It was announced in June 2018 that John Ed Anthony and his wife Isabel had contributed $7.5 million to the University of Arkansas to support construction of a materials center that will be operated by the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design. The focus of the center will be design innovation in timber and wood.
"The forests of southern Arkansas have always been the focus of its communities," John Ed Anthony said at the time. "My life's work has been the management of these forests and the manufacture of products from them. Modern technology is now offering us the opportunity to take giant leaps forward in the utilization and application of this renewable and sustainable resource. The creation of the design center under the leadership of Dean Peter MacKeith will place our university in a leadership role."
I got to know Anthony when I was a young sportswriter covering thoroughbred racing and he was one of the nation's leading thoroughbred owners. I was raised in the pine forests of south Arkansas and have always had an interest in forestry and the long history of the Anthony family in that industry.
Anthony was born in those south Arkansas pine woods in February 1939. A month before he was to graduate from the UA in 1961 with a bachelor of science degree in business administration, his father Ted died of a massive heart attack at age 48.
Anthony graduated and went home to partner with his grandfather Garland, who was 77 at the time. His family's company would go on to manage thousands of acres of timberland and numerous mills. Anthony began Loblolly Stable in the early 1970s and later had Belmont, Preakness, Arkansas Derby and Eclipse Award winners. He then created Shortleaf Stable. Anthony was inducted in 2012 into the Arkansas Business Hall of Fame.
Last month, the UA Board of Trustees agreed to spend $19.5 million to construct what will be known as the Anthony Timberlands Center. The center will be part of the Windgate Art and Design District, which got its name following a $40 million gift from the Windgate Foundation.
After an international design competition, the trustees selected Grafton Architects of Dublin, Ireland, whose co-founders were winners of the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize earlier this year, to design the center.
Already in 2020, university officials have announced a $1 million gift from Ken and Linda Shollmier and a $1 million gift from Ray and Deborah Dillon. The Shollmier gift will go toward completion of the Anthony Timberlands Center. The Dillon gift will help establish the Ray C. Dillon Chair in Arkansas Timber and Wood Design and Innovation. The holder of that chair will direct the school's master's of design studies degree concentration in integrated wood design.
"What architects have gone to a school that offered something like this?" says Ken Shollmier, a 1963 UA graduate who later headed Shollmier Distributing Inc. of Little Rock. "Arkansas will become known for the Anthony Timberlands Center because no one has anything like it."
Dillon was raised at Tylertown in south Mississippi, where he met and married his high school sweetheart, Deborah. In high school, he decided to become a chemical engineer who would work in the forest products industry. Dillon graduated at the top of his class at Mississippi State University with a degree in chemical engineering. His dean wanted him to work in the petrochemicals industry, but Dillon instead chose to work for a pulp and paper conglomerate known as Crown Zellerbach. He moved to Bogalusa, La., and worked at a mill there for a decade before being transferred to Arkansas.
Dillon came to know Anthony as the two men negotiated volumes and prices for Anthony's residual sawmill chips that Dillon was buying.
"I developed a tremendous respect for John Ed, and he became a mentor to me," Dillon says. "We were competitors, but we respected one another. And one of the things we talked about was how a timber innovation center was needed in Arkansas."
Dillon went on to work for Gaylord Container Corp. and then Deltic Timber Corp. at El Dorado. He became Deltic's president and chief executive officer in 2003. Dillon retired from the company (now PotlatchDeltic) in 2016.
Since being named the architecture school's fifth dean in 2014, MacKeith has worked hard to make friends across the state such as the Anthonys, Shollmiers and Dillons. Realizing the importance of timber to the future of the Arkansas economy, he has also worked to create and expand timber and wood design initiatives.
The Anthony Timberlands Center will house the school's design-build program and fabrication technologies laboratories. It also will serve as home for the school's emerging graduate program in timber and wood design.
Though located on the Fayetteville campus in northwest Arkansas, the Anthony Timberlands Center will be the UA's great gift in the decades ahead to south Arkansas, where the timber industry dominates the economy.
"Dean MacKeith is amazing," Dillon says. "The university's focus on statewide economic development will create job opportunities for graduates. ... The Anthony Timberlands Center will help educate young people and raise awareness that there's more than concrete and steel available for structural building materials. In Arkansas, we're growing more timber than we have markets for, and we have a saying: 'A working forest is a healthy forest.' This center will help us ensure new markets for wood products and ensure that the forests remain healthy."
Senior Editor Rex Nelson's column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He's also the author of the Southern Fried blog at rexnelsonsouthernfried.com.