OBITUARY SUBMITTED BY:
PO Box 38, Magnolia, AR
Published: December 23, 2012
Sonny Whittington, 73, of Magnolia, Ark. died Friday, Dec. 21, 2012 at the John R. Williamson Hospice House in El Dorado, Ark.
Sonny was born March 4, 1939 in Rison, Ark. to the late James E. Whittington Sr. and Alice (Brewer) Whittington and was also preceded in death by his brothers, Bennie Joe and Kenneth Whittington.
Sonny first came to Southern Arkansas University (SAU) as a beginning freshman student in the fall of 1957 when the school was Southern State College (SSC). He arrived with a half-scholarship to play football under Coach Auburn Smith who would have a tremendous impact on his life. Before the year was out, Sonny worked hard enough to earn a full scholarship. As a sophomore, he was quarterback for the Muleriders. When SSC's all-American QB Calvin Neal returned from military service, he was shifted to play other positions, including tight end. He attended SSC when the bond between athletes and other students was strong, facilitated by the small size of the student body where everyone knew everyone else on campus and when professors knew students by name and often knew the students' family, too. Years later, Sonny said that the greatest compliment he ever received as director of admissions at SAU occurred when someone said he reminded them of Milton Talley, the beloved dean of students at SSC, noted for his personal interest in every student he met.
He received a B.S.E. from SSC in 1961 and was hired by his alma mater, Rison High School, as coach and history teacher. After six years there, he became head football coach at Pine Bluff High School and enjoyed great success. In December 1968, Coach Raymond "Rip" Powell asked him to join the Muleriders as an assistant coach. He served during one of the team's greatest eras of winning football. He later attributed his success in recruiting to lessons he had learned from Coach Powell, particularly an approach that treated each student as unique and special, meriting the "personal" touch which became the hallmark of Sonny's successful career after football. In the spring of 1979, he became director of admissions and recruiting at SAU. He served in this position for two decades.
Sonny developed the first true marketing plan for SAU, and his office grew over time from himself and a part-time secretary to a fully-staffed office of three full-time recruiters and support personnel. He always paid close attention with personal visits to all schools in SAU's prime recruiting territory in a 150-mile radius from Magnolia. He went out of his way to make friends with each school's superintendent, principal, and counselor. And he developed programs designed to appeal to the kinds of students and parents found in these locales. Often, he engaged in recruiting students one-by-one by finding how SAU might meet the needs of particular students. And when he found a student wanted or needed a program not found at SAU, he would help put the student in touch with a recruiter from another school. His personal and caring approach found much success. During the 23 years in which he directed recruiting, the student body increased an average of 60 students per year, growing from 1,739 in 1979 to 3,127 in 2001 when he retired. In 2012 he was inducted into the Southern Arkansas University Sports Hall of Fame.
Sonny was a member of the Central Baptist Church, Kiwanis Club, past President of (ARTA) Arkansas Retired Teachers Assoc., past president of (ArkACRAO) Arkansas Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers and was the Little League Baseball Coach for the Boys and Girls Club for many years.
He is survived by his wife, Sherry Whittington of Magnolia; son, Mike Whittington and wife Dianna of Ft. Smith; daughter, Whitney Whittington of Magnolia; granddaughter, Bailey Whittington and grandson, Stratton Whittington both of Ft. Smith.
Funeral services will be Wednesday, Dec. 26 at 2 p.m. at the Central Baptist Church with Dr. Mike Seabaugh officiating with interment following at Memorial Park Cemetery under the direction of Lewis Funeral Home Inc. of Magnolia.
Pallbearers will be the Bereans Sunday school class at Central Baptist Church. Honorary pallbearers will be Barney Hugh Reeves, Cotton Staten, Claude Wilson, Ed Nipper, Gary Weed, and Jim Garrett.
In lieu of flowers and plants, the family requests memorial donations be made to the James "Sonny" Whittington Endowment, SAU Foundation, P.O. Box 9174, Magnolia, Ark. 71754-9174.