Howard Chapin IV had no idea he was being honored by the Heber Springs Area Chamber of Commerce when he attended its annual banquet March 29.
Chapin, a longtime banker in the area who is now retired, as well as an advocate for the Arkansas State University-Beebe Heber Springs Campus, received the Distinguished Citizens Award from state Rep. Josh Miller, R-Heber Springs.
“This was a really well-kept secret between Julie Murray and my wife,” Chapin said, referring to Murray, who is the chamber executive director and his wife, Alyce. “I think they kept a lid on it for about a month. I knew they had a Hall of Fame winner, and they had announced that a couple of weeks ago. I know her, [Jo Price].”
Chapin received a citation from the House of Representatives, presented by Miller.
“No one is more deserving of this award than Howard Chapin,” Murray said. “He is truly a visionary who has always been committed to the growth and prosperity of Heber Springs. His contributions are felt throughout our community, from the Cleburne County Rotary Club and the ASU-Heber Springs Campus to the Heber Springs Area Chamber of Commerce.
“We are so grateful that Howard and Alyce have made Heber Springs their home.”
Chapin has been involved with the Heber Springs Chamber for many years after moving to the area, working for First National Bank of Cleburne County, then First Security Bank.
“It was very nice,” Chapin said of receiving the award. “There are lots of people who have given their heart and soul to this community. I’m not one who is selfish and wants to talk about me. It feels good. I made it a point to be involved, not just be a banker who goes to work then goes back home and goes to church on Sunday, and that’s all you do. It’s a lot more than that.
“I’ve gone to Quorum Court meetings for the past 15-plus years on a regular basis, a ton of City Council meetings, and I’m more involved with church. Over that period of years, it felt nice to be involved. Somebody saw that and thought that I was a fit [for the award]. That’s great. I’m very humbled by it. It didn’t have to happen; that’s for sure. It was very nice for the community to do that. It doesn’t change a thing. I’m going to keep doing more.”
Chapin is not a native Arkansan. He was born and raised in Lincoln, Nebraska. He graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 1973. He and his wife were married in 1975, and he went to work for a finance company as a lender.
“I had my own office as a branch manager,” he said. “I was pretty excited about that.”
In 1977, the Chapins traveled to Arkansas, where Howard’s mother was living.
“My wife had never been to Arkansas,” Chapin said. “I threw in a sports coat in the car, and I ended up walking into Twin City Bank, the original one at 1 Riverfront Drive [in North Little Rock]. I ended up talking to them. We agreed on a job.
“That was a huge move for us. I was 27 years old, and my wife is five years younger. Two weeks later, we were living in North Little Rock, Arkansas.”
Chapin said he was working up the ranks at Twin City Bank when, in 1982, his company purchased the failed Bank of Quitman.
Within a short time, he was the the manager of the new First National Bank of Cleburne County in November 1982.
“I had a great ride,” Chapin said. “We ended up moving the main office to the home office in Heber Springs in 1986. We kept growing the bank, and it went really well.”
Chapin said that in 1999, banks went into what he called “merger mania.”
“I could see that coming,” he said. “You could see that train coming down the tracks.”
At that point, he spoke with Reynie Rutledge, the president and CEO of First Security Bank.
“I went to work for them,” Chapin said. “At the time, they were just a little office, which is now the chamber office.
“We built a beautiful facility on [Arkansas] Highway 25 North right next to Sonic.”
Chapin worked for First Security for 18 years, retiring March 31, 2017, as president of the Heber Springs/Cleburne County market.
“We really grew the bank during that time,” he said. “It was a fantastic community.”
Chapin said it was time to get out of banking and focus on things he’s been doing in his spare time, working with Arkansas State University, in particular with the Heber Springs and Beebe campuses.
“Besides getting involved as you would in the position of being a banker, you’ve got to know your community,” he said. “Between chamber activities and Rotary, I was networking all the time.”
Chapin said that at a chamber banquet many years ago, former Arkansas State University System President Les Wyatt had a vision for working with the Heber Springs community.
“We had a chamber Educational Committee that was pretty nonactive,” Chapin said. “We kind of scratched our heads and said, ‘Is he serious?’”
Chapin said that over a six-month period, a group of citizens countywide assessed the needs and validity of Arkansas State coming to Cleburne County.
“By August of 1998, we had four first classes at Heber Springs High School,” Chapin said. “We opened some offices on Main Street where the county assessor’s and collector’s offices are now.”
The first campus built in Heber Springs was the technology campus, now known as the John L. Latimer Skills Training Center, which is part of the Cleburne County Industrial Park. The technology campus opened in 2002.
“Then again in 2007, we opened this facility,” Chapin said of the campus that is at 101 Rivercrest Drive. “That was all done by way of a sales tax in 2002, countywide. It was very overwhelmingly successful. We had great support from a couple of our state representatives at the time, the county judge and a group of citizens and great ASU people to work with, from Jonesboro to Beebe and where we are today. It’s been a terrific run.”
Working with ASU is his best and most important passion, Chapin said.
“Not to take anything away from anything else I’m involved in, but it’s been a good run with great relationships,” he said. “We’re doing this to serve Cleburne County and meet the needs of the community so that you don’t have to drive all the way to Conway or Beebe or Little Rock. You can get an education here.”
Chapin was originally the chair of the Chamber Advisory Committee that worked with Wyatt and ASU. That committee eventually became the Arkansas State University Advisory Committee.
“That was the name for a few years until we got this open,” he said. “Then we changed it to the ASU Development Council. I was chairman for more than a dozen years. It looks like I’m going to start chairing that again.”
In addition to working with the Heber Springs Campus, Chapin has worked on committees at the Jonesboro and Beebe campuses.
“I was asked by the president of the system at the time to sit on the foundation board at Jonesboro,” he said. “I did that for three years. That was great to get a little bit bigger picture of what goes on.
“That’s an interesting process. I got to meet another whole set of people from the communities that help ASU.”
Just over a year ago, ASU-Beebe decided to put together an ASU Board of Visitors, Chapin said.
“I’m asked to sit on that,” he said. “There are seven of us. That was formed in February 2017, and it’s a three-year term.
“I’ve been able to stay engaged all the while. It’s been fantastic.”
Chapin is also on a committee to select a new chancellor for the Beebe campus.
“I do it because I enjoy it,” he said. “I wasn’t one of those who after they retire have trouble staying involved in the community. I also sit on the board of the Community School of Cleburne County. That is a great school that helps kids who need the extra help. That’s been another passion. I’ve done that for five years.”
Chapin said now that he is retired from banking, he doesn’t have the restraints of work keeping him from doing work in the community.
“The disconnect may have been from the banking world but not the other,” he said. “I’ve stepped it up a lot more now that I have that time. I’m happy to.
“The networking, staying with these people … it’s just a great relationship with the Heber Springs Campus. It’s been a period of years where you develop that passion and want to stay with it. I have no desire to step out of it. Gosh, this is what I ought to be doing.”
Staff writer Mark Buffalo can be reached at (501) 399-3676 or firstname.lastname@example.org.