Alderwoman’s life experience now helping others

By Lisa Burnett Published August 1, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

From the age of 4, Mary Ann Arnett grew up in what was then called the Tennessee Orphan Home. She spent roughly 12 years there and is now using her childhood experiences to help today’s youths who may face a similar situation.

— Mary Ann Arnett of Searcy is working to help children who find themselves in the same situation she was in as a child.

Arnett said her parents divorced, and she, along with her three brothers and sisters, went to live in what is now the Tennessee Children’s Home in Columbia, Tenn. When she lived there, the facility was called the Tennessee Orphan Home.

The home was designed as an institutional facility with central dining and laundry areas, dormitory living and a small farming operation, according to the home’s website.

“I stayed there from 1952 until 1964,” she said. “[The Tennessee Orphan Home] was such a blessing to me.”

During her time at the Columbia

home, Arnett said, she and the other children would walk to public school.

When she finished high school, she made her way to Harding University, where she met her future husband.

“The Orphan Home sent me to Harding,” Arnett said.

She said the home wanted its residents to pursue the opportunity to be successful in life.

“If you wanted to go into the service or to college or beauty school, the home promoted it,” Arnett said.

When she got to college, Arnett said, she enjoyed being able to blend into the crowd at the school.

“There, I was just another student, but you have to be from somewhere,” Arnett said.

She would tell fellow students about her time in the orphanage, but she was shy when she told people her story, she said. During her time at college, she met her husband, Boyce.

“We met in October, and we were married in June,” Arnett said.

The two have been married for 49 years. He was from Newport, so the Arnetts stayed in Searcy, where they owned the Medical Center Pharmacy in Searcy until 2003.

“[The city] was good to us, but I never had to explain my background,” she said. “After we retired, I wanted to do something for the community.”

This prompted Arnett to run for a seat on the Searcy City Council.

“I lost the first race by less than 20 votes,” she said.

She wasn’t going down without a fight and wanted to try again.

“I won the second time I ran, and I’m in the first year of my fourth term now,” Arnett said.

She is the alderman for Ward 1, seat 2 for the city of Searcy.

“The most rewarding thing [about serving on the City Council] is being in the know about things,” she said.

Being on the City Council has given Arnett the chance to share her story with the people of Searcy and has opened opportunities for her to help within the community.

“I think there is a purpose in everything that happens in your life,” she said. “Politics opened me up [to tell my story].”

She is the treasurer of the Searcy Children’s Homes Board of Trustees and is on the board for the Tennessee Children’s Home.

After much research, Arnett said, she put together a 100-year anniversary book for the Tennessee home in 2009, and it offered her a chance to reconnect with people from her past.

“I did all the research for them, and I’ve been paid back tenfold,” Arnett said. “It’s been very rewarding to me.”

She said children who grew up in the home have a Facebook page where they share old photos and memories about their time at the Tennessee Orphan Home.

Not only did Arnett head the anniversary project for the children’s home she grew up in; she’s doing what she can to help the Searcy Children’s Homes in her town. Searcy Children’s Homes is a private, nonprofit child-placement agency.

She is the chairwoman for the Max Clark Memorial Golf Tournament, which benefits the Searcy nonprofit.

“We’ve raised $250,000 over time from the golf tournament,” Arnett said.

The money raised from these tournaments goes to the agency to benefit the children, she said.

She said she wants to encourage others to not let obstacles in their life get them down.

“We have to rise above the past and try to make your world a better place,” Arnett said.

Staff writer Lisa Burnett can be reached at (501) 244-4307 or lburnett@arkansasonline.com.

Online Reporter Lisa Burnett can be reached at 501-378-3887 or lburnett@arkansasonline.com.

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