Interviews to remember from 2013

By Wayne Bryan Originally Published December 30, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated December 28, 2012 at 4:18 p.m.
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Editor’s note: These people were selected by staff writer Wayne Bryan as the most memorable people whose stories appeared in the Tri-Lakes Edition during 2012. Many were highlighted as Front and Center interviews, while others made the front page for their endeavors or achievements during 2012 or during a lifetime. Some were also selected for their service and sacrifice many years ago.

The Hatley family

Andy and Christine Hatley were named the Clark County Farm Family of the Year for 2012 by the Clark County Farm Bureau because of the way their farm holds their family together, even though all 12 children have moved away from the family farm in the Bierne community, south of Gurdon.

Every year in the second week of October, as many of the children who can return are home to bring in the sorghum crop and spend three days together while the family makes sorghum molasses.

After the Hatleys appeared in the Tri-Lakes Edition in June for being selected the farm family, there was a return visit in October when the family got together for the sorghum harvest and the cooking.

While some members of the Hatley family remain in Clark County, others live in Little Rock, Pine Bluff, Forrest City and Warren. One daughter is retired from the military and lives in Germany, and the youngest son, Command Sgt. Maj. Gerald Hatley, is on active duty in the Army in Afghanistan.

Another son, Col. Marcus Hatley, is a career officer stationed at Camp Robinson in North Little Rock. He is the one who decides when the sorghum is done.

In October, Marcus and his brother Larry, who will retire next year from the Union Pacific Railroad in Pine Bluff, got up at 2 a.m. to build a fire under a huge, stainless-steel tray behind their parents’ house. The cooking tray is more than 10 feet long and 3 feet wide and more than a foot deep. As the fire gets started, raw sorghum juice is pumped into the tray from a holding vat. Long before the sun comes up, the sorghum is bubbling.

Col. Hatley, 51, is a chemist in the Army, but that isn’t why he is in charge of the syrup making. Actually, he said his interest in chemistry may come from looking after the cooking of the juice.

“Daddy first put me at the pan helping cook when I was 13,” he said. “It is both a science and an art.”

The harvest is not a commercial venture; the family does not sell the end product. Rather, they give it to family members across the country and to friends.

“We send it to family as far away as California and New York, all around the world,” said Donald, who lives near his parents in Arkadelphia.

The harvest is a tradition that brings the family together and celebrates the farming roots of this accomplished family and the parents who raised them.

Five of the Hatley children are educators, working as coaches, teachers, principals and administrators around the state.

Their father, 85, made sure his children attended school because he only completed the eighth grade. There was another inducement to go to class. Andy was also the school bus driver.

While he worked for the Gurdon Public Schools, Andy still had a lot of experience farming.

“I have spent many a mile behind a mule,” he said.

Now he enjoys riding the tractor.

The father was asked how members of his family, who now live all over the world, stay so close to each other.

“We’ve been at it long enough that we have worked out all the nit-picking stuff, and we just go along together now,” he said.

Freddy Burton

Soon after Freddy Burton was re-elected unopposed as the Saline County Clerk in 2010, he told the Tri-Lakes Edition it would be his last term. In January 2012, he announced that we would step down by the end of the year, and he did, turning the office offer to longtime staff member Linda Montalvo just before the presidential election in November.

Burton said he enjoyed being clerk, and he likes elections and politics. He said he was always proud when a majority of Saline County citizens turned out to vote.

He said he remembers when elections in Benton and Arkansas seemed to have more theater and more fun.

“Benton was the last public-speaking stop for candidates as they made their way to Little Rock for the elections,” Burton recalled in 2010. “Local candidates would be with the candidates for governor and Congress on the Saline County Courthouse lawn, and people would come from miles around.

“The next night, they would display the returns with a projector onto the side of the Masonic Lodge, which is light-colored. People would come in and set up chairs to see and cheer the results.”

Burton ran high-tech elections but kept his taste of old-time politics.

Justin Koon

Justin Koon, a 29-year-old Grant County native, makes his living the hard way. He is usually scheduled to ride an irritated rodeo bull that weighs about a ton and is trying to throw Koon off and run him down.

When Koon spoke with the Tri-Lakes Edition in April, he was riding high, ranked eighth in the professional bull-riding world and first in the power ranking issued by Professional Bull Riding Inc. (PBR), a major rodeo circuit that features only bull riding.

Koon said he was raised on a horse and rode his first bull at the Grant County Fair in 1993.

“I was at the fair and made some comment like, ‘I could do that,’ and before I had a chance to talk my way out of it, Dad had entered me,” he said.

In 1999, Koon was in the championship round of the Arkansas High School Rodeo Finals. That is when he had his first major injury. During the ride, his head went down, and the bull’s head went up, and they crashed, fracturing Koon’s skull. He woke up in intensive care two weeks later and remained in Arkansas Children’s Hospital for more than four additional weeks.

It was two years later that he rode a bull again. He had other injuries along the way but turned professional in 2004 after winning an amateur championship.

On the ride to becoming a rodeo star, he met his wife, Elyse, in Sheridan, and they were married in 2010.

He joined PBR in 2011; however, his rookie year was also not without problems. According to PBR, Koon broke several ribs and had a collapsed lung and was out for a month and had two concussions later in the year, but he still qualified for the 2011 PBR World Finals and finished 14th in the world.

This looked like the year Koon was headed to the elite ranks of bull riding. As for Elyse, she graduated from nursing school at Arkansas Tech University in Russellville.

Justin laughed when asked if his profession influenced his wife’s field.

Well, she did start out in education,” he said, “but the longer we were together, the more appeal it had to be married to a nurse.”

Koon had a chance to take part in his second PBR World Finals, but it didn’t end as planned, his wife said.

He had another impact with a bull, and according to his wife’s comments on Facebook, Koon had a “broken jaw, a broken left arm, a lacerated chin, and swelling of his right elbow and shoulder and collarbone, and a concussion.” He is now recovering at home.

Barbara Richards

As often as she can, Barbara Richards plays the small grand piano in the lobby of the Mercy Cancer Center in Hot Springs. She understands the therapeutic power of music because she is also a patient.

An accomplished pianist with a long professional career as an accompanist, Richards can play just about anything.

“Mostly I play gospel or classic pieces,” she said. “There was one patient who would come in with her husband, and they would ask me to play the same two hymns every time. Usually the patient’s husband would listen to one while she was back having treatment; then they would hear the other one together before they left.”

Richards found out she had cancer of the tongue in 2010. When she went for her treatment at the Winthrop Rockefeller Cancer Institute at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock, she said the first thing she saw at the clinic was a piano.

“I played a couple of times, and people started asking me to play when I come in, and that is when they started calling me The Piano Lady,” Richards said.

Richards’ husband, Bob, said she played as much for herself as for the other patients.

“While I was there, I played all the time,” Barbara said.

Six months after the surgery, a checkup found that her cancer had returned. Richards underwent another operation, followed by radiation treatments. She had those treatments in Hot Springs.

The Richardses donated a piano made in 1927 — yet still in amazing shape with all the original wood and ivory keys — they had purchased from a piano student of Barbara’s.

She played again for the patients in Hot Springs and for herself as well.

Bruce Cook

Bruce Cook, 80, of Hot Springs is a self-taught artist who likes rocky landscapes.

“I like the texture and concreteness of landscapes,” he said. “They are both permanent and ever-changing, and you have to deal with both of those facts in painting them.”

The duality of perspective always appealed to Cook during his chosen career.

“In the spy business, it was the same,” he said. “There were always variables at play all the time, and you have to work with those,” he said

For around 20 years, Cook was an intelligence operations officer with the Central Intelligence Agency during the Cold War.

His father was an engineer who worked on artillery-type rockets used in World War II, then moved on to design some of the elements of the American space program.

Cook became a Marine officer when he graduated from college in 1954 and was an artillery officer, learning how to conduct a nuclear war in the field.

“We found out it didn’t work out very well,” Cook said.

Leaving the Marines Corps, he still wanted to serve his country, and he thought the most important weapon of the Cold War would be information.

He joined the CIA and became a member of the unit working against the Soviet Union, helping to send spies into communist-held territories in Europe.

Cook rebuffed several questions about his work. In the lower level of his home on Lake Hamilton, there are medals and other awards he received for his work with the CIA that he said he could not talk about. He earned some of those awards as an active agent himself.

“You don’t have to be invisible,” he said. “You just have to make sure you are not detected in the moment you are in action. You want to sneak in and do something and sneak out.”

His artwork can be found on display in and around Hot Springs. He is a member of the Traditional Art Guild.

Jim Bray

Several of the most memorable people featured in the Tri-Lakes Edition in 2012 served their country in significant ways. One was Jim Bray, 89, of Malvern.

“I was in the Navy four years in World War II, and I was assigned to the engine room of an LCI — a Landing Craft Infantry.”

In that duty, he went everywhere, taking part in some of the most historic landings in both the Pacific and Europe.

“We put men on East Africa, Sicily, Salerno and Anzio beaches in Italy,” Bray said, naming off invasions where Allied troops took the war to the Nazis. “Then we went to Normandy and the landing in the south of France a few weeks later.”

Each beach assault put Bray and his shipmates in mortal danger, but it was sailing in the Mediterranean Sea off North Africa one night that was the most dangerous. Bray’s ship was hit by a torpedo dropped from a plane. It crashed into the engine room but did not explode.

Following the end of the fighting in Europe, Bray was sent cross-country to California to join the crew of a Landing Ship Tank. That ship carried soldiers and Marines to the landings on the islands of Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

When the war was over, Bray returned to his hometown of Lewisville, where he worked on the family dairy farm, a job he never liked.

“We got up at 3 a.m. to milk, and then there was house-to-house delivery service seven days a week,” he said.

However, he stayed until the dairy closed in 1961. He worked as a game warden, then as a member of the Arkansas State Police. After retirement in 1967, he stayed with the State Police as an investigator, doing background checks on police candidates.

“Every new hire that passed the exam was investigated,” he said.

He continued that service to his state until 2007, when he was 85.

Walter Rhodes

The new inductees to the Arkansas Military Veterans Hall of Fame on Nov. 9 were named for their acts of valor as members of the military. Walter Rhodes of Benton was one of those.

A veteran of the Korean War, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the second-highest national medal for bravery in combat. He was also awarded the Sliver Star for valor and the Bronze Star for his service in combat in Korea. He also earned the Purple Heart, given to those who are wounded in combat.

Born in Texas, Rhodes’ parents were from Saline County and returned to stay in 1945. He graduated from Glen Rose High School in 1947.

He joined the Army and was trained as a forward observer who could direct artillery fire. That often put him at the very front lines and sometimes even beyond.

He arrived in Pusan, Korea, in 1950, where the United Nations forces held only a small region after the first North Korean attack. On May 17, 1951, Sgt. Rhodes was showing a young officer and a radio operator how to direct fire to support French troops when the area was overrun by the enemy.

Rhodes said he never remembers those times of fierce combat. But he was credited with offering covering fire while the officer and radioman made it to safety.

For his actions, Rhodes was awarded the Silver Star for valor and given a battlefield commission.

Then on Sept. 22, 1951, he was back as a forward observer in combat in the Battle of Heartbreak Bridge. Rhodes again said he does not remember all the details, but the citation that accompanied his Distinguished Service Cross tells the story.

“Attached to an Infantry Company as a forward observer, he was in an assault on a well-entrenched force located near the crest of an almost vertical slope.

“Upon realizing that the nature of the conflict rendered artillery support impossible, he began carrying ammunition up the slope. …

“After making numerous trips, Lt. Rhodes picked up a rifle and, moving to the point which was bearing the brunt of the hospital fire, began firing.”

The records state that his actions inspired the men about him, and they repulsed an enemy counterattack.

The citation called Rhodes’ actions “extraordinary heroism and selfless devotion to duty.”

A few days later, he was seriously burned by a mortar shell. After being treated at the front, Rhodes stayed on duty as the fighting continued.

Today, he is the state chaplain for the Order of the Purple Heart in Arkansas and has served as the commander and in other leadership positions of the organization, which is made up of men and women who were wounded in battle.

Rhodes said he is honored to be named to the veterans hall of fame, but only because it puts him in the company of men he called “real heroes.”

Florrie Wakenight Lyle

Some in the United States served their county in other ways during World War II. Seventy years ago, Florrie Wakenight was a young teacher in her hometown of Searcy, and her boyfriend, Tom Lyle, was working as a banker in Little Rock. The war had been under way for only a few months when her future husband suggested they join a group that would operate an internment camp for Japanese-Americans being moved to Arkansas.

The children, most of them born in America, had been moved with their families in the early days after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Classed as dangerous enemy aliens, the families were moved from their homes to places such as Arizona and California deserts and the southeast Arkansas Delta.

In August 1942, Wakenight and Lyle moved to the camp in Jerome. The families arrived by train in November. As many as 8,497 people, including 2,483 children, lived there for several years.

One of Wakenight’s former students, Ester Noguchi, wrote of her teacher, “I wanted to grow up to be like her, with her warmth and love, without prejudice. She was a model for me and all who knew her. I guess I followed in her footsteps. I became a teacher.”

Wakenight enjoyed her work, calling the students “so understanding of being there, and they so wanted to be a part of this country.”

After she and her husband were married, the Lyles moved to Benton in 1946. For 22 years, Florrie taught typing at Benton High School.

In 2005, she was honored in Los Angeles by the Japanese-American Museum for her love and kindness for children who were not her enemy.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or

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