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story.lead_photo.caption Denise Perry of Conway sold real estate for several years while teaching elementary school before making the move 10 years ago to work in real estate full time. Perry, 46, is the newest member of the Conway Corp Board of Directors. She is the fourth female and the first African-American woman on the board. - Photo by Staci Vandagriff

Denise Perry is starting to pop up on people’s radars.

The elementary-teacher-turned-Realtor is increasingly being sought after in Conway to lend her expertise.

Perry, 46, executive broker of Sandstone Real Estate Group, is the newest member of the Conway Corp Board of Directors. She is the first African-American female and only the fourth woman in the city-owned utility company’s 90-year history to serve on the board.

“I think it’s a big deal. I think it’s a really big deal,” Perry said of her historic appointment. “I didn’t have to work for it, but Conway — let’s think about it. I’m not a Conway name people know.”

She grew up in Twin Groves and played basketball for the former longtime award-winning coach John Hutchcraft at

Guy-Perkins High School. Her team was a state runner-up, not one of his championship teams, she said.

“I have a ring. It’s a state runner-up ring, but it’s a ring,” she said.

Her mother was a schoolteacher, who retired from a school in Conway County, and Perry’s dad retired from Kimberly-Clark in Conway.

“He didn’t go to college, but they were workers. They had the work ethic, not necessarily the big education,” she said of his family.

Perry is a combination of her parents. She went to the University of Central Arkansas in Conway, where she graduated in December 1996 with a double major in special education and early-childhood education.

“I knew I had the talent, skill, gift like my mom,” Perry said.

She got a job as soon as soon as she graduated from UCA because an elementary class at Guy-Perkins was too full. It was “perfect” going back to her alma mater, she said. She taught there for 4 1/2 years, then moved to Ellen Smith Elementary School with then-Principal Betty Ford.

“It was great — wonderful parents, kids. The plus with them is it was like a family. A lot of those parents are still my friends,” she said.

Perry said she was a “fun, but stern” teacher. When she recently went back to see some of her former fourth-grade students who were graduating from high school at the Senior Walk, one asked if she recalled sending him to the office. She did.

“He said, ‘I slammed the door, and you came out right behind me. I said, “Oh, no.”’ We laugh about it now; he’s a good kid,” Perry said.

Her real estate career began in 2009 after she and her husband experienced selling their house in 2008. The home was one her parents had helped her buy shortly after she graduated from college.

“I realize now what a huge sacrifice that was,” she said.

A friend in the school district, Jamille Rogers, suggested that Perry use real-estate agent Greg Hunt, whom Perry didn’t know. He and Korry Garrett had just started a real-estate company.

Perry said she and her husband weren’t sure they were ready to sell their home. Hunt came in like a whirlwind, she said.

“He said, ‘Yeah, this house is show-ready right now.’ I said, ‘No, no.’ … He pulls out a piece of paper — that’s what he was known for — and he was left-handed. He started writing, and I was mesmerized by it,” she said, imitating the curl of his left hand on the paper.

He made notes and gave the couple advice.

“I was so impressed with him,” she said.

Hunt persuaded them to list their home, and within two days, there was an offer.

“I went into panic mode,” she said. Hunt guided them through the process and helped them buy another house.

Rogers suggested that she and Perry take a real-estate course and sell “on the side.” They took a course Hunt was teaching at the National School of Real Estate in North Little Rock.

“We went several weekends; the rest is history,” she said.

Perry said it was “good side money,” in addition to teaching. As time went on, she found herself less happy in the classroom and wanting to spend more time selling real estate.

“It wasn’t fair to the kids,” she said.

After 16 years in the classroom, “with a lot of prayer, a lot of faith,” she decided to quit teaching.

In 2009, she joined the Sandstone Real Estate Group full time with Hunt and Garrett, who started the Sandstone Real Estate Group with Jack Norman of Louisiana. Rogers is also an agent part time, in addition to working as a media specialist in the Conway School District.

Hunt, who became sick with cancer, approached Perry about becoming executive broker, “so I went back to real estate school.” Hunt died in November 2015.

She said it’s because of him that she is in the career that she loves.

“It was a great move,” Perry said. “The market is still good. They’re building new stuff every day. It’s the affordable $125,000 to $150,000 homes that are not there.”

Perry said she also loves Conway, and she wants to start giving back more. The first board she served on was Habitat for Humanity of Faulkner County, for two years.

She’s on the UCA Reynolds Community Council now.

“I love that,” she said.

Perry used to take her elementary students to Main Stage events at Reynolds Performance Hall. The Main Stage Education Series is a program created for students in kindergarten through the 12th grade, with performances scheduled during the school day for field trips.

She volunteers as an usher at those performances now, “so I get to see the students,” Perry said.

She also participated in two career fairs this year for the Conway School District: one for the high school and the other for more than 300 fourth-graders.

Perry said she has been involved with the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce, where she has participated in Minority Entrepreneur Night and the membership-drive event, and is a member of the Faulkner County Board of Realtors Diversity Committee, the National Association of Realtors and the UCA Black Alumni Association.

The Conway Rotary Club recently asked her to join, and she will be inducted this month.

“I know they do a lot of charity, and that’s something I would like to be part of,” she said.

Perry is also a graduate of the 2018 Conway Area Leadership Institute, where she said she learned much about Conway nonprofit organizations, especially “the Conway you don’t see.” That included nonprofits such as Deliver Hope and Bethlehem House, a transitional homeless shelter.

Her most outstanding memory was touring the Conway Fire and Police departments and “putting on the suit” to let the K9 dog bite her.

“I don’t know what I was thinking,” she said. Perry said her competitive nature made her want to show the men in her class that she wasn’t afraid.

“The suit is huge,” she said. “However, the dog caught a small bit of my arm and went back and forth,” she said, showing how the dog was swinging her arm back and forth.

“I was bruised for I don’t know how long,” she said.

Perry also went up in the bucket on the Fire Department’s ladder truck.

“That was fun,” she said, although the bucket was shaking, the higher it went.

Perry served on the first panel of the University of Central Arkansas’ Women’s Leadership Network, talking about women in business.

“What’s most important to women? Taking care of their family and working,” she said.

Perry said her faith is a big part of her life, too. Her husband, a rehabilitation instructor at the Conway Human

Development Center, is the music minister at Mount Carmel Missionary Baptist Church in Plumerville, and she is in the choir. Perry said their son is musical, although he has not embraced his

talents as much as she’d like.

“He’s a natural,” she said.

In July, she’ll serve as director of vacation Bible school. “We’re there all the time,” she said of church.

Aaran Mattson, program coordinator for the Literacy Council of Central Arkansas in Conway, nominated Perry for the Conway Corp Board of Directors.

“We met when we were both teaching at Guy-Perkins. … I had her younger brother in my class. Then she and I both liked to go watch the basketball games, so we got to be really good friends. We stayed friends; she was one of my bridesmaids in my wedding,” Mattson said.

“I heard [the Conway Corp was] looking for someone new on the board, and I knew she wanted to get even more involved in the community. She really likes to get out and network and meet people,” Mattson said. “I thought, too, that they probably need more women on their board. Most organizations do need more women helping out, I feel like, and probably more diversity, too.

“She really gives it all when she attempts to do something, and she’s intelligent and has good ideas, so I thought she would be a good representative.”

Perry said she thought it would be “kind of cool” to serve, but she didn’t expect to be confirmed.

“I’m — I don’t want to say a nobody — I’m just somebody,” she said.

Perry said she was surprised when Conway Corp CEO Bret Carroll called and told her she was approved to serve a seven-year term on the board.

She spent half a day in an orientation, touring Conway Corp’s headquarters downtown and having lunch with each department head. They took a driving tour, which included Brewer Lake, where the city gets its water.

Perry said she met with Carroll, “and he helped me get acclimated.”

She was most impressed with “what a well-oiled machine Conway Corp is,” she said. “It is customer-driven, and I knew that as a customer — but everything they do is customer-driven.”

She attended her first board meeting in May, which “was great,” she said.

A report was given on a crew of four Conway Corp linemen who helped in May to bring electricity to some customers in the Navajo Nation by working with the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority. The project was called Light Up Navajo.

“That was very impressive to me — that’s something we didn’t have to do, help someone who has never had electricity,” Perry said.

Perry said that in July, she and other Conway Corp board members will attend the Independent Show in Chicago, hosted by America’s Communications Association and the National Cable Television Cooperative.

“I want to be able to serve the citizens of Conway, on Conway Corp and in general,” she said. “If I’m not the source, I want to be able to point people where they need to go. I want to be a more community-driven person of a community I love and serve.”

Perry laughed and added: “I want people to say, ‘We trust Denise. She’s just that regular ole girl from Guy-Perkins.’”

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or


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