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Benton native has love of bronze and heart for givingPublished June 15, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.
Joyce Faulkner, like many Arkansans, stays connected to her roots.
An influential figure, she, along with her husband, Jim Faulkner, have left their mark in Little Rock and Fayetteville, as well as in other places across the state, but Joyce remains a Benton girl at heart.
While she has traveled all over the world, enjoying people, the arts and adventures in exotic places, Joyce remains loyal to the high school from which she and her friends graduated more than 60 years ago.
Those enjoyments and the loyalty all came together in May, when Joyce was among the alumni who unveiled the 9-foot-long bronze panther that sits in front of the main entrance of Benton High School before the school’s students, teachers, administrators and alumni.
Everyone involved in the panther project said the idea for the statue came from Joyce, but she has always seemed reluctant to admit it.
“Jim and I are both very interested in art, and I love bronze statues,” Joyce said. “The sculptures can be outside and will always be there. Plus, it takes great talent to make them.”
She said she got the idea for a panther, the mascot of Benton High School, after seeing a panther statue one day.
“I first thought of something smaller for the wonderful atrium at the entrance of the new school building,” Joyce said.
As she had the idea of a statue of the mascot in mind, it was time for her 60th-year class reunion.
“I still have contact with my classmates from Benton High School,” Joyce said. “There were 84 of us in the class of 1952, and there are about 30 to 40 of us left, but we are really good friends, led by our class president forever, Margo Quinn.”
Quinn asked Joyce to make a presentation on the idea of a statue to their classmates during the reunion.
“I did a PowerPoint presentation to the group, and everyone seemed to like it,” Joyce said. “We took Barbara McClendon’s hat off and passed it around, and we raised $300 to $400 in seed money. We had it up to $1,000 by the time we took it to the school.”
John Dedman, who was then principal of the high school, said just such a project was on the school’s wish list, except Dedman and others had a bigger idea that included a much bigger statue outside.
“We had built a place for it, with a concrete pad and lights,” he said in 2012. “We just needed somebody to drive the idea, and when Joyce called, it was like a dream come true.”
The bigger sculpture would take more money, and when Joyce said she didn’t want to be the fundraiser, Dedman said he had just the person in mind — Mary Kay Mooney.
“Mary Kay was from another class (1964), and I didn’t know her that well,” Joyce said, “but she did a magnificent job getting the donations together, and we have become fast friends.”
This is when the Faulkners stepped up and helped make the idea a reality. Joyce and Jim issued a matching challenge to other Benton High School classes. The couple said if any class raised $1,000 or more, they would match the gift up to $10,000.
On the day in May when the statue was unveiled to the community, Mooney said the way former graduates of the high school responded with pledges showed “we all still bleed maroon and gray.”
Joyce said 11 classes each raised more than $1,000, and combined with the Faulkners’ grant, the money was soon raised.
As the money came in, a team was selected to find a sculptor for the project. Again, it was Joyce who took the lead and found David Harris of Light and Time Design in Royal, the artist who would create the panther.
Harris said the project moved from a small model to a full-size model of clay, from which the bronze statue was cast.
“Everything was going well; then David injured his hand in an accident,” Joyce said. “Work stopped for almost a year.”
However, on one of the last days of the school year, the bronze panther, colored black and looking as if it was about to leap to attack, its fangs exposed and ears laid back, was presented to the students.
“The kids were excited, and I am so happy we had good weather that day,” Joyce said. “The new principal, Lita Gattis, got excited about the project and the time capsule that held the names of the students enrolled in Benton High School that day.”
On the day of the unveiling, Benton School District Superintendent Jeff Collum said all the students should remember the class of 1952.
“They left 62 years ago, but they came back here and asked, ‘What can we do?’ Every student is now etched in history as a Panther. You, too, can still be a part of this place when you come back to remember, with your children and your grandchildren. Will you also ask what you can do for your school?”
Joyce and Jim Faulkner have always felt the need to ask what they could do. They have stepped up many times for their schools and their communities.
“We can give back for all the good fortune we have had, and we love doing that,” Joyce said.
Her husband agrees.
“We always believed that if you have enough for yourself and your children,” Jim said, “you should give what’s leftover for worthwhile projects.”
Often, the couple’s gifts have reflected their love of art and music. They gave a bronze statue to the Saline County Library in Benton.
“It’s a teacher and children on a bench reading books,” Joyce said.
Although Joyce made a pledge to earn a college degree before she was 50 and did just that at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Jim and all their children attended the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. So it is no wonder the Faulkners are longtime supporters of the university. In 2011, they led the effort to purchase new uniforms for the Razorback Marching Band by offering to match others’ gifts. The challenge was met and exceeded in a matter of weeks.
“We were both in our high school bands, Jim in Malvern and me in Benton,” Joyce said. “Jim also played in the Razorback Band in college.”
The Faulkners have helped fund Chancellor’s Scholarships in several fields of study at the university in Fayetteville.
The new performing arts center at the University of Arkansas — a planned renovation of the Old Field House — will be named the Jim and Joyce Faulkner Performing Arts Center in honor of the couple’s $6 million gift to the $20 million project.
The chancellor of the university called the couple Arkansas treasures.
“The Faulkners are passionate about Arkansas and about the U of A,” Chancellor David Gearhart said. “It’s fitting that this building, where Jim spent so much time during his undergraduate years, will bear their names and will reflect their advocacy of education and the performing arts.”
Joyce and her husband live in Little Rock, and it is not surprising that there are several bronze sculptures on display in their home. Outside their front door is a bronze figure of a flying falcon. The name “Faulkner” comes from a word for the keeper of hunting falcons.
The bronze figure is a symbol, not only of the family name but of their loyalty to home and the people in the Arkansas community — both soar.
Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or at email@example.com.
Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or firstname.lastname@example.org.