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story.lead_photo.caption Debbie Thompson stands on the Arkansas State University-Beebe’s Heber Springs campus, where she works as admissions coordinator. She was named 2018 Volunteer of the Year by the Heber Springs Area Chamber of Commerce. Thompson said she’s appreciative of the honor, but she prefers to be a behind-the-scenes person. - Photo by Staci Vandagriff

Debbie Thompson’s honor as 2018 Volunteer of the Year is not only deserved, it’s probably overdue, said Julie Murray, executive director of the Heber Springs Area Chamber of Commerce.

“From volunteering for every event we have, attending ribbon cuttings, you name it, she’s there,” Murray said. “So she earned it. … It’s probably overdue.”

The award was presented to Thompson by Murray on Nov. 8 at the Volunteer Appreciation Luncheon.

“I’m usually a behind-the-scenes person,” Thompson said, so the spotlight has been overwhelming.

Thompson, who lives in Romance, is admissions coordinator for Arkansas State University-Beebe’s Heber Springs campus.

She received a plaque in the shape of Arkansas, created by Murray’s husband, Doug.

“I love it,” Thompson said.

Murray said Thompson was a chamber board member for a three-year term; then she offered to stay on as secretary, which she as done the past two years.

“She’s the person that when we need to fill a volunteer spot, or we need extra help, she’s the one we call,” Murray said. “She does it with a smile on her face; she loves to be part of it.”

Thompson agreed that she enjoys every minute of volunteering with the community.

A native of California, she said she attended Sonoma State University, then “met a guy,” Jerry, and they moved to Texas. They’ve been married 42 years and have two grown children and six grandchildren, ranging in ages from 9 months to 20 years old.

“When I first started college straight out of high school, I was interested in being a forest ranger, which was unacceptable for women back in those days, and my parents discouraged it,” said Thompson, an only child. “Then I met Jerry, and family came along very soon after, so my life took a different direction.”

Jerry was in construction, and she worked at a savings and loan in Texas. The oil market “bottomed out,” she said.

“We both lost our jobs. We said, ‘If we’re going to start over, let’s start over where we want to be.’”

In August 1986, they moved to Arkansas. Her grandmother and other relatives lived in Siloam Springs, and Jerry had relatives in Mineral Springs.

“We’d been in love with Arkansas for years,” she said.

Jerry landed a job as a carpenter at ASU-Beebe; about a year later, in 1989, she was hired as a secretary at the college. In fall 1998, she moved to the Heber Springs campus in the admissions office. Her husband is now director of the physical plant at ASU-Beebe at Heber Springs.

Thompson finished her associate degree at ASU-Beebe in 1990.

“When I returned to school in 1990, I pursued a business degree, mostly to better my standing at the university, since I was very content with my job and the additional security it brought my family,” she said.

Thompson said she jumped at the chance to join the Heber Springs campus and never looked back.

“We’ve always loved Heber Springs,” she said. “The beauty is top [on the list of reasons]. The area is just so gorgeous. The biggest thing that jumped out at me when I started working here … since I left California, I’ve never been in a community that took me in like I’d been here forever. Everybody’s been so welcoming and friendly.”

Thompson said she started volunteering with the chamber almost immediately.

“My supervisor at the time, Dianne Tiner (now Dianne Logan, retired), instilled in us a sense of community and giving back,” Thompson said. “She wanted ASU-Heber Springs represented in the community; she’s the one who suggested joining the chamber.

“It’s a very volunteer-oriented community.”

Thompson was impressed with the outpouring of support when a former school-turned-rehabilitation center in Cleburne County caught fire on Nov. 7.

“Basically, all the equipment burned,” she said. “Later in the day, people were taking food. … I’ve never been part of a community that’s so caring and giving.”

Thompson said of the many events sponsored by the Heber Springs Area Chamber of Commerce, her favorite is the Fourth of July Fireworks Extravaganza.

“I enjoy the fireworks the most because they’re just so amazing,” she said.

She’s made a lot of memories by working at chamber events, albeit one memory that wasn’t exactly fun.

“Early on when I started volunteering, I had not drunk enough water, and we were taking information for the [cardboard] boat races, and I got overheated, and I ended up in an ambulance. It was so embarrassing,” she said, laughing.

Volunteering with the chamber is satisfying, she said.

“I absolutely enjoy the camaraderie,” Thompson said. “We do a lot of ribbon cuttings, and it’s just fun. It’s fun feeling a part of something bigger than yourself.”

Thompson said she’s starting to contemplate retirement. She wants to spend more time with those six grandchildren, and she also enjoys photography. She’s a member of Professional Photographers of the Ozarks and Arkansas Women Photographers.

She said the chamber will always be a big part of her life.

“I intend to always volunteer as long as I physically can. [The chamber] gives back to the community; it gives back to me, because I enjoy it.”

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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