Goal is always service for Malvern leader

By Wayne Bryan Originally Published July 14, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated July 12, 2013 at 10:33 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

Dianna Reggans is chairwoman of the executive committee of the Malvern/Hot Spring County Chamber of Commerce. She was sworn in for that position on Jan. 19, making her the first African-American to hold that post in the local organization’s 96-year history.

— Diana Reggans is a successful businesswoman and community leader, but she said her accomplishments come from her dedication to service to her hometown and its residents.

“I am very active in church, and like you learn in church, it is all about service,” she said.

Reggans’ service applies in banking, where her career has spanned 28 years and counting, and in her efforts to help Malvern advance and prosper.

“She has been an active member of the chamber for years,” said Nikki Launius, executive director of the Malvern/Hot Spring County Chamber of Commerce. “She earned a place on our board and then stepped up to serve on our executive committee.

“We met in the seventh grade and have been friends ever since. I often run things by her, and she always has wise words that help. Although we are the same age, I have always looked up to her.”

On Jan. 19, Reggans was sworn in as chairwoman of the chamber’s executive committee, the first African-American to hold that position in the 96-year history of the local organization.

“This is one of those moments we can see the community and its culture moving Hot Spring County forward,” Launius said during the meeting as Reggans was inducted into the top spot of the chamber’s governing body.

“It was odd,” Reggans said. “The theme for the banquet was “Bringing cultures and community together,” and I think that dream connected with reality that night.”

A year ago this week, Reggans was appointed to the Board of Trustees of the College of the Ouachitas, the two-year institution of higher learning in Malvern. She is also assistant vice president and branch manager of Southern Bancorp in Malvern, where she has worked for five years.

Those who work for her, and those who know her, have said she has earned her leadership role within the community. However, it was not always that way.

“I had been working at the Malvern National Bank for about a year when a man came in who would not allow me to wait on him because I was black,” Reggans recalled. “The president of the bank and the manager supported me and tried to talk to him, but he said he would never do business with me.”

Rather than avoid any confrontation with the bank customer, Reggans said she was determined to show the man she could earn his respect.

“I tried to do it with excellent customer service,” she said. “I always spoke to him when he came in and tried to do something extra for him when I could. If I could time it right, I would be at the door as he got to the bank, and I would open the door and greet him.”

Using an in-your-face campaign of exceptional service and friendly courtesy, Reggans slowly won the customer over.

“Eventually, he was one of my best

customers and wouldn’t let anyone else help him,” the bank vice president said with a smile.

Today, Reggans said, she acknowledges her status as a role model in the community.

“It is a responsibility, especially being the first of anything,” she said. “People watch you and how you do things. You just have to do your best, and then, it is what it is.”

The banker and chamber officer said being a public person has changed her role in the black community in Malvern.

“I have gotten nothing but positive feedback,” she said. “Now people no longer think it can’t happen here.”

Reggans went to work as a teller at the Malvern National Bank a couple of years after she graduated from Malvern High School, where she had played volleyball. Over the next 23 years, she became a trainer of the bank’s customer-service representatives and was an IRA specialist, managing the financial planning of customers with Individual Retirement Accounts.

She was vice president of deposits and sales when she received an offer to join Southern Bancorp. Reggans said changing jobs was “almost a spiritual thing” that changed her life.

“Once I made the decision to accept their offer, it felt like I needed to change,” she said. “Then, so many doors opened for me here.”

Reggans said her new job led her to take a bigger role in the community, such as participating in more activities with the chamber of commerce.

“I got involved with so many things I never thought about, but they began to matter a great deal once I was involved in them.”

She said one of her most rewarding activities has been the chamber’s Bingo Night.

“The donations made that night pay for a lot of scholarships for Hot Spring County students to College of the Ouachitas, and aid the Senior Adult Center in Malvern,” she said. “Last year we helped fund the Boys and Girls Club of Malvern and Hot Spring County. They needed our help.”

As one of her duties in chairing the chamber’s executive committee, she works to maintain contact with businesses in the community, Reggans said, especially those who are no longer involved members of the chamber.

“We need the strength of our business community for the city to move forward,” she said. “Each month since I took on this role, I meet with two or three businesses a month; then I call others to check how their business is doing and see if we can help.

“There are plenty of opportunities for chamber members who want to be active, but we need to reach out and let others know we remember them and that their business is not only important to us, but to the entire community. We need to raise their banner and keep them involved.”

Another project the chamber is involved with in the business community

is Operation Clean Sweep, which was

begun by the Malvern Police Department and is supported by Anthony Bloom, general manager of Sykes in Malvern and a member of the chamber’s board. The company’s employees and chamber volunteers work together.

“We got out and helped paint in some places, and the Malvern Fire Department washed down the downtown sidewalks,” Reggans said. “We want the downtown area cleaner, and we want the building-code enforcement stepped up. We want to present a city that will give travelers coming through a reason to stop.”

As a trustee of the college, Reggans said, she is proud to be associated with a school named in the top 10 two-year colleges in the nation by the Aspen Institute.

“The designation was won by the achievements made under college President [Barry] Ballard, and it set a tone

that President [Stephen] Schoonmaker is carrying forward to even better things,” Reggans said. “He is awesome.”

Working with Schoonmaker, who is also a member of the chamber of commerce board, Reggans has gotten involved in meeting with members of the Arkansas Legislature and with other government officials. This has given her an interest in taking on a role in government.

Will she run for office?

“I wish I had a dime for every time someone has asked me that,” she said. “I am interested; it is just another level of service. In government, all you are supposed to do is serve the people. I just want to be sure I have the drive and passion for it.”

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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