Foundation honors Atwell’s memory

Susan Varno/Contributing writer Originally Published June 16, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated June 14, 2013 at 2:26 p.m.
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A variety of Christmas items are shown on display at the Shady Hollow store in Calico Rock, run by the Nikki Lee Atwell Foundation to raise money for the organization.

After Nikki Lee Atwell, 19, fell asleep while driving and died from head injuries received in the resulting single-car accident, her mother, Freda Cruse Hardison, asked for donations to set up the Nikki Lee Atwell Foundation.

Nikki’s accident was on Oct. 8, 2002. In the past 10 years, NLAF has given scholarships in art, music and humanities to students in Izard, Stone and Independence counties. It has funded history projects in Mountain View and Calico Rock and done humanitarian work in Mexico, South Dakota and Arkansas.

In February 2013, the foundation opened the Shady Hollow store in Calico Rock. The foundation’s current fundraiser is a limited offering of 500 tickets at $100 each on a drawing for a 2013 Jeep Compass 4x4.

“Nikki had a life insurance policy,” said Hardison, who lives near Mountain View. “We got about $30,000 in donations that first year. So we had about $80,000 to start. Nikki performed with the Batesville Community Theatre and was a founding member of the North Arkansas Ballet Co. She always saw the good in people and wanted to do more.”

The foundation honored Nikki’s memory with scholarships.

“Then we learned that if you get a grant from a college and we give you a $1,000 scholarship, the college subtracts $1,000 from your grant,” Hardison said. “Now we’re more creative with our aid. We’ve purchased musical instruments and art supplies for students and sent kids to music camp. We don’t base our aid on the parents’ ability to pay. We look at their resources, but mostly we base it on the individual’s interest in arts, music or humanities.”

After about five years, NLAF was receiving fewer applications.

“So in 2008, we did Shoes for Mexico,” Hardison said. “We rounded up over 200 pairs of shoes. At the Mexican border, they were going to charge us 50 cents a pair because they thought we were going to sell the shoes. We gave the shoes to a man in Brownsville who worked with an orphanage across the border. We also had about 1,000 toothbrushes two dentists had donated. Those were easy to hide in our luggage. We took the toothbrushes to a Jesuit school in Copper Canyon and showed the kids how to use them.”

In 2009, foundation volunteers took a trailer load of clothing and other items to the Re-Member organization at the Pine Ridge Lakota Sioux reservation in South Dakota.

“We learned there is so much pride, these people really didn’t want handouts,” Hardison said. “We had people offering us wind chimes, key chains, dreamcatchers. Now when craft items are donated to NLAF, we send them on to artisans at Pine Ridge.”

Hardison learned that hardware stores will donate gallons of discontinued and returned paint. With 50 gallons, volunteers drove to Pine Ridge to repaint houses, build ramps for handicapped access, lay patios, do reconstruction work and clean houses for people. Closer to home, the foundation has donated clothes and school supplies to Every Child is Ours in Tuckerman.

“In 2009, NLAF sponsored the Mountain Music project,” Hardison said. “We interviewed musicians who were born, raised or lived in Stone County. We hung their photos in the Country Time Restaurant in Mountain View. This is a permanent exhibit of the history of music in Stone County.”

Hardison has spent the past several years collecting family histories from local people.

“It’s a pre-Civil War history of the White River Valley from Yellville to Batesville,” she said. “Stories get passed down in families. I’ve published the interviews in Places of our People and Voices of our People. All profits from these books go to the NLAF.”

When Hardison was 12, she visited her sister in Jonesboro and made third-party phone calls to her friends in Mountain View. When her parents got the phone bill for $51 in long-distance calls, her mother “sentenced” young Freda to spend 51 days with her great-grandfather John Chitwood, who was born in 1877.

“Whatever he told me, I had to write down and give to Mom,” Hardison said. “His father had fought in the Civil War, so he told me a lot about the war. Grandpa knew his grandmother Harriet Ross. She was Cherokee. Her family moved to the Ozarks before the Trail of Tears.”

Chitwood also told her about Jesse and Frank James visiting Stone County, where they attended a wedding and a funeral.

“I saved these stories,” she said. “In the past few years when I interviewed people, they would confirm the accuracy of grandpa’s stories or add to them. Mostly, I interviewed people 80 years old and older. A few were over 100. Most of the pioneers here were British, Irish or Scottish. Oral history is part of their songs. The local Indians had their own oral history and genealogy.”

For several years, the Nikki Atwell Foundation had a resale shop in Mountain View.

“An electrical short caused a fire,” Hardison said. “It didn’t burn anything, but there was smoke damage. We just closed up. For the last few years, I’ve kept donations in storage.”

In 2012, Hardison and her friend Sue McCluskey, both Native American descendants, designed and built the Native American exhibit at the Calico Rock Museum. NLAF funded the project. Working on the exhibit, Hardison got to know Gloria Gushue, the museum’s executive director. Gushue owns a vacant storefront on Main Street.

“Gloria needed somebody in the building,” Hardison said. “We worked it out where instead of rent, she gets a percentage of what we make.”

At 97 Main St., Shady Hollow sells antiques, collectibles and crafts on a 70-30 percent commission. This includes old and new furniture, Native American crafts, jewelry, baskets, quilts and more. The store is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday.

“Right now, NLAF is broke,” Hardison said. “So we are raffling off a $26,000 Jeep. We want to continue providing aid to students. We would like to buy a window for the Stone County Historical Society restoration project and develop a driving-tour brochure for historic locations in Stone and Izard counties.”

The Jeep drawing will be held July 1 at Ozark Heritage Bank in Mountain View. Tickets are available at; at P.O. Box 2133, Mountain View, AR 72560; at Shady Hollow store; and at the bank. For more information, visit, or call (870) 213-5015 or (870) 585-2415.

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