HIGH PROFILE: Casey Carder Rockwell carries civic-minded spirit through life

The tenets of the Rotary Club are burned into Casey Rockwell’s mind. Her achievements took her around the world and to law school at age 20.

“We couldn’t hold our biggest fundraiser with Holiday House. Instead we had eight small fundraisers that helped fund our community projects. We sought out books with diverse characters and filled out free libraries. We repainted and built planters at Chico, Baseline and Stephens Elementary schools. We wrote Valentine’s Day cards and sent them to veterans. A vet said back to us, “It’s nice to know we are not forgotten.” - Casey Rockwell
(Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Cary Jenkins)
“We couldn’t hold our biggest fundraiser with Holiday House. Instead we had eight small fundraisers that helped fund our community projects. We sought out books with diverse characters and filled out free libraries. We repainted and built planters at Chico, Baseline and Stephens Elementary schools. We wrote Valentine’s Day cards and sent them to veterans. A vet said back to us, “It’s nice to know we are not forgotten.” - Casey Rockwell (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Cary Jenkins)

Of the things we think, say or do:

  1. Is it the TRUTH?
  2. Is it FAIR to all concerned?
  3. Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS?
  4. Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?

Casey Rockwell can recite by heart The Four-Way Test that members of the Rotary Club stand and speak together before each meeting. She memorized this at an early age.

"My dad always took me to Rotary with him," Rockwell recalls. "I remember it well. I think you could say that the idea of helping others has stuck with me."

Rockwell's civic-minded spirit has remained with her throughout her life. She soon will end her yearlong term as the president of the Junior League, which has a mission statement that spells out the direction of the volunteer group:

"The Junior League of Little Rock is an organization of women committed to promoting voluntarism, developing the potential of women and improving the community through the effective action and leadership of trained volunteers."

Rockwell serves as the League's 99th president and her year leading the organization has, thanks to the pandemic, been unlike any other.

"We couldn't hold our biggest fundraiser with Holiday House," Rockwell says. "Instead we had eight small fundraisers that helped fund our community projects. We sought out books with diverse characters and filled out free libraries. We repainted and built planters at Chico, Baseline and Stephens Elementary schools. We wrote Valentine's Day cards and sent them to veterans. A vet said back to us, 'It's nice to know we are not forgotten.'"

Her attitude about the obstacles the virus put in the way of the Junior League is matter-of-fact.

"The work doesn't stop; it just looks a little different."

Tabitha McNulty has been a member of the Junior League since 2010 and has known Rockwell since they met when they were in law school together.

"I have been so impressed with Casey's ability to adjust to whatever comes her way," McNulty says. "We didn't have our major fundraiser this year, which is a really big deal. [Rockwell] was able to pivot when necessary. She didn't just maintain the status quo. She tried to give [the Junior League] more than what she started with. She is such a go-getter and an amazing personality."

Rockwell fits the work with the Junior League into her packed-to-the-gills life. She is an assistant professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock's College of Business. What else? Well, there's her 3-year-old son, Whitfield, and a baby girl to arrive in a couple of months.

The motivation to serve in the way Rockwell does is part of her DNA. Those impressionable Rotary Club meetings are cited by Rockwell as just one example of an extensive family history of helping others.

"God didn't give you talents for you to keep," Rockwell says.

LAKE CITY BOUND

Born in Little Rock, Rockwell moved when she was very young with her mother and older brother to Conway, which was her mother's home.

"Mother was Miss Conway," Rockwell says. "She was actually Miss City Beautiful. She got to kiss the frogs for Toad Suck Daze. Her talent was singing while painting the American flag. Coming back to Conway was like coming home to her."

Conway didn't hold Rockwell for long as she moved away, again with her mother, who pursued opportunities in the education field. The next stop was Hattiesburg, Miss., and then on to Lake City, Fla., when Rockwell was in 5th grade. Lake City -- "You've driven through it but didn't realize it," Rockwell notes. "It's where [Interstates] 75 and 10 cross" -- was home until Rockwell graduated from high school.

The moves Rockwell's family made naturally made the young girl anxious. That anxiety was calmed by her mother's attitude.

"My mom phrases everything as another family adventure," Rockwell says. "If it meant that we went horseback riding behind a gas station, then that's what we did. My mom taught us not to dread anything but to treat [it] like there was a great adventure ahead of us."

Along that line, Rockwell considers herself a "kid who would try anything once." This spirit led Rockwell to some memorable times.

"At 16, I applied for a project through the Mazda company," Rockwell says. "I was selected and so I lived for a summer with a family in Japan. I spent the day with [the] grandmother who didn't speak English and I didn't speak Japanese. She and I cooked together and she played beautiful traditional Japanese music on instruments that had been handed down through her family."

Then there was the essay contest promoted through the Gainesville Sun and sponsored by Parade magazine. Rockwell penned the winning essay from the state of Florida.

"I got to go on a 10-day trip to Ireland. I got to kiss the blarney stone."

MOVING BACK HOME

One major thread that runs through Rockwell's life is that education is embraced and fully appreciated. School was not something Rockwell dreaded or tried to find creative ways to avoid.

She vividly remembers a teacher who taught her "not to just read the book but figure out the reason the book was written. You put the book in a context."

At 14, Rockwell participated in a dual enrollment program.

"I was in high school classes during the day," Rockwell says. "I was in college classes at night."

Rockwell says that she got "good grades" in high school but wasn't right at the top of her class. She still had plenty of accomplishments to put down in her permanent record.

"I was cheerleading captain," Rockwell says. "I was yearbook co-editor and president of a few clubs."

The decision about where to go to college brought her back to the state where she was born.

"My mother and father both attended Hendrix," Rockwell says. "I lived in the Galloway dorm and my room was across the hall from where my mother had lived."

By the time Rockwell was headed to Conway and Hendrix, she already knew that she wanted to go to law school and start practicing law. She understood that if she was headed down that very specific track that her major needed to be something like political science. That changed one day when she was sitting in Hendrix's pecan court and watching a group of students walk to class.

"I saw people walking across the court to class and they [were] happy," Rockwell says. "I followed them and it turned out they were going to the education department. I wasn't necessarily interested in political science. The problem was, how can I be an attorney if I have an education major? There wasn't a degree for me."

Rockwell presented her problem to the administration at Hendrix. The solution meant that Rockwell would write the curriculum for her specific degree.

"I graduated with an education policy major," Rockwell says. "The lesson is always follow the happy people."

LAW SCHOOL BOUND

Going straight from Hendrix to law school in Little Rock meant that Rockwell was all of 20 years old when stepping into her first law school class at UALR's Bowen School of Law.

"I was too naive to know what I didn't know," Rockwell says.

Of her time learning the intricacies of the law, Rockwell doesn't speak of the mountains of reading material or long nights studying cases, but instead mentions the excellent teachers.

"We had fantastic faculty [at UALR]," Rockwell says. "Kelly Browe Olson taught the mediation skills lab. She invests in her mediation and negotiation students both inside and outside the classroom. She teaches you that there is a way to 'get to yes' if you respect people as individuals. She made the class practical and taught negotiation through a real-estate transaction. She taught us about people."

One other interesting aspect about Rockwell's time at law school -- she was there at the same time as her father.

"My dad was in his mid-50s when he learned that I would be going to law school," Rockwell recalls. "He said, 'That sounds fun. I'll do that, too.' My dad was a third-year law student during my first year."

Law school was intense but Rockwell did have time for other important things. She says that she and her eventual husband, Eric, met during the threat of a tornado.

"We both lived at Quapaw Tower," Rockwell says. "He was working at Regions Bank and I was at law school. We met in a stairwell as tornado sirens were going off. He was helping every one of the senior [citizens] into the stairwell. He was chivalrous and clever. When he saw me, he said, 'You have blue toenails.'"

Rockwell moved on after law school to earn a master of public service degree from the Clinton School of Public Service. She was in the second class of the Clinton School's existence.

"The place was fairly small and fairly new when I went," Rockwell says. "They brought in a fantastic speaker series. One day Ted Turner would come in and speak to our class about economics. Then Madeleine Albright would come in to speak."

A doctorate in education from UALR would be the final line in Rockwell's extensive higher education curriculum vitae. Rockwell's post-doctorate teaching career has taken her from the University of Arkansas -- Pulaski Technical College to Arkansas State University. She was also dean of learning at the College of the Ouachitas. She joined the UALR faculty in 2016.

In 2020 Rockwell was named the Sun Belt Professor of the Year, a student-nominated honor.

"She is an excellent professor," says Jane Wayland, dean of the UALR College of Business, Health and Human Services. "She is very involved with her students and will meet them and work with them outside of class. She cares about her students and that is evident in what they say about her and how she helps them learn. She has a wide range of influence at the college."

The passion Rockwell demonstrates in the classroom is no less when talking about the importance of the Junior League. She discovered the group though her friends at the Arkansas Association of Women Lawyers. She cites the history of the Junior League and how it has been able to enhance the community through helping establish programs such as "Seven On Your Side" and institutions such as the Museum of Discovery and the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts (formerly the Arkansas Arts Center).

"You see the impact the women [of the Junior League] have had and I wanted to be a part of that," Rockwell says.

SELF PORTRAIT

Casey Rockwell

• DATE AND PLACE OF BIRTH: July 10, 1983, Little Rock

• THE PLACE WHERE I CAN GET AWAY FROM IT ALL: On the water.

• WHAT KEEPS ME MOTIVATED TO VOLUNTEER MY TIME: There is still much work to be done.

• I AM MOST RELAXED WHEN I: Have accomplished my to-do list for the day.

• A GREAT MEAL MUST INCLUDE: Great conversation.

• THE KEY TO TEACHING IS: Recognizing each student's potential.

• MY FOUR GUESTS AT MY FANTASY DINNER PARTY: Jimmy Carter, Nelson Mandela, Walt Disney, Queen Elizabeth II.

• ONE WORD TO SUM ME UP: Curious

“She is an excellent professor. She is very involved with her students and will meet them and work with them outside of class. She cares about her students and that is evident in what they say about her and how she helps them learn.” — Jane Wayland, dean of the UALR College of Business, Health and Human Services about Casey Rockwell
(Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Cary Jenkins)
“She is an excellent professor. She is very involved with her students and will meet them and work with them outside of class. She cares about her students and that is evident in what they say about her and how she helps them learn.” — Jane Wayland, dean of the UALR College of Business, Health and Human Services about Casey Rockwell (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Cary Jenkins)

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