Alumni to be inducted into hall of fame

By Kayla Baugh Published August 17, 2017 at 12:00 a.m.
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— Four alumni from Newport High School will be inducted into the Newport Alumni Hall of Fame for their outstanding contributions to their chosen fields.

Melissa Kieffner, executive director of the Newport School District Charitable Foundation Inc., said nominations are received from all over the country each year.

The foundation works to honor alumni who embody leadership and service in the community, and the ninth annual banquet will take place at 6 p.m. Aug. 24 at the Newport Country Club.

This year, Kieffner said, Patti Mullins, class of 1975; Joe Black, class of 1970; and Austin Grimes, class of 1946, will be inducted. John R. Purdy,

class of 1958, will be inducted posthumously.

Patti Mullins has worked as a dentist in Newport for 34 years. She was selected for her dedication to Newport and academic excellence, Kieffner said.

Mullins was a member of the Newport Greyhound Whippets, a drill team that began in the school when Mullins was in 10th grade.

“At that time you knew almost everybody in the town. My father was superintendent of the schools, so I had to act right and do what I was supposed to do. It was a great place to live and grow up,” Mullins said.

She has been active in the Newport Area Chamber of Commerce, the American Cancer Society and the Jackson County Council on Tourism, among other organizations.

Currently, she said, she puts a lot of focus on her Newport Christmas Decorating Fund.

“One of the nomination forms we received on Mullins simply stated, ‘She lights up our city,’” Kieffner said.

“Everyone in Newport knows what this means. At Christmastime, the street is packed in front of her house to look at her Christmas display — it is the largest private Christmas display in the region,” Kieffner said.

“We’re slowly starting to make Newport look really festive during Christmastime,” Mullins said. “The first thing we did was put lights on the depot with permission of the mayor. Then we started decorating the courthouse and built around 130 Christmas trees. We put them all over Newport in November and try to have them lit up by Thanksgiving.”

Mullins said she also decorates her home extravagantly around Christmastime, and her neighbors allow her to put decorations in their yards as well.

“It makes me happy that kids get that look in their eyes when they see the decorations. I know in my heart that some of those kids don’t have a good Christmas at home, and I try to make things special for them,” she said.

Mullins said her parents were people who believed in honesty, sincerity and giving back to the community.

“I can remember my dad telling me it doesn’t matter if you have a nickel, a dime or a million bucks; everyone is treated equally. I was taught that you help people and do anything you can to help your community and make it a better place to be. Anything I can do to help, I try to do,” she said.

Mullins said she feels honored to be inducted into the Newport Alumni Hall of Fame and mentioned that her father, John W. Mullins, is also in the Hall of Fame.

“I just don’t understand what I’ve done; I feel like community work is just something that I’m supposed to be doing. Newport is a great place with lots of wonderful people, and I just like to be involved. My father was superintendent for 21 years, and this school has been my life forever,” she said.

Another Hall of Fame honoree, Joe Black, has worked for the Department of Economic Development at Arkansas State University and was an aide to former U.S. Rep. Blanche Lincoln, according to a press release from the Newport Area Chamber of Commerce.

Black has also served on a number of boards and committees, including the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, Delta LISC and the Arkansas State Board of Education.

“He has worked in a number of areas, including farming, economic development and education, and is well-respected by all,” Kieffner said.

Kieffner said Hall of Fame inductee Austin Grimes became a pilot in 1945 and later became a flight surgeon.

“He was a flight surgeon during the Bay of Pigs affair. He went on to serve patients in private practice and later volunteered with the St. Vincent free clinic until retiring at age 70,” she said.

Grimes also led tours at the Arkansas Arts Center for six years, and his art work has been featured in CARTI and the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion Association calendars.

John R. Purdy will be inducted into the Hall of Fame posthumously as a result of his “rich background in service to his community of Newport,” Kieffner said.

Many people nominated Purdy, she said, and the Purdy family has served the Newport community for 81 years.

Purdy was president of the Walnut Grove Cemetery Association, a member of Rotary International, and chairman of advertising and communications for the Arkansas Florist Association.

He also ran and expanded his mother’s business, Purdy’s Flower Shop, with his wife, Rosanna, until 2012.

The admission fee is $25 for the banquet, Kieffner said, which is hosted by the Newport School District Charitable Foundation Inc. She said the goal of the foundation is to support students in the Newport School District.

“John Pennington is our emcee for the event — he is a 1969 graduate of Newport High School. Many school staff members and organizations decorate the tables for the banquet — everyone from our kindergarten teachers, cheerleaders, football team, FFA, JROTC and so on. Everyone gets involved to make this night happen,” Kieffner said.

Kieffner said Newport High School’s JROTC will present the flag at the event, Nathan May, a junior at Newport High School, will play the national anthem on the trumpet, and Oshae Pruitt, a senior, will lead the invocation.

“The hall of fame event is where we kick off our fundraising year for our foundation,” Kieffner said. “This foundation has contributed over $248,000 to support academics in the Newport School District over the past eight years. We contribute toward academic incentives, educational supplies for teachers and educational field trips.”

One of the first inductees into the hall of fame was Former Gov. Mike Beebe, she said, and Newport High School has a history of producing wonderful graduates.

Kieffner said students at Newport High School consider themselves a family.

“Newport High School has a deep-hearted sense of pride found in the students, staff and community. Anyone associated with the school will always bleed our orange and black school colors and live by the creed, ‘Once a Greyhound, Always a Greyhound,’ she said.

It’s important to take pride in the past but to keep your eyes on the bright future of Newport High School, Kieffner said.

“It is such a great night to witness the alumni speak of their successes, as well as their time as students at NHS,” she said. “I always leave feeling inspired and motivated to continue this work to help future students.”

Staff writer Kayla Baugh can be reached at (501) 244-4307 or

None Kayla Baugh can be reached at 501-244-4307 or

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