Crowd welcomes attorney general for annual banquet

By Wayne Bryan Originally Published January 24, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated January 23, 2013 at 11:04 a.m.
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Wayne Bryan

Dianna Riggans, right, takes the oath of office as chairwoman of the Malvern/Hot Spring County Chamber of Commerce from Judge Chris Williams. She is the first African-American to chair the chamber’s board of directors. She was sworn in during the annual awards banquet on Jan. 17.

— Outstanding citizens were recognized, something historic happened, and politicking went on during the annual Malvern/Hot Spring County Chamber of Commerce Community Awards Banquet.

Held Jan. 17 at the Malvern Community Center, history was made when Dianna Riggans of Southern Bancorp took the oath of office to chair the chamber’s board of directors.

“Dianna is the first African-American chamber chairperson in our 96-year history,” said Nikki Launius, executive director of the Malvern Chamber. “This is one of those moments we can see the community and its culture moving Hot Spring County forward.”

Riggans, a Malvern native, was also named as a member of the College of the Ouachitas Board of Trustees in July 2012 by Gov. Mike Beebe.

She said leading the chamber board is a big responsibility.

“It means a lot to me,” Riggans said. “My hope is that the chamber can build bridges and connect all the cultures in the community.”

Gathering Malvern leaders to discuss service to the community will be a key part of Riggans’ work as head of the chamber’s membership.

“I will work to establish meetings with all the leaders,” she said. “In a city like Malvern, you start with the church leaders and school leaders, then the local elected officials who have an impact on the whole community. Then we can step forward as one united community.”

Launius said she knew Riggans was a leader when they first met in the seventh grade.

“I could see she was a leader right off,” Launius said. “The PE teacher would always call on her to lead exercises, and we all followed along.”

The keynote speaker at the chamber banquet was Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, who had previously announced his campaign for governor in 2014.

During his remarks, he told the gathering that he was “distressed” by President Barack Obama’s proposed gun-control measures.

The day before the banquet, the president asked the U.S. Congress to require background checks for all gun sales and ban military-style weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines. The president also signed 23 executive orders, including one that will make more federal information available for background checks of gun purchasers.

McDaniel said he will examine the orders to see if they infringe on the rights of citizens.

The state attorney general, a former police officer, told the audience he went to the scene of the 1998 school shooting in Jonesboro, where four students and a teacher were killed.

“I never forgot what I saw, but I never felt the solution was to curtail the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens,” McDaniel said to applause.

He also praised the College of the Ouachitas for its work in raising academic standards at the two-year college in Malvern.

“They have set new standards, and we know this city and this state have benefited from their actions,” McDaniel said. “The College of the Ouachitas has a vision, and Malvern has a vision.”

With Judge Chris Williams of the 7th Circuit Court at the podium, the chamber and some of its sponsoring members presented awards to Malvern residents for their service to the community.

The night’s highest honor was the Kristi Parker Norris Award, given by the chamber’s board to an individual who is a “visionary and leader in the community.” Launius presented the award to Anthony Bloom, site director of Sykes, a call center in Malvern that employs several hundred people.

“Anthony has given his time and encouraged his staff to volunteer for activities to make our community the best place to live,” she said. “If you want someone who’s on fire for Malvern, it’s Anthony Bloom.”

Another Sykes employee, Matthew Spayde, was named Manager of the Year. He was presented a plaque from Riggans.

The Business of the Year Award went to Diamond State Trucking, owned by Rodney Allen. The Malvern-based long-haul trucking company delivers goods to all 48 contiguous states. Owner Rodney Allan and the company sponsor athletic programs for the local Boys and Girls Club and at Malvern High School.

Malvern’s Young Person of the Year was Shakara Penix, an honor student at Malvern High School. She is a member of the national Honor Society and a participant in the annual Relay for Live event, which raises funds for cancer research and celebrates cancer survivors. She also works serving pizza at a local restaurant. She received a $250 scholarship from Summit Bank.

In all, 12 awards were presented. The final event of the night was the swearing in of seven new members of the chamber board of directors.

Launius said more than 400 people attended the banquet, the second year in a row the event was a sellout.

“Everyone here helps Malvern move forward,” she said.

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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