While Johnathan Abbott isn’t originally from Batesville, it has definitely been his home for the past 28 years.
Abbott, 48, came to work for the city of Batesville two days after he graduated from Wilburn High School, which is now part of the Concord School District. And with the exception of a few months, he has lived in the area ever since.
Abbott, who wears many hats for the city of Batesville, was recently honored as the Batesville Kiwanis Club’s Citizen of the Year.
Abbott is the landscape supervisor for the city. He is also a reserve officer for the Batesville Police Department, as well as a paid volunteer firefighter for the Batesville Fire Department.
“I was absolutely surprised by the honor,” Abbott said. “What a great honor it was. I was definitely not expecting that.”
Abbott was coaxed into going to the banquet, which was held Sept. 25.
“I had no clue,” he said. “They had to talk to my supervisor, who is the mayor. They had talked to my wife. Everybody knew about it but me. I was really shocked.”
Batesville Mayor Rick Elumbaugh said Abbott is deserving of the award.
“Johnny is an overachiever,” Elumbaugh said of Abbott. “He has a vision for the community. He has been responsible for our Christmas lights display here in the city of Batesville, which has grown from just maybe some tangled up Christmas lights that he’s gotten out of a box to a display that I would say is one of the best in the state of Arkansas.”
Abbott said he takes great pleasure in the annual Christmas lights display at Riverside Park.
“We have a 32-foot-tall snowman that we constructed,” Abbott said. “We have people from all over the state come to Batesville for the Christmas lights. It started out years ago when the city would decorate Main Street. It started out with that, doing some simple stuff — lining the buildings and putting up pole decorations. Our current mayor, Mr Elumbaugh, called me into the office probably 10 years ago, saying the city wanted to be on the Tour of Lights for the state of Arkansas. He asked me if I could do so. I said, ‘Absolutely, we’ll take it and run with it.’”
The light show had more than 40,000 cars view it in 2017. Preparation for the project starts in September.
“We started in mid-September this year,” Abbott said. “If we started later than what we are right now, we’d be in trouble. It’s not a little light display. People would not be disappointed. It would be well worth the drive. We have it animated to music. It’s quite a show.”
The display will start Nov. 21,
the day before Thanksgiving, and run through the end of the year.
“He is actually the mastermind behind it,” Elumbaugh said of Abbott. “He is not only a great worker, but he’s a good person altogether. He gives back to the community, and he’s a very strong active leader in his church. He’s a good Christian man.
While the Christmas display is his biggest job each year, Abbott stays busy with his regular routine.
“I started in the cemetery department,” Abbott said, referring to when he started working for the city of Batesville. “I’m actually in charge of it now. There are a lot of things that fall under the scope of my job. We maintain 300 acres around the city, as well as the municipal building. So there is a lot that falls under the landscape supervisor’s job.”
Elumbaugh said Abbott is in charge of most of the parks in the city.
“He’s also over, which is a huge responsibility that we can’t overlook, Oaklawn and Pioneer cemeteries,” Elumbaugh said. “His department is in charge of mowing and maintaining and actually digging the graves because they are city-owned cemeteries.”
Abbott’s department consists of 11 full- and part-time employees.
“We are a small department, but the city gets a big bang for their buck,” he said. “I have a top-notch crew that works for me.”
Abbott said he and his family have grown to love Batesville.
“Even though we grew up in the Heber Springs area, [Batesville] is home to us,” he said. “Our kids were born here. They are pretty much grown. My son graduates from high school this year. My daughter has already graduated and is married. We love the community. We love the people in the community. We’re both very involved.”
Abbott’s wife, Dede, is a second-grade teacher at Batesville West Magnet Elementary School.
“What drew us here was our family,” Abbott said. “I had family who lives here — my grandparents and my dad. We’ve been going to First Church in Batesville for the biggest part of that 28 years as well.”
For about five years of his 28-year tenure with the city of Batesville, Abbott worked full time for the Fire Department, starting in 2002.
“They had an opening, and I wanted to move in that direction,” Abbott said, “so that is what I did for almost five years.”
During his days off from the Fire Department, Abbott worked for the landscape department at the cemeteries.
“I felt like it was best for me to come back to what I’m doing now, which was a good move for me,” he said.
Abbott still makes calls for the Fire Department, which is a combination of full-time and part-paid employees.
“It has a full-time staff,” he said. “It’s not a full-time department. We have guys on shifts who drive the trucks and operate the pump. The part-paid guys are like on a volunteer status, but they do draw a small check every month. We have two meetings a month. We attend those. When the page goes out, we respond in our personal vehicles.
“I carry a pager. Depending upon how many structure fires we have, we can have two or three calls a month, or we can have zero.”
As a reserve police officer, Abbott said, he mainly works events in the area.
“I can do ride-alongs when I want to ride with patrols,” he said. “That is a volunteer deal.”
Prior to the city of Batesville reforming a police department in 2015, Abbott worked as a reserve officer for the Independence County Sheriff’s Office.
“I was helping with the Sheriff’s Office,” Abbott said. “It only made sense to move to the local police department. That was my employer, and if they needed me, that is where I think I’d be best suited.”
Staff writer Mark Buffalo can be reached at (501) 399-3676 or email@example.com.