WASHINGTON -- Before the band played "Hail to the Chief" on Monday, White House dignitaries were able to enjoy the sound of another finely crafted instrument -- a genuine Arkansas duck call.
John Stephens, president of Rich-N-Tone Duck Calls, and his wife, company Chief Financial Officer Angie Stephens, showed off their shiny new made-in-Stuttgart products during President Donald Trump's third annual Made In America Showcase.
Many of the guests were content merely to admire the duck calls and walk on. But Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson stayed long enough to hear one for himself.
Afterward, the physician and former presidential candidate gave Rich-N-Tone Duck Calls high marks.
"They sounded pretty unique. And not only that, they're beautiful. A great combination," he said before continuing his trek through the East Room.
Carson was one of several Cabinet members who attended Monday's event; Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin also made the rounds.
Vice President Mike Pence chatted briefly with the Stephenses, staying long enough to pose for pictures.
There'll be plenty of White House stories -- and photos -- to share once the couple returns to Arkansas County.
"It was awesome. You see all that stuff on TV and then when you get to actually be a part of it, it's a pretty special thing. Regardless of whether you're Republican or Democrat, it makes you proud to live in this country for sure," John Stephens said.
The White House launched the Made In America Showcase shortly after Trump took office. Each year, one company from each of the 50 states gets the chance to show off its wares.
In 2017, Jonesboro-based Hytrol highlighted its conveyor belts. Last year, Ranger Boats parked a Made-in-Flippin model near the South Portico.
This year's exhibit included Tabasco sauce (Louisiana); Ocean Organic Vodka (Hawaii); apples (Washington state); wine (Oregon); marbles (West Virginia); and pinball machines (Illinois).
Weapons manufacturers were also on hand, ranging from Buck Knives (Idaho) to Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-ballistic missile systems (made by employees of Maryland-based Lockheed Martin, which has a plant in East Camden).
Angie Stephens credited the Arkansas Economic Development Commission for the honor, saying officials there had put in a plug for the business.
After showing off their wares at the White House, the couple attended Trump's speech on the South Lawn, where he touted the 50 businesses and their employees.
"They are terrific talents, terrific craftsmen, terrific business people," the president said.
"While those here today create many different goods, you're also devoted to one of the greatest missions on Earth: making the best products, from the best materials, with the best workers anywhere in the world, right here in the United States of America," he added.
Afterward, Trump invited the business people to join him on stage. John Stephens shook the president's hand; Angie Stephens videotaped the encounter.
The Stephenses have owned their duck-call business for two decades, but John Stephens' duck-hunting roots go far deeper.
His father took him duck hunting when he was 5 or 6 years old. As a kid, he made his first duck calls in his parents' garage. Eventually, he worked with Butch Richenback, the 1972 world championship duck caller and the company's founder.
After a stint in South Carolina, Stephens returned to Arkansas and bought the company, continuing to work with his friend and mentor until Richenback's death in 2015.
In 2016, a fire devastated the business, but the couple rebuilt, opening a new facility earlier this year.
Today, the business is busy.
The company makes 15,000-20,000 customized duck calls per year, plus another 25,000-30,000 Quack Head plastic duck calls, Stephens said.
"We try to make one that's realistic, it's easy to blow and really dependable," he said.
Prices range from roughly $25 for a Quack Head model to as high as $500 for a high-end handmade model.
Visitors to the Stuttgart shop can pick up a duck call -- or a drink. The new retail facility serves Made-in-Arkansas beer: Flying Duck Amber Ale.
A Section on 07/16/2019
Print Headline: Duck call takes quack at acclaim: Arkansas company shows off products at White House event