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story.lead_photo.caption Jacob Hogan sits in Soaring Eagle Memorial Park, 59 Cemetery St., with the memorial dedicated to Arkansas victims of the 2011 and 2014 tornadoes. Hogan took the lead on the memorial project as part of an Environmental and Spatial Technology class. He was chosen Vilonia Youth of the Year by the Vilonia Chamber of Commerce. - Photo by Staci Vandagriff

Jacob Hogan enjoys traveling to other countries, but it’s back in Vilonia that the student is making a big impact.

Hogan, 18, was named Vilonia Youth of the Year by the Vilonia Chamber of Commerce.

“It definitely took me by shock,” he said. “It was awesome; it makes you feel, wow, I’m getting recognized for something. All the projects, all the stuff I did, was not for an award; it was just to help people. That’ s my whole goal in life.”

Hogan, a son of Sophia and Greg Hogan, lives on the outskirts of Conway. Jacob’s mother is food-service director for the Vilonia School District, and his father taught art in the district before leaving to become a full-time minister, so Jacob has always attended Vilonia schools.

Jacob Hogan said he’s “only” in three clubs, but when he does something, he does it 110 percent.

“The stuff I’m involved in, I’m very active in,” he said.

Hogan is the president of the Student Council and a member of DECA, the marketing club; and Beta Club.

Vilonia High School Principal Ronnie Simmons said Hogan has been “very effective” as Student Council president, “and I’ve been extremely impressed with his ability to organize and facilitate multiple events at VHS this year. He is comfortable talking to just about any person he comes in contact with on a variety of topics.”

Hogan tackles projects from silly to serious. He helped film, direct and edit the Vilonia Police Department’s lip-sync challenge that was posted on social media last summer.

“Greenbrier had gotten one, and you know that’s our rival, and they challenged us. We just kind of went after it,” Hogan said. “We created this story behind it; it’s not just a song.” He said the plot was that one of the officers wrecked his patrol car, so he was given a scooter to ride around on.

On a serious note, Hogan led a project to build a memorial to Vilonia’s victims of tornadoes in 2011 and 2014 through Environmental and Spatial Technology classes. He has participated the past three years, and the first year, he helped design the memorial and secure funding as well.

“It took two years to build everything; it was a long process,” Hogan said. The memorial was dedicated in April 2018.

He said his inspiration came from the Hurricane Katrina memorial in Biloxi, Mississippi, which has a wall with victims’ names on it and a glass case with “the last thing they were holding in their hands.”

“It’s one of the most moving memorials I’ve ever seen,” he said.

The Vilonia memorial includes two brick columns, each dedicated to the year of the respective tornado, with the names of people in Arkansas who died. There were five deaths in 2011 in Vilonia and eight in 2014.

Although Hogan said he didn’t know any of the people who died, “I know a lot of people whose homes were destroyed,” he said.

He helped secure funding from sponsors, including the Vilonia Disaster Relief Alliance. Hogan said former Mayor James Firestone and the Vilonia City Council supported the idea. School-district maintenance employees helped, as did city volunteers.

Firestone, a member of the Vilonia Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, said he is impressed with Hogan.

“Jacob Hogan is one of the finest young men I think I’ve ever been associated with,” Firestone said. “Jacob was one of the leaders who brought that [memorial] up; they saw that through. They got donations, got people to donate work. It took dedication to see it through to the finish; it wasn’t an easy project.”

Erin Rappold, EAST facilitator at the high school, said Hogan has been an outstanding student. Although he worked on many projects, the memorial for the tornado victims was the largest.

“He not only came up with the idea of the memorial but also planned an event with local government and media outlets to have it broadcast across the state during the dedication,” she said.

Hogan said he wanted a lasting tribute to the people whose lives were lost in the tornado.

“The biggest thing I was kind of concerned about, there’s not a place to honor the people who died. Any disaster, there’s something to honor [victims]. I wanted to give a place where people can come together at these reunions and honor their relatives and people who died,” he said.

At the dedication, the students gave rose bushes to the family members of victims.

“One family said their cousin, or whoever died, they’d bring [the family] a rose bush every holiday,” Hogan said. “We didn’t know that; we just gave a rose bush. I was kind of torn up on that one.”

Hogan said his faith drives him in all his activities. He is a member of Cove Chapel church in Damascus, which he said his parents both pastor, and he attends a youth group with a friend on Monday nights at Cowboy Church. Hogan has gone on two mission trips to Nicaragua; the one this past summer was cut short because of unrest in the country.

“They almost had a civil war break out. The government was killing … Nicaraguans,” he said.

The mission trip was through Open Hearts Ministries of Paragould, he said, and the volunteers stayed in a team house in Masaya.

“We got there on Friday night and walked outside the airport, and there were about a dozen military men with

AK-47s strapped to their backs,” Hogan said. “We saw barricades in the road.”

“Saturday morning, we go hit the streets … for street evangelism, and that night, we were locked in our house for two nights because they started rioting in the street. They were shooting mortars off; it got kind of wild. There were times we were on the front porch, and people were shooting right outside the gate and screaming and stuff like that — the gate was 15 feet out.”

Protesters barricaded the city on Saturday night, he said.

On Monday morning, the missionaries’ leader told them to pack half their belongings to move to Leon, a farm on the north side of the country, where the ministry grows food for the feeding center.

“We got out of the team house, and there were barricades, tires burning in the street, barbed wire in the road,” Hogan said. “We started moving a barricade, and a guy with a 3-foot machete started walking toward our [vehicle]. We jumped in this 15-passenger van and drove off.”

He said the team had to drive an hour out of the way, “down dirt roads and creeks that were dried up” to avoid protesters and government officials who might stop them.

“The Mormons pulled out missionaries,” Hogan said. “The U.S. ambassador to Nicaragua was saying, ‘You’ve got to get out.’”

The missionaries left after five days instead of the 30 they planned to stay.

“I’d been the year before, so I got to really enjoy and see the country. It was interesting to see how much could change in a year.”

Hogan said he loves traveling. His mother is from Malaysia, and he has been there four times to see relatives.

He also has an online Christian clothing company he started with a friend, who is attending college in California. They sell T-shirts with symbols from the Bible. So far, they have a mountain with rays of sunshine, “which is from Exodus where Moses got the Ten Commandments,” he said. The second design is a rose of Sharon from Song of Solomon.

“We want people to say, ‘Hey, what’s that mean?’ You can spark conversations about your faith,’” he said.

He also has a podcast, The Simple Call, which will launch May 15. He said he will interview people about their faith. People can access it on iTunes and Spotify.

“I’m interviewing people about their walk with the Lord,” Hogan said, “how they came out of drug addiction … having a conversation about how they came to know Jesus — their whole story to connect people with like-minded people.

“I just believe following Jesus was a simple call. Just say yes to Jesus, and he’ll do the rest.”

Hogan said he has no ties to Vilonia except the school, but that doesn’t dampen his enthusiasm.

“I know I love that town. I believe the Lord loves restoration, so there’s always good things when you restore things,” he said. “All throughout the Scriptures or anytime Jesus healed anybody, … it was to return it back for what it was made for.

“The tornado and stuff like that are not what the town was made for; it wasn’t made to be rubble and trash. I believe the town was made to be great,” he said.

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

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