OPPELO — Kenny Johnson, the man who takes care of Judy and Hall Calhoun III’s yard at their home in Oppelo, is taking a break, leaning on his truck under a big tree. He’s concerned.
“Is Mrs. Judy OK?” he asked, noting the unfamiliar cars in her driveway.
He is assured that she’s fine — she’s just being interviewed and photographed for the award she recently won — the Community Youth Service Foundation’s Steve Willbanks Award for outstanding service to youth.
He’s relieved. So, Johnson thinks she’s a good lady, does he?
“Oh, yeah, she’s one of the best,” he said.
It’s a sentiment that seems to be shared with many people, who continue to choose Calhoun for honors.
Calhoun, a retired schoolteacher and counselor, has lived in this home since she and her husband built it on his family farm and moved into it in 1967, almost a year after they were married. The farm has been in Hall
Calhoun’s family “at least six generations,” Judy Calhoun said. It’s where the couple raised their two daughters, Lynn Calhoun, who lives in Canada, and Leeann Mobley, who lives across the street from her parents.
Judy Calhoun has family photos lining the mantel and walls in her home. It’s not a big family, despite the plethora of photos.
“I’m an only child. Mother died when I was 7 and almost died having me,” she said. Her mother, Nina Gene Janes, was a third-grade teacher; Calhoun’s parents had divorced when she was 6, something unheard of at that time. She said her mother had polio as a child, and Calhoun believes her death was caused by the ravages of that disease.
Calhoun grew up in Atkins, raised by a great-aunt and great-uncle, then moved to Morrilton when she was 14 to live with her aunt and uncle Betty and Ben Looney. Calhoun said Betty Looney, who is 92 and lives in Morrilton, was her biggest inspiration.
Calhoun said her aunt was the first administrative assistant for the Community Youth Service Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Community Service Inc. The foundation offers a variety of programs, including education, therapeutic foster care, day treatment for students who are not able to function in a normal school setting, substance-abuse treatment, mental-health treatment, First Tee, Youth Leadership and more.
Calhoun was barely 22 when she and Hall Calhoun III married. He was a farmer with a degree from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, and she had graduated in three years from Arkansas State Teachers College, now the University of Central
Arkansas, in Conway. She also earned a master’s degree in education, and she taught a year in Little Rock before she was married. The couple moved to Morrilton, and she taught a fifth-grade class from 1967-70 in the Morrilton School District.
She took off 13 years to raise her two daughters and spent countless hours leading the Girl Scouts, working in the parent-teacher association and doing church work.
One of her projects had a big impact on children in Conway County.
“A bunch of us got together, and we pursued the idea that Morrilton needed a public kindergarten. I think that’s a really big deal because the superintendent at the time, he was not for it,” she said.
It was Calhoun who went to speak to the superintendent, though, to get him to change his mind. And he did.
Three public kindergarten classes were started — one at a Morrilton elementary school, one at Southern Christian Home and one at “the old Cox House, a wonderful old antebellum home,” she said.
Calhoun said the change showed “the power of parents. People don’t know what they can do if they set their mind to it. We just insisted; we didn’t go away.”
When she returned to teaching, she taught sixth-graders at Menifee in the consolidated South Conway County School District, then was a reading teacher at Menifee and a Morrilton Elementary School called Northside at the time.
Then she earned her counseling certification and started a new position, which became her passion.
Calhoun retired in 2010 after 32 1/2 years in education, 20 of them as an elementary counselor.
“I loved every minute of it. I loved it, loved it, loved it,” she said.
She recalled one little boy whom she had to fail in fifth grade because he couldn’t read. “He was so precious. He was personality plus,” she said.
“I begged my principal to give him back to me the next year.” The student came up to a third-grade reading level when he repeated the grade. “I was so proud of him — he just blossomed,” she said.
Today, the man has his own business in Pope County.
Calhoun said she utilized the Community Service Youth Foundation as a counselor.
“They do counseling for children who can’t afford it. That’s why I’m so high on them,” she said. “They were just so good, so good. I really appreciated what they did for the children.”
And the foundation appreciates Calhoun.
When she was notified about her award, Calhoun said she didn’t feel deserving.
“I tried to talk them out of it; I really did,” she said.
Jamie Higgins, director of development for the Community Service Youth Foundation, disagreed. He said the organization is honored to recognize Calhoun.
“Judy’s love and passion for youth and their development is one reason she is beloved in the Morrilton community,” he said. “As a former educator, Judy knows the value of investing in every youth. She gives selflessly of her time, treasure and, most importantly, heart to make sure no child grows up without the love, support and education they deserve.”
Calhoun will be honored at a banquet at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Morrilton Area Chamber of Commerce, 115. E. Broadway in downtown Morrilton.
The Steve Willbanks Award was established in 2011 to honor Willbanks for his more than 40 years of leadership as president/CEO of Community Service Inc.
The event will include music, a silent auction, heavy hors d’oeuvres and drinks. All proceeds will benefit the Community Service Youth Foundation. Tickets are $50 each and may be obtained by calling (501) 354-4589 or online at csiyouth.com.
Calhoun said the award is significant to her.
“I’m very humbled by it, of course, especially since it’s Community Service, because I have a history with Community Service,” she said.
This honor is one of many Calhoun has received over the years. She was named Morrilton Citizen of the Year in 2013, and she’s high on the community.
“I like small towns. I think the people — it’s just a closer-knit community. We all help each other — I take care of you, and you take care of me. I think when you have a larger town, you just lose that feeling. Morrilton is just a jim-dandy place to live,” she said.
She was also named Teacher of the Year for the South Conway County School District in 2002 and Central Region Arkansas School Counselor of the Year in 2006, which meant the most of any of her honors, she said.
Calhoun is a firm believer that people should use their talents. Calhoun said she helps take care of Betty Looney these days, so “I’m not doing much” volunteer work.
Not doing much is relative. She teaches Sunday School and is a member of the choir at First Presbyterian Church in Morrilton, where she’s Circle chairwoman, moderator of the Presbyterian Women — of which she’s a lifetime member — and bake-sale chairwoman (her specialty is peach cobbler). She is chaplain of the General William Lewis Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, vice president of Literary Coterie, a member of the Pathfinder Club, and a board member and tutor for the Conway County Literacy Council.
She’s also a member of Conway County Retired Teachers and Delta Kappa Gamma, a lifetime member of the PTA and a member of the Ouachita Girl Scout Council Hall of Fame.
“Whatever I’ve done, the good Lord has done it,” Calhoun said.
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or email@example.com.