Year in review — history, weather, people, jobs

By Wayne Bryan Originally Published December 30, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated December 28, 2012 at 4:08 p.m.
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Sandy, right, and Janet Bate look at a display in the Fordyce Bathhouse in Hot Springs. The Fordyce is closed for renovations, and the bathhouse’s exhibits have been put into storage for the process.

Right now you might think 2012 will go down as the White Christmas Year because of the many inches of snow that fell Dec. 25 and 26.

Or, if you are still among those who have not had power restored to their homes, it will be the Dark, COLD Christmas, to be followed by the restock-the-fridge-and-the-freezer-and-buy-new-batteries New Year’s celebration.

The year 2012 produced several hundred stories for the Tri-Lakes Edition. Weather was a big story, but it centered on another year of drought.

By July, more than 70 percent of Arkansas was in what is classified as an extreme drought, including all five counties in the Tri-Lakes region, according to the Drought Monitor developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Weather Service.

Around July 4, the use of water became critical in some areas of the region. Richard Penn, director of city utilities in Hot Springs, said the use of 23.1 million gallons of water for the day surpassed a record set seven years ago.

Benton Water Utilities also experienced a peak in water use of 9 million gallons a day during the first week in July, said Terry Wofford, a water-plant operator in Benton. He said normal water consumption for Benton Utilities customers is between 4 million and 5 million gallons per day.

In Hot Springs Village, record water use was also reported when water use reached 3.97 million gallons on July 4.

Rains came in the late summer, but drought watchers with the National Weather Service said the drought continued. A short period of fall rains helped with the water supply but did not help the forests already hurt by the drought. Just before the Christmas snow, burn bans were in effect in Garland County.

All through the year, the proposed new Benton event center was the talk of that town. Early in the year, the center announced it was looking for a corporate sponsor to purchase the rights to naming the new center. That search continues, according to the latest report from Mayor David Mattingly.

When the official groundbreaking for the project was held in July, speculation was that work would begin by late August or early September. Actually, work did not begin at the Hickory Square site off Interstate 30 until Dec. 19.

Officials at Saline Memorial Hospital of Benton and Arkansas Heart Hospital in Little Rock announced a partnership in January that resulted in a new cardiac clinic at the Benton hospital.

Making more medical news in 2012, Saline Memorial’s board of directors named Robert Trautman the new CEO of the hospital on April 2.

Trautman, who has spent his hospital administrative career in California, said during his initial visit to Benton that he was impressed with the strong commitment to the hospital from not only the staff but the entire community as well.

Also at a new job was Stephen Schoonmaker, who became the new president of the College of the Ouachitas in Malvern during January.

He came to the two-year college in Malvern from Astoria, Ore., where he was president of instruction at Clatsop Community College.

In Hot Springs, the Mid-America Science Museum received a boost to its plan for a major renovation and expansion with a quarter-million-dollar donation to the museum.

Andy Marquart, then director of the museum, said the donation from the Oaklawn Park Foundation was a major step forward in raising $1.6 million in matching funds that will enable the museum to accept a $7.8 million grant from the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation.

The funds will pay for renovation of almost the entire interior of the existing museum and fund a proposed 4,000-square-foot elevated platform that will be used to bring the plants and wildlife that live in the trees closer to visitors.

Marquart later left the Hot Springs museum to become the chief executive officer at a museum in Naples, Fla. Diane LaFollette was named the new director for Mid-America on Dec. 16.

In February, a veteran educator from Longview, Texas, Jeff Collum, was named the superintendent for the Benton School District during a special meeting of the district’s school board.

Collum has been in education for 14 years and was executive director of secondary education for the Tyler Independent School District. In 1998, Collum was a trainer for the Washington Redskins in the National Football League.

Meanwhile, Nancy Anderson was named superintendent of the Cutter Morning Star School District in Hot Springs on Feb. 27.

Another new education leader in the region is Glendell Jones Jr., who was introduced as the new president of Henderson State University in March. Jones first came to Henderson State as a student athlete but because of health problems never played a game with HSU.

The Blytheville native had been interim vice chancellor and provost at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro since 2010.

He also served as senior associate vice chancellor for academic affairs and research and as an assistant professor of business law at ASU.

Elsewhere in Hot Springs, two of Bathhouse Row’s legendary buildings, after being closed for around 30 years, will see new life as the National Parks Service negotiates long-term leases for Superior Baths and Hale Bath House in the Spa City.

On March 6, Hot Springs National Park Superintendent Josie Fernandez announced that proposals had been accepted for businesses to occupy the two bathhouses.

The Muses Creative Artistry Project, which has been operating the 3 Arts Cafe and Bookstore in the Hale lobby for two years, was selected to explore a lease for the entire building as a performance venue and arts education center.

Fernandez also announced that the parks service had selected the proposal from Vapor Valley Spirits Inc. to place a microbrewery in the Superior Bath House.

In August, The National Parks Service shut down the 97-year-old Fordyce Bath House for eight to 12 months as new heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems are installed in the most elaborate of the bathhouses in Hot Springs National Park.

The bathhouse opened in 1915, and Fernandez said the work will cost about $1.2 million.

Also in Hot Springs, David Watkins, a 58-year-old Alabama native, was unanimously selected to be the new city manager by the Hot Springs Board of Directors in April.

And in Benton, the Arkansas Department of Higher Education gave final approval for the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Benton campus to offer a Bachelor of Science degree in e-commerce.

It will be possible to earn the degree in Web-based business practices with classes offered entirely at the campus on River Street in Benton.

Since the announcement, an adviser for the e-commerce program was hired, and several students have declared e-commerce as their major with the school’s first semester offering that major just completed.

In Hot Springs, Corey Alderdice, assistant director for admissions and public relations at the Gatton Academy of Mathematics and Science in Bowling Green, Ky., was selected as the new director of the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts, the public, residential school in Hot Springs for high school juniors and seniors who excel in math and science.

On the same day, May 24, the board approved Alderdice’s appointment and dedicated ASMSA’s new $17.5 million Student Life Complex.

In Arkadelphia, more than 100 members of the Class of 2012 at Arkadelphia High School came into the school’s gym on May 17 to became the second class to sign up for Arkadelphia Promise scholarships.

Wearing T-shirts from the colleges and universities they wished to attend, the seniors took their seats in the gym, greeted with applause and cheers from fellow students, teachers and parents.

The Arkadelphia Promise program offers scholarship eligibility to any student who graduates from the Arkadelphia School District and achieves at least a 2.5 grade-point average or a minimum score of 19 on the ACT college entrance exam.

In the normally quiet month of July, the hallways of Malvern Elementary School were buzzing during the annual Back to School Youth Explosion, where students received free school supplies, complimentary hair cuts and a whole lot more.

More than 500 parents and children attended the fifth annual event, organized by the Rev. Henry Mitchell, founder of the nonprofit organization Victory and pastor of Mount Willow Baptist Church.

A Malvern native, Mitchell recalled his own childhood and not having sufficient school supplies.

“There were a lot of children whose families just didn’t have the money even to buy pencil and paper,” he said. “This is a way to make sure the kids don’t have to worry about having those things.”

To fulfill another need of students, a new in-school clinic opened at Gurdon High School to bring medical care closer to students and provide for those young people who might not otherwise receive medical treatment.

“The bottom line is to keep the kids well enough to keep them on campus and in their classes,” said Tommie Campbell, Gurdon High School principal. “It is hard to teach students if they are not in class.”

“We have a student who has their blood pressure checked three times a day,” Winkelmeyer said. “We have six students receive their medications here in the center. In the meantime, we handle sports injuries, give out allergy medications, and we can do exams, such as those required to play sports.”

Up the road in Arkadelphia, dozens of residents gathered under cloudy skies and a cool mist to take part in creating the city’s mural. Elementary-school children painted alongside their friends, mothers and grandmothers. City officials joined newcomers and groups of teenagers to place the first colors on a municipal mural on the side of the Honeycomb Restaurant on Main Street.

The city “won” the project from the Mid-America Arts Alliance in Kansas City, Mo. Dave Lowenstein, a nationally recognized muralist, said the mural reflects a sense of Arkadelphia, its place, its industry, people and aspirations, but with a poetic feel “without a lot of who, what and where.”

The painting began in September, and the dedication was held in October.

And also in the region, history made the news.

A group of people came together to worship in 1822 along the banks of Williams Creek near where it runs into the Saline River. For 190 years, the Kentucky Missionary Baptist Church has remained, becoming the heart of the community, building and rebuilding church houses over the years.

In 1956, the state of Arkansas recognized Kentucky as the first and oldest Baptist church south of the Arkansas River. A plaque relating some of the history of the church was unveiled at the time and sits just off the roadway in front of the latest of the church buildings.

In another depiction of history, the movie Lincoln, now attracting crowds across the country, begins with a violent Civil War battle, set on marshy ground during a heavy rain.

In the fighting, African-American Union soldiers ferociously kill Confederate soldiers who are trying to surrender.

The scene, depicted in the movie, portrays an attack during the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry, along the Saline River in April of 1864, in what is now Grant County.

Joe Walker, author of Harvest of Death: The Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry, Arkansas, said the scene in the movie is historically accurate.

“It was during a hard rain,” Walker said. “The Saline River was filled up to the full height of the banks so that the Confederate forces caught up with the Union Army as it was slowly crossing the river on a pontoon bridge.”

Jenkins Ferry State Park is at the site of the pontoon-bridge crossing southwest of Sheridan. Visitors can still see where soldiers dug into the banks on both sides so the temporary bridge, resting on boats, could be anchored.

Walker said he hopes the movie will generate more interest in the battle and the park, not only locally, but around the country.

Only a few days after the battle story was published, Saline County Circuit Court Judge Dennis Milligan reported that the original court seal, missing for almost 150 years, was returned, having been found near the Jenkins Ferry Battlefield.

“It was found in 1996, but it was given to County Judge Lanny Fite a few weeks ago,” Milligan said. “The judge said it belonged to the circuit court and gave it to this office.”

The seal is about the same size as the modern seal that is used in the clerk’s office today to emboss official documents received by and issued from the office.

How it was buried on farm land near the battlefield remains a mystery, but the seal will be placed on display.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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