Jim King said he was honored to be chosen Vilonia Citizen of the Year, but he doesn’t think he should be eligible to receive the status.
“I’m a pastor, and that is what we are supposed to do,” he said. “We help people.”
The 72-year-old was given the honor in March at the Vilonia Area Chamber of Commerce Banquet. Not only that, but King was given the same title in 2007 by the chamber.
His peers said he goes the extra mile. If he sees someone in need, they said, he is there to physically lend a hand or to offer words of encouragement, whether he knows the recipients or not. It’s not unusual for him to stop to help a stranger load an appliance. He has helped to push cars out of ditches and fixed flat tires.
King, a regular at a couple of coffee shops in the Vilonia area, said if he is told about a need, he tries to take care of it — even if it means recruiting help. He has been known to solicit help, on the spot, from patrons drinking coffee to build wheelchair ramps or repair a senior citizen’s house.
“This is a great community,” he said. “I don’t mind asking, and they don’t mind helping. That is the way my dad raised me. That is the way everybody should be.”
King seldom passes anyone stranded with car trouble, and he said he still picks up hitchhikers.
“I don’t fear danger,” he said. “I put my faith in a higher power.”
King’s sense of humor was on display as he dressed as Phil Robertson of the Duck Dynasty television hit and served as a judge last year in a Robertson-family look-alike contest with the proceeds going to a nonprofit organization. He serves as master of ceremonies at community events and will break into a song with just a bit of encouragement. His voice is deep and strong, and his boisterous laughter can be heard long before he’s seen.
He helped organize the Vilonia Ministerial Alliance and remains active in it. He is involved with the chamber of commerce and serves as a Vilonia City Council member. Until June 2013, he pastored the Vilonia Assembly of God. He continues to work for the First Assembly of God in North Little Rock, helping to “grow churches” across the state.
In everything he does for others, he said, he has an ulterior motive — “sharing his ministry.”
“But I don’t try to cram it down anyone’s throat,” he said. “I just try to live it like I should.”
King said he grew up a “country boy.” His family, he said, was from Yell County. However, family members moved around a lot, especially when he was young. They would go from state to state participating in harvests.
“We were poor people,” he said, “Grapes of Wrath-type people. There were six children — eight of us in the family.”
He said his parents were hard workers. They not only participated in harvests; they also worked as sharecroppers. By the time he was 8, he and his siblings were working in the fields alongside their parents, chopping cotton. When he was 10, he began to plow with a team of mules.
“We weren’t abused kids, though. We were loved, and we loved it. I felt like it was big stuff getting to plow,” he said.
His mother would can at least 800 quarts of vegetables and fruits every summer to feed her large family through the winter, he said.
“We were never hungry,” he said, “and there was lots of laughing and fun in our family.”
His dad, tired from the fields, always had time for a game of kick the can or steal the sticks, King said. The family also went fishing and swimming in the river. His mother, he said, would never give them permission to go swimming alone, but they would slip off from their house and go while she was busy.
When he was 10, the family moved to Oregon, where his father began working in the timber business, and their lives changed from being poor, he said, to prospering. At about the same time, a man invited the family to attend services at a small church. He gave them a ride there in “an old station wagon,” King said. Prior to that, he said, “Well, we just weren’t church folks.” From then on, the family didn’t miss a Sunday for five years. He said that set the basis for the rest of his life.
“What’s funny — I was 10, and I had never been before,” he said. Back then, he said, people earned badges for church attendance. “My family looked like generals. We would wear those pins as badges of honor.”
When they lived in Oregon, King said, his dad cut logs and earned about $300 per week while others were making about $1 per hour in Arkansas. But his parents longed to move back to Arkansas and did so when King was about 16.
That’s also the year he met the love of his life and his future wife, Judy. They were the same age and attended a church in Perryville. She played the accordion, and he loved singing. Their dates, he said, were hauling kids to and from church. The couple married about two years later at age 18 and have been married 54 years.
“It’s been fun,” he said. Well, at least most of it. During the first few years, he said, he learned a lot from his feisty bride. The first year, he forgot Valentine’s Day. His memory lapse, he said, resulted in Judy crying.
“I never have forgotten a holiday since — not even Groundhog Day,” he said.
Shortly after the couple married, they moved to Little Rock, and he began working at Safeway in warehouse management, where he worked for the next 15 years.
When he was 32, he became a minister. His first church was the Crystal Hills Assembly of God in North Little Rock. He served in that church for more than 13 years. Afterward, he pastored in Booneville for more than nine years. He moved to Vilonia and began the church in a storefront property. The first Sunday, he said, 100 people were in attendance. Within a year, the church had a regular attendance of about 200 — never fewer than 84.
King said he has preached on all levels, including in large formal churches and in prisons. He has been part of mission trips out of the United States, but there are plenty in this country to help, he said. He was part of a prison ministry that went to the Tucker Unit of the Arkansas Department of Correction. The ministry had access to death-row inmates. King said he baptized one man who was executed a few weeks later.
“You can minister anywhere,” King said. He said he was gifted to minister to the poor but doesn’t turn his back on the wealthy, either. Once, he said, he was faulted for “eating with sinners.” He said he got to know a man who owned “beer joints and restaurants.” King would go to his restaurant and share a meal and some conversation on occasion.
The man became seriously ill and was in an intensive-care unit. King went to see him and prayed with him.
“That’s the way it goes,” King said.
King said he has preached more than 700 funerals.
“A lot of them weren’t church folks, either,” he said.
At one funeral, he didn’t know a soul in the audience. It was in a city a couple of hours away from where King lived. For some reason, his card was found in the pocket of the deceased. To this day, King doesn’t know where the man got his card.
King and his wife have two children, Jimmy and Janna. Both are professionals, King said. Jimmy is a principal in an Arkadelphia school. The couple also have five grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. King said his grandchildren and great-grandchildren think “Poppy” is God.
“I just love them,” he said. He also plays with them on the many toys in his backyard, including jumping on the trampoline.
He is blessed, he said, to have great genes with a long lifespan and reasonably good health. His grandmother lived to be 103 and his father 93.
“I’m old, but I’m not dead,” he said, followed by his signature laugh. “Honey, I like to laugh and hear the kids laugh.”
Even though he describes himself as having a type-A personality, with one of the general characteristics being impatience, he said he is an avid deer hunter.
“I know that sounds crazy,” he said.
“I don’t have to put a lot of effort into hunting,” he said. “I’ve got good places to hunt and good people to hunt with. I like being out there. It gives me time to think, time to read my Reader’s Digest and my Bible. And, I generally bring home some meat.”