VILONIA — At a retirement ceremony held June 2, friends of Frank Mitchell, superintendent of the Vilonia School District, declared it as “get-even time” for the pranks he has pulled on others during his 49 years in education.
Consisting of refreshments and a roast, the event lasted for about two hours and was held in the high school cafeteria. Mitchell sat in the audience surrounded by nearly 200 people, including family, friends and co-workers, as several of them shared some of the shenanigans that had been pulled on them or that they were involved in pulling on someone else at the urging of Mitchell.
“That was his way of telling you that you were doing a good job,” said Barbara Lylerly, a former assistant superintendent in Vilonia. “If he pulls a prank on you, he probably likes you.”
One story Lylerly told was about band director Steve Platt, now deceased, and his wife, Susie. It seems the couple were at their wit’s end trying to figure out who was planning to visit them. The Platts had received an anonymous note, mailed from south Arkansas, announcing that they would be having visitors for a week. The note (written by Mitchell) said, “We will be pulling a 30-foot trailer and bringing our great-grandmother along on the trip.”
“Susie cleaned for a week getting ready for them,” Lylerly said.
Lylerly also recounted a scenario in which she and Steve Platt planned to get even with Mitchell. She and Platt solicited the help of radio and television personality Craig O’Neill. He was the morning host on a number of radio stations in the 1980s and ’90s, and he was famous for making outrageous prank phone calls on the air.
O’Neill called Mitchell, Lylerly said, pretending to be an employee of the Game and Fish Commission. He said he had been instructed to confiscate an endangered species of fish mounted and hanging on a wall in Mitchell’s office. O’Neill also told Mitchell he might be facing prosecution. At that point, Mitchell turned the tables on the two. He told O’Neill he had had help from Platt getting the fish into the boat. He let the two less-seasoned pranksters know they needed to do a better job and that he wasn’t falling for O’Neill’s spoof.
“You can never get the man back,” Lylerly said.
Other speakers included Wynona Bryant Williams of the state Department of Education and Woody Cummins of Stephens Inc., who was also introduced as Mitchell’s friend and a former educator both with the Conway School District and the state Department of Education. Other friends who roasted Mitchell included Les Campbell of Vilonia; Jerry Roberts, president of the Vilonia School District; and John Pennington, a retired educator and member of the Lakeside School Board.
The audience laughed many times when anecdotes were told at Mitchell’s expense. Mitchell also chuckled as events from his past returned to haunt him. There were accounts of fishing trips, as well as prank phone calls instigated by Mitchell. He once had a caller pretend to be a newspaper reporter interviewing Cummins. Also, Cummins said, Mitchell sent an “unflattering” photograph of him to his colleagues around the country with a caption under the picture denoting Cummins as “the poster child for world hunger.”
“This happened years and years ago when I was the toad master,” Cummins said. The photograph, he said, appeared in a newspaper in connection with the Toad Suck Daze festival in Conway.
“Dr. Mitchell and I have gone through some good times and bad times together,” Cummins said. “This is get-even time,” he added, joking.
He then revealed several photographs depicting Mitchell in some uncomplimentary postures, such as leaned back sleeping with his mouth wide open. Cummins had attached captions to all the photos, resulting in much laughter.
Vilonia assistant superintendents Cathy Riggins and Ed Sellers presented Mitchell with a plaque from the school district and thanked him for his 28 years of service in Vilonia. He also received a plaque from Williams, who described him as a “fine gentleman with a huge heart.”
Mitchell concluded the event with a brief talk about his career. He spoke fondly of his time in the Vilonia School District. He thanked his wife, Sharon, for standing by him through the years. He also talked lovingly about his two children and grandchildren.
He closed on a serious note. He said he thinks David Stephens is a good replacement for him.
“He’s a lot younger, and he will have more energy,” Mitchell said.
Yet, he said, Stephens’ job will not be easy. For one thing, Mitchell said, Stephens will be forced to deal with fallout from the tornado.
“The comeback from the tornado is going to be slow,” Mitchell said.
The event ended with handshakes, hugs and congratulatory words. Mitchell plans to continue living in Vilonia. He said his retirement agenda includes some travel and fishing on White Oak Lake.