game,” Harris said. “It was just my adrenaline rush, like I was playing so hard trying to win every game. But it was like I could never get out of the game. Every time I tried, I’d be right back in. I got tired, but I just wanted to stay on the field.”

Whatley said Harris “tapped out” in only one game, a Week 2 win at Vilonia when it was still hot. Even then, Whatley said Harris was in for all but four or five plays. Whatley calls Harris’ mental toughness “phenomenal,” adding that he did it all with a nagging groin injury that plagued him throughout the season.

“Those kind of injuries won’t go away,” Whatley said. “Demetrius played hurt and he played tired and never missed a beat. Other players can’t help but look out there and respect that. That’s what makes him tick.”

Harris’ maturity also earned him the trust of his coach, who made him the defensive captain and allowed him to make the secondary calls and make sure the defense was properly aligned.

Whatley says the sky is the limit for Harris, especially as he develops physically. To match the speed and the size and the power at the next level, Harris will have to improve in all those areas. But Harris, who has also played basketball the past two seasons, has had little time for the weight room.

Harris said he was reluctant initially to play basketball, which he had never played in any organized fashion before, preferring instead to focus on football and work on the weights. But Jacksonville head coach Vic Joyner talked him into it.

“Last year, at the start of the season, I did not like basketball,” Harris admits. “I thought I wasn’t any good. So I started practicing and got better as I went. I actually started liking it.”

Harris is a ferocious rebounder and shot blocker, but can also provide the Red Devils some offensive punch.

Whatley said that Harris’ late development as a player should not cost him a chance at the next level.

“There’s still a lot of time,” he said. “There’s no reason for him to panic at all. There’s so many things you can do with him. He can play so many places on the football field.”

Arkansas State was coming in for a visit last week to talk to Harris.

In the meantime, Whatley will have to adjust to life without the dual-threat Harris, and he rolls his eyes at the prospect.

“He had the unselfishness on his part to do whatever he could to make us a better team,” he said. “And he did it all year long.

You won’t be able to replace one like that.

“The thing about Demetrius is, he had a great career here, but there’s a lot of great football ahead of him.”

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

TOP STORY > > January Banquet: Carlisle to lead chamber

The Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce will hold its annual banquet at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 27 at the Jacksonville Community Center.
New officers will be Philip Carlisle, president, Jason Wilkinson, vice president, and Jody Urquhart, treasurer.
Carlisle is an Arkansas native and resident of Jacksonville for 51 years. He and his wife, Karen, have been married 30 years and have a daughter, Taylor Carlisle. He is a member of First United Methodist Church.
In 1996, Carlisle was named the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year. He is a past honorary commander at Little Rock Air Force Base and a member of the Jacksonville Chapter of Ducks Unlimited, the Lions Club and the Rotary Club, which named him a Paul Harris Fellow.
His hobbies include duck hunting, golf and flying. He is employed at First Arkansas Bank and Trust, where he represents Investment Professionals Inc. as a registered financial consultant. He is also a partner in Subway of Arkansas.
Carlisle’s vision for the Jack-sonville Chamber of Commerce is to continue to build relationships with area businesses as well as the city of Jacksonville. In partnership with the city advertising and promotion commission, the chamber will continue to promote Jacksonville.
His hope is that the courts will allow Jacksonville to have its own school district and that the chamber will play a leading role in bringing the city, businesses and residents together to achieve this important goal.
Wilkinson is a native of Jacksonville and a graduate of Jacksonville High School. After attending the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, he returned to his home town to work as a certified public accountant. He is also a certified fraud examiner.
He worked in public accounting for Arthur Andersen and Rasco, Winter and Associates before joining in the formation of G and K Home Solutions, a local real estate investment and development company. He is a deacon and treasurer of Second Baptist Church in Jacksonville.
Wilkinson is married with two children, ages 2 and 6.
His vision for the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce is “to create a positive atmosphere between the businesses of Jacksonville, the city of Jacksonville and the customers of Jacksonville.”
He said he believes in “the fostering of strong networking among chamber members in order to further all of our business ventures.”
Urquhart is a Jacksonville native. He and his wife, Keri, have one child. He has been with Arkansas Farm Bureau for 11 years and is coordinator of its 13-county north central district.
He is a graduate of UA Monticello with a degree in animal science and agriculture and an alumni of LEAD AR, a two-year UA Extension Service leadership- development program.
His civic affiliations include serving as board member for the Jacksonville Boys and Girls Club and as secretary on the Jacksonville Sewer Commission. He is a founding board member and organizer of the Jacksonville World Class Education Organization, a group dedicated to improving the quality of education for all of Jacksonville’s children.
He was recently reappointed to serve as an honorary commander for the 19th Logistics Readiness Squadron.
Urquhart wants to see the chamber continue its efforts to build its membership and find new ways to serve and support all members so that they prosper. He also wants the chamber to be an advocate for an independent Jacksonville school district, as part of a community that children will be committed to as a great place to live, shop and play.
“It’s time for Jacksonville to soar higher than it ever thought possible,” he says.

TOP STORY > > Harry K. Dougherty: Businessman dies in Florida

Longtime Jacksonville businessman Harry K. Dougherty, 87, passed away Monday while vacationing in Key West, Fla.
He operated Indian Lake Park in Lonoke County and before that was a prominent Jacksonville businessman and alderman.
Dougherty moved to Jacksonville in 1954 to open a Western Auto store.
“He found out the air base was coming to Jacksonville and he bought the Western Auto franchise,” Bob Dougherty, one of his sons, recalled on Tuesday.
The store was in downtown Jacksonville near the railroad tracks and First Arkansas State Bank, where he was a longtime board member, as well its successors, First Jacksonville Bank and First Arkansas Bank.
“He was instrumental to help secure that Rebsamen Hospital (now North Metro Medical Center) came to Jacksonville,” Bob Dougherty said.
“He was quite active on the Little Rock Air Force Base Community Council. He was also an alderman and ran for mayor twice, losing once by just seven votes,” his son said.
Despite the shock of his father’s sudden death, Bob Dougherty said he died peacefully in an area that he loved and where he had hoped to spend the winter.
Larry Wilson, president and chief executive officer of First Arkansas Bank, said he appreciated Dougherty’s insights while he served on the bank’s board.
“He was a very astute businessman and was willing to give of his time and resources to help the community grow, and he did that for many years,” Wilson said.
Dougherty was born in Little Rock on April 28, 1921 and attended Central High School. He joined the Army Air Corps before going the University of Arkansas, where he was a pitcher.
He graduated in three years and went to work for Sears in Hot Springs and Natchez, Miss., before moving to Jacksonville to open his business.
His grandson Scott Tedder remembers him as “always very free-wheeling. He always enjoyed what he had. I miss him.”
Other survivors include his son Butch and daughter Patty McLean.
Funeral arrangements were incomplete at press time.

TOP STORY > > Daisy Olson: A woman lawyer who led the way

Leader Staff writer

For women of Daisy Olson’s generation, professional opportunities were limited.
Born during the Depression and out of high school a few years after the end of World War II, Olson had but a few career paths readily open to her – nurse, secretary or school teacher, all worthy callings.
But this bright young woman, who would become Jacksonville’s first (and only) female city attorney, had a sense of adventure and an independent spirit that took her life on a less conventional course.
Olson ran twice before earning enough votes to win the position. The first time, she lost by nine votes. When the election winner abandoned the city post within the first year, Olson ran again and won. That was 1961.
She kept the job for five years, but with a salary of $100 a month, it lost its appeal as her law practice grew.
Except for a brief time early on, Olson practiced solo for her entire career, which spanned 44 years and focused on family law. She retired in 2000.
Olson grew up in the Delta town of Tichnor (Arkansas County). Her father was a first-generation immigrant from Norway, a carpenter by trade. Her mother was a teacher. A loving, strong extended family and solid values imbued her with the confidence to succeed.
“My parents taught me to be independent. Maybe that was not their message or intention – but here I am,” Olson reflected in an interview recently.
After earning a two-year degree in pre-law studies from State Teachers College (now University of Central Arkansas) in Conway, Olson took a secretarial job in Little Rock. It occurred to her one day that she would like to go to law school.
“It seemed exciting. I thought, ‘Maybe I’ll go to law school,’” Olson recounted.
So, she did.
She kept her day job while taking night classes at the then private Arkansas Law School in Little Rock. Although she was not the sole female student, she was the only woman in the class of 1956.
So, with gender bias surely rampant, how was it being one of the few female students?
“Fun, with all those men!” she cracked. “I haven’t had it that good since.”
Professional opportunities for female law school graduates, however, were still fewer than for males. Olson found that out when she gave the FBI a call to inquire about applying to be an agent.
“I was told, ‘No, we don’t take women,’” Olson recollected.
After graduation, she worked as a legal secretary while studying for the bar exam, which she passed later that year. Now licensed, she began to practice law with a Texarkana firm.
It was not long before a fellow alumnus lured her away with the prospect of opening a law office together in Jacksonville, which at the time had only one lawyer and one judge.
The judge would become a thorn in Olson’s side, and the colleague who drew her to Jacksonville would prove to be undependable, dividing his time between that office and one elsewhere.
“He would only come a couple of hours a week and left me out here by myself. In one year, he left,” Olson said.
Olson decided to stay put and go it alone. She built a successful practice, making her name known through civic engagement and stubbornly hewing to the sage words of a former Texarkana senior partner: “Don’t ever refuse a case, and don’t ask for help. Do the research and do it on your own.”
“Win, lose or draw, you stand there and do it,” she said.
Divorces, custody disputes, adoptions and the like became her specialty. Although not highly lucrative, family law proved to be gratifying personally.
“People direct you in a certain way by virtue of calling on you to do certain things they wouldn’t call on a man to do,” Olson said. “I loved the clients; they got to me in a special way.”
Soon after establishing her practice, Olson made the bold decision to run for city attorney. She lost by the narrowest of margins, but got a second chance, when her opponent left the post within a year. A special election was held, and she ran again. The judge who presided over the Jacksonville court tried to stand in her way. The word around town was that he recruited her opponent, a man from North Little Rock. That maneuver did not sit well with Jacksonville residents, who by that time knew of Olson’s competency in the courtroom.
“I think that turned people against him and his candidate, an outsider,” Olson observed. “I was probably helped rather than hurt by his activities.”
After her victory, the judge continued to challenge Olson at every opportunity, especially in the courtroom.
“It was a constant battle,” she recollected. “I won cases that he couldn’t rule against, but others he wouldn’t let me win.
“That will sound like sour grapes, but it is the truth,” Olson said. “But, it was the only place I ever felt any discrimination – never in any other court. And there were only male judges for the first 20 or 30 years I practiced. Judges judge what you have to say, primarily.”
Olson’s busy practice left little time for considerations of marriage and family. With that choice came unique blessings.
“I missed out so much, but practicing law, I learned so much about life. I learned to respect the privacy of people maybe more than if I were a general member of society. I learned why people do things differently and choose different lifestyles. That made me not quite so judgmental. I loved the law – all of it. It challenged me all of the time.”

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

EDITORIAL >>All people can celebrate

Christmas is a religious holiday, celebrated in that way only by Christians, who memorialize the birth of the Savior not merely on a day but a whole festival season, which seems to grow longer by the passing years. But Christmas long ago ceased to be only a day or a season for Christian piety, but rather a celebration for people of many faiths or no religious faith at all in western nations and in even what we presumptively call pagan lands.

That is because Christmas came to represent not merely the birthday of the Prince of Peace but a time and a need to renew the values that the birth extended to everyone. You do not have to believe in the sacred birth or its promise of redemption to appreciate those values and to yearn for their fulfillment.

And what are those values? First, that there is redemption for everyone and every failing, and it must be found if not in the protestation of religious faith then in the private conscience. Forgiveness, which we are each bound to offer just as we accept redemption. Finally, peace and understanding, those words and ideas so commonly linked to Jesus from the prophecies of Isaiah through the gospels.

So we like to think that in this season again everyone takes new inspiration from those ideas and reflects a little upon how much we have embraced them in our private lives and in our common purpose as a nation and a humanity.

Not so much, we imagine that most people are concluding. War, irrational hatred, reaction and unnatural greed have brought the nation and indeed the whole world to a low estate this Christmas. We have much to regret and much to forgive. We may be fortunate in these prosperous enclaves to avert the hardship and suffering that beset the country seventy years ago and the calamities that constantly befall poorer lands.

But can’t we see redemption already at hand? We are inveterate Pollyannas here, we know, but the national catharsis that we call an election seems to have carried the seeds of renewal. People voted in huge numbers, though not so much in these parts, and for whichever party and candidate they voted there was evidence that they put aside old animosities and prejudices. The country elected not the selfless patriot and hero of an old war but the first African-American president, a man with a strange and even inflammatory name, because they thought he was intelligent, possessed a good vision and might put the country on a better course.

Disillusionment may be at hand, but at Christmas-time his vision of peace, healing and inclusion infects us with the very hope that he invoked so eloquently in a long and otherwise ugly campaign. We have no trouble urging all, including our cherished readers, to be of good cheer for there is reason. Dispatch the gloom and have a merry Christmas. — Ernie Dumas

TOP STORY > >Sherwood passes tight budget, delays vote on North Belt route

Leader staff writer

Aside from a 4 percent salary increase for its employees, the city of Sherwood is trimming its sails as it prepares to head into uncertain economic waters in 2009. On Monday, night, the city council unanimously approved a $19.22 million general fund budget, which reflected a modest 1.9 percent increase over 2008. In contrast, the 2008 budget is 5.7 percent more than that for 2007.

Separate budgets were also passed for the street department, wastewater and advertising and promotion commission. North Belt route was also discussed.

What may save the city from a decline in general fund revenues are the annexation of Gravel Ridge and the opening of a Walmart Supercenter within city limits. Revenues from sales taxes and franchise utilities taxes are projected to increase by $970,000 over 2008. Other revenue sources are expected to remain flat or in decline compared with 2008. Largest revenue sources will be the county-wide sales tax at $4.8 million, the city sales tax at $4.6 million, sanitation fees at $1.3 million, and the franchise utilities tax at $1.25 million.

Personnel expenditures will take the biggest chunk of revenues. Salaries and payroll taxes for all departments will total just under $10 million, and the retirement program, an additional $860,000.

The general fund budget includes $4.87 million for administration (including $1.17 million for fire protection), $5.8 million for the police, $490,990 for the hot check court, $798,088 for the municipal court, $544,530 for engineering and planning, $152,353 for human resources, $358,125 for computer services, $1.82 million for sanitation, $3.12 million for parks and recreation, $259,228 for the senior programs, $328,891 for animal services and $684,439 for public works.

The streets budget totaled $1.79 million, the wastewater budget totaled $1.53 million, and the Advertising and Promotion Commission’s budget totaled $566,000.


The council amended the zoning map for the city to broaden commercial zoning options to permit commercial strip development along Hwy. 107 from Gravel Ridge north to General Samuels Road.

The council voted down an appeal by state highway department planner Steve Mitchell to amend the city’s street plan to so that it accurately reflects the location of the North Belt freeway to the north of the Highway 107-Brockington Road intersection, as decided a few months ago by the state highway department. Mitchell told the council that not doing so would “send the wrong message to the (highway) commission and could very well kill the project.”

The council did not buy the argument and instead obliged pleas of developers to wait until their differences are settled with the highway department about appraised values of their land at the intersection.

Rick Ashley and Byron Mc-Kimmey were among those asking council members to hold off until the findings of a third appraisal, which is intended to settle the dispute over widely varying appraisals, one conducted by the highway department and another by a private appraiser hired by the developers.

“We can have a special council meeting 30 minutes after you get your appraisal,” Alderman Becki Vassar told Mitchell.

Mitchell assured the council that the highway department “would take action” within 30 days of completion of the third appraisal, which is expected within a couple of weeks. If a purchase price for freeway right-of-way at the critical intersection cannot be settled by negotiations between the developers and the highway department, it will up to the courts to decide.

Federal funds of up to $4 million have been reserved for purchase of the right-of-way. No funding is yet available for construction of the North Belt, which has been on and off the drawing table for 20 years. The route for the project was at last finalized in September.


The council voted to raise the cap on assessed home values against which protection fees are levied.

The change affects Pulaski Fire Protection District No. 5 and would raise the home assessment cap from $220,000 to $350,000. The allowed maximum fire protection fee will be $300 per resident, up from $196. This increase will bring about $13,000 more for District No. 5.

The district had hoped for more from the city and had asked the city budget committee last week for a $100,000 supplement, mainly to increase entry level pay for firefighters, which is about $1.50 per hour below the state average.

The committee nixed that request, noting the across-the-board pay raise for all city employees as well as the increased revenue if the council raised the cap on assessments.


The council approved an ordinance accepting annexation of 1,951 acres, which will extend its borders to the north and west of Gravel Ridge. The owners of the property more than two years ago petitioned to have their land annexed to Sherwood.

Their request was granted by the Pulaski County Court, a decision then challenged by the city of Jacksonville, which contended that the property more appropriately belonged in Jacksonville.

In November the Arkansas Supreme Court issued a ruling affirming the annexation of the land into Sherwood.


The council approved adoption of the 2007 state fire prevention code affecting residential construction and hazardous materials storage.

It also adopted the 2006 state codes for plumbing and installation of fuel gas systems and the 2008 edition of the national electric code.

The council presented a plaque to David Henry, who is retiring from the council at the end of this year.

The council approved the ap-pointment of Rodney Freeman to the Planning Commission, to fill a seat vacated by Ray Harrison.

TOP STORY > >Cabot to build ninth elementary

Leader staff writer

Work on Cabot School District’s ninth elementary school, Mountain Springs Elementary, will soon be under way, Superintendent Dr. Tony Thurman said during last week’s school board meeting.

The board approved the $160,000 purchase of Bill and Mildred Ray’s 16 acres for the new elementary, located a half-mile from the Mountain Springs Road/Hwy. 5 intersection, during the November meeting.

Mountain Springs Elementary, planned to open in the fall of 2010, will help relieve overcrowding at Magness Creek and Northside Elementary schools.

The drives and parking areas for the new campus have been identified and the information is on its way to the Cabot Planning Commission, Thurman said.

The details of getting the utilities to the site are being worked out between the school and the city, as the 16 acres are currently outside the Cabot city limits, he added.

Work is also coming along on schedule at the $11.6 million Cabot Junior High North, planned for completion in July 2009, where crews have been busy painting interior walls, laying block walls and bringing the roof to near completion.

The band hall, choir area and cafeteria only lack a final coat of paint, ceiling tile and floor covering to complete construction.

The kitchen walls have been primed and are ready for wall-coverings; the walk-in coolers and freezers have been set and the floor poured; work on the wall covering and ceiling grid will begin the first week after the holidays.

The exterior block walls of the two-story, 134,000-square-foot structure are complete.

The exterior veneer – a split-faced finish block that covers the structural blocks – is complete on the band hall, cafeteria, offices, media center and kitchen.

The veneer will be 98 percent finished on the rest of the exterior walls by Christmas, Thurman said.

The final 2 percent will be completed after the forklift traffic is no longer necessary.

The metal trusses and metal decking of the roof are completed and the two layers of insulation on top of the decking are 66 percent completed.

“The roof crew was increased last Monday from eight to 15 men in order to speed up the roof completion,” Thurman told the board.

For the first time since the August 2006 fire, the power has been restored to the vocational building, one of the few buildings left intact after the electrical fire destroyed the rest of the eight-year-old campus.

TOP STORY > >Successor moving in as county prosecutor

Leader staff writer

Although Lona McCastlain is officially the Lonoke County prosecutor until Jan. 1, Will Feland, her replacement, is already on the job.

Feland, a former Lonoke County prosecutor, has been sworn in as an unpaid deputy prosecutor so he can review cases, but he says he is in contact with McCastlain, who is using vacation days to spend Christmas with her husband in Germany where he is stationed.

McCastlain’s husband, Bruce, who serves full time in the National Guard, was promoted Sept. 14 from lieutenant colonel to full-bird colonel. He got his orders for Europe Sept. 17 shortly before McCastlain announced that she was retiring as Dist. 23 prosecuting attorney.

McCastlain said when she announced her retirement that December was a slow month for the courts and therefore a good time for the transition to a new prosecutor.

Feland, 56, said this week that the transition is going well. The only major change, he said, is the chief deputy prosecutor. Stuart Cearley resigned to take the chief deputy position in Benton County, Feland said.

Cearley’s replacement is Bart Dickinson, a former deputy prosecutor for Pulaski County who now works for the attorney general. Feland said while Dickinson was with Pulaski County, he prosecuted more than 60 cases in criminal court.

Cearley’s departure was completely voluntary, he said, adding that he was pleased with his replacement.

“Because of his experience, I am really excited for Bart to come aboard,” Feland said.

Longtime Circuit Judge Lance Hanshaw is retiring at the end of December. His First Division seat will be filled by Judge Barbara Elmore, who was appointed as circuit judge in 2007 to the newly created Third Division. Judge Phillip Whiteaker presides over Second Division and Hanshaw’s son-in-law, Sandy Huckabee, won over McCastlain for the Third Division seat that Elmore will vacate at the end of the month.

Currently, the judges divide the workload with Hanshaw hearing mostly criminal cases, Whiteaker mostly civil cases and Elmore mostly domestic violence and juvenile cases. But that arrangement changes in January, when Elmore, Whiteaker and Huckabee will share the criminal case load. Getting ready for the change is keeping Feland and the staff in the prosecutor’s office busy.

“We’ve worked hard to get organized,” Feland said. “I wanted to hit the ground running in January.”

In addition to being a lawyer, Feland is pastor of the First Christian Church in Sherwood and the owner of Pinnacle Structures in Cabot, which manufactures metal buildings. He said this week that while he is prosecutor, he will turn the operation of his business over to Ken Kincade.

Feland was one of two lawyers McCastlain recommended to Gov. Mike Beebe as her successor. She also recommended one of her former deputy prosecutors, Norene Smith.

“I couldn’t have been more pleased if I had (picked him) myself,” McCastlain said after Beebe selected Feland. “He’s professional and will serve the people well. He did it before and I know he will do it again.”

Feland served four two-year terms as Lonoke County prosecutor before deciding in 1992 to go to seminary instead of seeking reelection.

Because he’s appointed to the position, he’ll not be eligible to succeed himself at the end of his term. He will serve until Dec. 31, 2010.

TOP STORY > >Little girl left Santa very sad

Leader editor

(This is a reprint of a previous Christmas column.)

When my friend Jack Sallee was with the Jaycees in Fayetteville, they’d put an ad in the paper at Christmastime, saying that for $2 you could have Santa come to your place.

There’d be a group of Santas going out every night, and Sallee was among them.

“Each Santa went to about 10 homes a night,” Sallee says. “Each Santa had a driver. Mine was named Larry Nixon. He was a big fellow, and I would tell the kids Larry was driving me around town.”

Usually nothing out of the ordinary happened. Kids got to tell Santa what they wanted for Christmas, and Santa gave them lots of candy, and everybody went to bed happy.

But then something different did happen. Sallee says, “One night we had two houses left to go. We drove around for a while, and when we found one, it was a one-room house. We went inside, and the house had a dirt floor and hardly any furnishings.”

A young girl was there with her mother. They were as poor as they could be: They had nothing — or very little.

The two Jaycees, college educated and professionals who’d seen dozens of nice homes, couldn’t believe what they had walked into.

“There were two cots to sleep on, and a table and a chair,” Sallee says. “The house had a pot-bellied stove. She had one of those small Styrofoam ice chests. So needless to say, I was taken aback because I didn’t think people still lived like that. This was inside the Fayetteville city limits.”

“The girl was seven or eight years old,” Sallee continues, “and she had long hair and blue eyes. She wore a nightgown that looked like a man’s T-shirt her mother had cut off. She was flabbergasted that Santa Claus would actually visit her.”

He says, “For a Christmas tree, her mother had brought in a branch and put it on the table.”

Her mother had found her a present — a ball wrapped in tissue paper. Sallee wondered what else this poor girl would ask for.

“In the homes we had seen,” he continues, “the children would tell us what they wanted by reciting the toy sections in stores they’d been to.”

But that wasn’t what the girl wanted.

“The girl sat on my lap and looked at me seriously,” Sallee recalls. “She said, ‘Santa, the only thing I want is for Daddy to come home.’”

“I looked at my driver, this big, burly guy, and he had to walk outside because tears were streaming down his face,” Sallee says.

“The mother turned her back to us, and I just turned my head away from her,” he adds. “I was just stunned and moved and speechless. I wanted to hold the little girl and tell her everything was going to be all right, but there was nothing you could do.

You felt helpless. She never asked for a toy or clothes.”

“I said there are some things Santa Claus can’t do,” Sallee adds, “but Santa Claus would try. I gave her all the candy I had.”

“It’s an experience you’ll never forget,” he says. “It will haunt you for the rest of your life.”

Sallee remembers that little girl around this time of the year. He wonders what happened to her father.

Maybe this Christmas he will be home, and, who knows, they’ll have a nice home to live in. You can’t lose hope.

TOP STORY > >Officials can ask for road funding

Leader senior staff writer

Arkansas could get as much as $13 billion for local transportation projects as part of the federal stimulus package.
Sen. Blanche Lincoln and other members of the Arkansas congressional delegation are eager to hear from local officials about projects they want done.

Pinch-hitting for Lincoln’s aide Donna Kay Yeargan, Metroplan executive director Jim McKenzie last week told board members,
“Blanche says she needs feedback from elected officials.”

“I have a packet together and ready to go,” said Ward Mayor Art Brooke, who was elected president of the Metroplan board for 2009.

Brooke also handed a ceremonial gavel to outgoing president Tab Townsell of Conway.

McKenzie encouraged central Arkansas mayors and county judges to contact the congressional delegation with any projects they have ready to go.

Widening Brockington Road in Sher-wood and Graham Road in Jacksonville are two examples of the kind of shovel-ready projects so far unpaid for that could benefit quickly when Congress approves a version of President-elect Barack Obama’s infrastructure/economic stimulus bill early next year, according to McKenzie,

“We need to remake our crumbling transportation system,” Obama said Friday in introducing Illinois Rep. Ray LaHood as transportation secretary.

New funding could expedite the widening of state Hwy. 107 from Bearpaw to Brockington.

The money could also move up the widening of southbound Hwy. 67/167 from Redmond Road to Kiehl Avenue.

McKenzie told Metroplan board members that he had heard discussion of a stimulus package of more than $500 billion, of which perhaps $13 billion could go directly to Arkansas transportation.

“We have a list of shovel-ready projects sent to (Cong. Vic) Snyder,” McKenzie said.

“There’s a lot we don’t know,” said Scott Bennett, the state Highway Department’s member on the board.

“Lists don’t mean anything other than we have a lot ready to go.”

He said Obama’s team had said they wanted projects ready to go in 30 to 60 days after authorization, but jobs routinely take about six months to move through the process.

He said he thought there would be $60 billion available nationwide during the first couple of years.

“We say you’ve got to give us flexibility,” Bennett said. “Don’t put money in projects that already have committed money.

“We turned in a $1.1 billion list,” Bennett said. “We could double that.”

He said the money could be spent on projects already identified with some work begun on the Surface Transportation Project list and also on the Transportation Improvement Program.

“This is a very fluid situation,” Bennett said.

Answering a question from Benton Mayor Rick Holland, McKenzie said there were relatively few city projects known to be shovel-ready.

Roads are not the only infrastructure that government money might be used for in central Arkansas.

Transit, building or repairing water systems or sewage systems like the ones on the I-430 bridge; insulating public buildings and putting energy-efficient heating and cooling systems in them; improvements to airports, rural utilities, rehabilitation and maintenance of hydropower facilities; funding public housing; and building and repairing energy-transmission networks are all possible improvements.

State Rep. Kathy Webb, chairman of the governor’s commission on global warming, gave a short recap of the 350-page report the commission has submitted to Gov. Mike Beebe.

The report contains 53 recommendations of which several could be proposed as laws in the next session.

By a one-vote margin, the commission recommended a moratorium on coal-fired power plants, Webb said, a proposal so controversial that she doesn’t expect it to be submitted as a bill in the legislature.

The commission was broad-based with environmentalists, energy producers, professors, business people, legislators, state agency heads and others, but it actually managed to pass 48 recommendations either unanimously or nearly so, she said.

The commission recommended a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 20 percent below 2000 levels by 2020, 35 percent below by 2025 and 50 percent reduction by 2035.

It called for the state to lead by example, decreasing its own energy usage by 30 percent by 2035, through the purchase of more efficient cars and trucks, better insulation of buildings, more efficient heating and cooling and perhaps a shortened work week.

Also, the commission unanimously called for a long-range study leading to a state water plan.

In other action, Holland presented state Sen. Shane Broadway with the Regional Jack Evans Leadership Award, named after the late former Sherwood mayor.

“Senator Broadway has been a leader in the General Assembly on the critical issues of education and economic development,” Holland said.

Broadway called the award an honor and said, “I appreciate all Metroplan does. It helps us craft better policy.”

SPORTS>>Vilonia girls hand Cabot lopsided loss

Leader sports editor

GREENBRIER — It’s a game best forgotten. The question is, will the Cabot Lady Panthers ever be able to shake off the lingering effects of their total domination by Vilonia on Monday afternoon in the Battle of the Brier?

The Class 5A Lady Eagles, who improved to 11-0, thumped 7A Cabot, shutting it out in the third period en route to a 58-27 win.

Head coach Carla Crowder, while not happy with the performance, didn’t appear too concerned afterwards that the loss would shake her team’s confidence down the road.

“This happens all the time,” said Crowder, whose Lady Panthers fell to 8-3 and will take on Greenbrier on Saturday at 4 p.m.

“That’s just part of coaching. Sometimes you play like that.”
Crowder obviously hopes that will be the last time in a while, though.

“I told them, if we play like that, we’ll get our butts kicked every time.”

There was nothing good about this one, and what started out badly only got worse. The Lady Panthers hung around in the first half only because Stephanie Glover scored her team’s first 10 points. But by the time she reached that total, Cabot was already trailing 22-10. Glover finished with 16 points, one of only four Cabot players to score. Shelby Ashcraft added six, including the final four Cabot points of the first half. Cabot trailed 30-14 at intermission after Vilonia scorched the nets for 7-of-9 shooting.

Overall, Vilonia made just three fewer shots than Cabot attempted, finishing a torrid 24 of 38 to the Lady Panthers’ 11 of 27.

The Vilonia defense was every bit as impressive with an active 2-3 zone that had Cabot scrambling all night for open looks.

“They played a very solid game, but I don’t think it had anything to do with them,” Crowder said. “I think it had to do with us. I could tell yesterday we were going to play like that.”

The Lady Panthers committed eight turnovers in the third period and took only four shots — all misses — as Vilonia increased its lead to a crowd-silencing 38-14.

Cabot ended a 9-minute, 29-second scoring drought when Glover scored inside with 7:22 left in the game. It began the only run of the night for the Lady Panthers, who launched a 9-2 run to get within 18.

But Vilonia closed out the game the way it began it, going on a 17-4 run to set the final margin.

“Our whole team overall, I was pleased with our offensive and defensive effort,” said Vilonia coach Alvin Riley. “It’s the best we’ve played all year, by far. Cabot’s a very good team and I was worried we’d have trouble scoring on them, but what we did was we hit our open shots.

“Our 2-3 zone kept them off balance all night.”

The Lady Eagles scored the first six points of the game before Glover scored inside and hit a pair of free throws. Vilonia reeled off 14 of the next 16 points to take a 20-6 lead with 5:18 left in the half.

The Lady Eagles had no one reach double figures, but had three with nine points and another with eight.

Cabot reached the semifinals with a 53-30 cruise past Wonderview on Saturday. Jenna Bailey hit three three-pointers on her way to 14 points. Ashcraft had eight, while Amber Rock and Sarah Moore each added six.

SPORTS>>Cabot boys rally in win over Beebe

Leader sportswriter

Inspiring sub play lifted the Cabot Panthers to a dramatic 63-61 win over Beebe on Friday night. The Badgers spent three quarters building a steady lead, and extended that lead into double digits halfway into the fourth quarter.

“Give Beebe a lot of credit,” said Panthers coach Jerry Bridges. “They probably outplayed us. We stepped up our defensive intensity at the end. We were down 10 or so there with three minutes to go, so we were pretty fortunate to win it.”

Bridges’ frustration with the defensive efforts of his starters came to a head late, as Darin Jones, Paul Ford, Kai Davis, Christian Armstrong and Patrick Martin came into the game to replace the senior starting five. Jones, the 6-1 sophomore, scored a pair of critical baskets.

“Those guys really sparked the team,” Bridges said. “They were a big reason why we were able to come back.”

Adam Sterrenberg led the Panthers with 22 points and four steals. Miles Monroe added seven points and nine rebounds, while Austin Johnson and Jack Bridges each added seven. Bridges led in assists with eight, and Gary Clark finished with seven rebounds.

For Beebe, Zach Kersey led with 25 points. Will Scott had 12, and Anthony Forte 10.

The Panthers are 8-2, and will begin tournament play at Ft. Smith in the Coke Classic Monday at 4:15 p.m. against Subiaco Academy.

SPORTS>>Rollins Elam: Like father, like son

Leader sportswriter

Rollins Elam comes by his football talent naturally.

Jamie Elam led the Des Arc Eagles to their only state championship back in the mid-1970s, earning high school All-American honors along the way. He also set numerous passing records around the state, many of which stood until the rise of the pass-oriented Spread offense a decade ago.

Some 30 years later, Jamie’s son appeared to be on his way to repeating his father’s feat when Rollins led the Jackrabbits to the 4A state quarterfinals last month.

Rollins racked up impressive numbers while doing so, completing 160 of 301 passes for 2,616 yards and 27 touchdowns and compiled a 16-4 record as a starter at Lonoke.

As a result, Rollins Elam has been named the 2008 Leader Offensive Player of the Year.

Elam was an All-Conference and All-State selection his junior and senior years. He was also named an outstanding back in Class 4A football this year, and was nominated for best offensive player in Class 4A.

“It was a great season,” said Elam. “We were expected to do good this year. We had a lot of returning starters coming back. We happened to run into a pretty good team to end our season in the playoffs, and they went on to win the championship. It was a good season. We just hated to come up short.”

At only 5-9, 180 pounds, Elam may not be big, but his strong arm, combined with his leadership skills made him the go-to guy for Lonoke head coach Jeff Jones, now preparing for his fourth season at the ’Rabbit helm.

“It’s big for his teammates,” Jones said. “Knowing that they have that kind of leader out there who knows what’s going on.

They look to him all the time. Usually as Rollins went, we went. If he was on and doing well, we were doing well. The team really bought into him being the leader, and they followed well.”

Elam’s days as a quarterback go back to first grade, when he played in Cabot youth leagues before Lonoke got its own program a couple of years later.

Elam got an early jump on understanding the Xs and Os of Jones’ newly-installed Spread offense during his sophomore season when he was a blocking back behind quarterback Alex Cash. The Spread was a departure for the Lonoke varsity team, which had been known for its rushing offenses.

It wasn’t physical prowess that got him the job leading Jones’ offense; it was mental toughness and a thorough understanding of the game.

“He was always asking questions about different aspects of running the offense,” Jones said. “Trying to figure out the small details early that make you special.

“He was probably the least athletic of the guys that were going out for quarterback. So that first year, he didn’t play any at quarterback.”

Elam got his chance earlier than expected, but that opportunity came at a devastating price. Cash died in a car accident in the spring before his senior year.

Elam got off to an outstanding start to his high school quarterbacking career but a leg injury suffered in a playoff-clinching win over Marianna cut short his 2007 season.

Elam returned to fall camp fully recovered, and embarked on a dream season, which began with a 35-20 win over Dumas at UAPB during Hootens’ kickoff week.

Beebe handed Lonoke its only loss in the regular season 28-19 in Week 2, but a thrilling 41-38 win over Central Arkansas Christian the following week set the tone for a dominant run through the 2-4A Conference and a 7-0 record, including a decisive 41-22 win over Stuttgart, a perennial favorite in 4A football every season.

Elam proved to be a consistent performer, leading the Jackrabbits to a number of blowout wins, which included a 45-24 spanking of Warren in the second round of the playoffs.

While fellow seniors Joel Harris, Clarence Harris, Michael Howard and Morgan Linton were drawing the notice of colleges, Elam has continued to fly under the radar and has received no scholarship offers.

He should do just fine, however, with a 3.5 GPA and 21 ACT score. He plans on going to college and pursuing a degree in education, though he hasn’t decided on a school.

Rollins got much of his education in football from his legendary father, who also served as a coach during his youth-league days.

“It helped out a lot,” Elam said. “He always pushed me harder than all of the other kids. He expected more, and it made me a better player. It’s kind of cool your dad was an all American and everything. You’re expected to do well also. You’ve got to fill in the shoes where he left off.”

Elam gives a lot of credit to linemen and a talented corps of receivers, led by fellow senoirs Howard and Clarence Harris, who made the tough catches all year.

“I wouldn’t have made it without them,” he said.
Jones credits Elam’s enthusiasm and passion for much of his success.

“He just wants to play, and play to win,” he said. “That doesn’t just go for Friday nights, it’s also Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. He’s the kind of guy you have to have on your team to win championships. He had a great career for us.”

Football is one of Elam’s two great passions. The other is duck hunting. Elam’s duck-calling skills rival his ability at quarterback, but he opts not to do that competitively, citing the trendy duck-calling competitions in the area as “silliness.”

Elam will most likely pass on the reins to sophomore Logan Dewitt, who saw playing time late in blowout wins this season.

“He played in Rollins’ shadow this year and saw the kind of leadership it takes to play,” Jones said. “He and I had a lot of talks about it, and I know he diligently watched and learned from Rollins. I think he’s really going to blossom into a great one, and Rollins is going to be a big part of that, the way he showed him how to play the game.”

Elam was the first of his kind at Lonoke High School, a pure passing quarterback. The 2-4A title season has put the football Jackrabbits back on the map, validating the decade of dreaming and hard work by Elam and his fellow seniors, many of whom have played together since age eight.

“The teams right before us didn’t have very good records,” Elam said. “We kind of set a new standard with a 10-2 record.

That’s the best Lonoke has had since around 2000. That’s a really good feeling to show the state and our community what we were really made of.”

SPORTS>>Devils take round 3

Leader sportswriter

Victor Joyner and Raymond Cooper have both referred to the rivalry series between their two basketball teams as heavyweight prize fights on multiple occasions.

If that’s the case, then give round three to Jacksonville on a flurry of late Red Devil punches.

The Red Devils (5-2) held North Pulaski (7-3) to only one field goal in the fourth quarter to claim a 44-35 win on Friday night at the Falcons’ Nest. North Pulaski led from the start of the game until the final minute of the third quarter, when a three-point basket by Stan Appleby tied it at 32, and the Devils never trailed again.

After dropping an early-season tilt with their cross-town rivals, Jacksonville has bounced back to win the next two.

The Falcons came out with something to prove, with shooting ace Aaron Cooper on the bench for the game. Fellow junior Duquan Bryant took up much of that slack in the first half, leading all scorers with 13 points. He was, however, the only NP player to finish in double digits.

“North Pulaski just took it to them in the first half,” said Joyner. “And they knew that, they knew it at halftime. We knew it before the game when we found out that Cooper wasn’t going to play, we knew everybody else was going to step up, because we’ve been there. We’ve all been in that situation when your key guy is gone.
“It’s like losing your hearing, all your other senses are heightened. Well, their senses were heightened. We knew that was going to happen, we talked about it. We didn’t match their intensity early. We had too many miscues, weren’t patient.”
After controlling well over half the game, a three-pointer from the top of the key by Duquan Bryant with 26 seconds left to play was all the Falcons had to show for in the final quarter.
Meanwhile, the Red Devils had gone on a 10-0 run to build a 42-32 lead. Appleby started the final period just as he had ended the previous one, with a long-distance trey that gave Jacksonville its first lead since the 7:16 mark of the first quarter.

Most of Jacksonville’s points came on the inside. Antwan Lockhart put in two of his six points at the 3:35 mark to give Jacksonville a 38-32 lead, and Demetrius Harris scored down low with a minute left after a Cortell Eskridge free throw to make it 41-32. Harris went on to lead the Red Devils with 12 points and eight rebounds.

“That’s the main thing,” Joyner said. “That’s what this team hasn’t realized. We have a lot of potential stars, and I’m saying ‘potential’, because they sure ain’t big stars yet, but we have some potential stars out there.

“They don’t want to share the ball in certain situations, and that’s why we had to put a couple of them on that bench. Sit them over there and let them think about it. Then the ball got to moving around, and going to places where I wanted it to go. We’ve got something to work with on this team, but mentally, they’ve got to focus in on the game plan, and stick with it, regardless.”
The Falcons controlled the scoreboard in the first half, but could never pull away from Jacksonville. Their biggest lead was at the beginning of the second quarter, when a pair of free throws by T.J. Green put them up 15-8.

“I’m totally pleased with them, because they responded,” Joyner said. “We knew they were going to come out with both barrels.

But they burned a whole lot of energy early. I think the size and the banging, it just eventually wore them down.”

The Devils sputtered offensively in the first half. They still found ways to avoid falling out of contention, with a pair of second-quarter shots by LaQuinton Miles and a pair of three pointers by Deshone McClure for six of his 10 points in the game. The slow pace seemed to favor the Falcons in the first half, but the size of Jacksonville took its toll down the stretch.

“That’s to our advantage,” Joyner said. “We’ve got the bigger people. If you want to slow it down, we’ll play that way. We want our big men to get under there and rebound the ball. When they beat us over there, we were letting them drive. We weren’t rotating over well. But this time, we rotated over there. We helped tonight by making them shoot jumps shots.”

Appleby finished with eight points for Jacksonville. Kyron Ware added seven for North Pulaski.

The Lady Red Devils took the opener Friday with a 69-26 mercy-ruled win over North Pulaski. Post player Jessica Lanier led the way for Jacksonville with 12 points, with 10 from Tyra Terry. Chyna Davis and Crystal Washington each added nine points for the Lady Red Devils, who improved to 4-5 on the year. For North Pulaski, senior Laura Dortch led the way with 10 points, while Bianca Harper had eight.

Jacksonville will host the annual Red Devil Classic tournament beginning Saturday.

Monday, December 22, 2008

TOP STORY > > Ward gas station didn’t gouge

The attorney general has concluded after an investigation into possible price gouging that a Ward gas station did not overcharge for gasoline earlier this year as Hurricane Ike approached the Texas coast last September.
Attorney General Dustin Mc-Daniel has found that 31/38 Grocery in Ward, along with eight others in the state, did not overcharge their customers.
Many Arkansans had contacted the attorney general’s office to complain about the sky-rocketing cost of gasoline.
In response to nearly 5,000 complaints, McDaniel issued investigative subpoenas to 15 companies that own or operate approximately 80 gas stations across the state.
All 15 companies have now responded to the investigative subpoenas.
The attorney general’s office is seeking additional information and documentation from several of these companies to clarify the initial responses and those investigations are continuing.
McDaniel said four companies had provided information and other documentation demonstrating that the retail price of gasoline at their locations did not violate the price gouging law or the Arkansas Deceptive Trade Practices Act.
The attorney general’s conclusion was based upon an extensive review of records submitted to his office as well as a review of gasoline market prices at the time.
Besides 31/38 Grocery, the companies and gas stations that were exonerated include:
Day and Nite Stores, with seven stations in El Dorado, Hampton, Sheridan, Warren, England, Stephens and Camden; Circle C Community Grocery in Wooster, and A.J.’s station in Paragould.
McDaniel’s office sent a letter to these companies thanking them for their cooperation and telling them that the investigation into their companies is now closed.
The attorney general’s office has not yet reached any conclusions about the remaining parties.

TOP STORY > > Ward knife maker sharpens his skill

Leader staff writer

Tough times can lead to ingenuity. When Robert Spradlin was a teenager, he needed a knife for hunting and fishing, so he became a self-taught bladesmith.
Spradlin, a 30-year-old Beebe native who’s a diesel mechanic in Ward, was 10 years old when his father passed away. The family could not afford their house payments and had to move into a smaller rental house in town.
“We were living on my dad’s Social Security, and we didn’t have much,” he said.
“I’ve always liked hunting, guns and knives. It’s always been a passion. I could not afford a good knife and I had to make my own,” Spradlin said.
Spradlin began making knives when he was 14. His father was a carpenter and left an old bench grinder, tools and hand drills. With those pieces of equipment and a coal-burning stove, Spradlin turned old files, leaf springs and saw blades into knives.
After a long break, he returned to forging knives five years ago. He makes knives in his spare time at his shop on Pigeon Road.
He has completed the American Bladesmith Society’s introduction class to bladesmithing.
One knife can take him between two and 60 hours to make, depending on complexity and design. Each knife is a unique.
Spradlin shapes the blades, cuts the handles and stitches leather sheaths. He makes close to 100 knives a year.
“I look at it as art. It is functional. I never make the same knife twice. I am a perfectionist,” Spradlin said.
Spradlin also makes spears, tomahawks and hatchets.
He has made miniature knives that are an inch long. His largest piece is a 22-inch short sword.
When Spradlin makes a knife, he uses new steel to forge a blade.
He can also make knives by recycling old files, wheel-bearing races and thick, steel cable.
Used steel has metal alloys that give the knife’s edge sharpness and durability.
Spradlin can also craft a Da-mascus pattern into a knife using two different metal alloys of steel. During the forging process, the metal is heated and folded several times. The layering gives the blade a grainy swirl pattern. Grinding and polishing the blade enhances the design.
“I don’t use anything from China in my blades. I use U.S. or Canadian metals. I try to keep my material price down to keep the price of the knife down,” he said.
When Spradlin begins to forge a blade, the metal is heated to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit in a gas-fired furnace. The hot glowing steel turns into a soft plastic-like texture that is easy to form.
Spradlin hammers and reheats the steel to move the metal until he gets the blade to the shape and style he wants.
During the forging process, he’ll normalize the blade three times. In normalizing, the steel is heated, then removed from the heat and slowly cooled in a box of lime. This removes the stress of the metal from heating and working of the blade.
Later, Spradlin does a rough grind of the blade. Next, he gives the knife a heat treatment. The metal is heated in a small kiln and then dipped into oil. This gives the knife hardness and durability.
Spradlin does a final grind and hand finishes the blade. He then makes a hand guard and handle fitting, leading to the assembling and finishing of the whole knife.
Spradlin prefers to use mostly local, natural-made resources for his knife handles. The handles can be crafted from deer or elk antlers, sheeps’ horns and animal bones.
He also uses natural woods from Arkansas, such as a spalted maple, or exotic woods such as eucalyptus from Australia.
His knives are often sold at knife shows. He said the Farm Bureau has purchased knives from him and auctioned them off for charity.
“Most of my knives are sold by word-of-mouth,” he said.
People have asked Spradlin to recreate antique bowie knives and knives from the movies, such as “The Legends of the Fall” and “Crocodile Dundee.”
To keep the interest of bladesmithing alive, Spradlin teaches knife making at his shop on Thursday nights at 7 p.m.
The classes are free.
Students need to bring their own supplies, or Spradlin will sell them the materials. Class sizes range from two to 12 people.
“Arkansas is a good place to learn knife making. Most of the famous knife makers come from Arkansas. They are real friendly and would love to help you,” Spradlin said.
To learn more about his knife-making classes or to view a selection of his custom-made knives, call 501-281-0573 or visit his Web site at