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OPINION | MIKE MASTERSON: All-American

by Mike Masterson | August 9, 2022 at 4:29 a.m.


Editor's note: Mike Masterson is taking the day off. The original version of this column was published Nov. 24, 2007.

Long before returning in 1995 to my native northwest Arkansas, I'd discovered that, while our state may be limited in population, its tentacles reach deeply into America's smallest burgs and its metropolises.

I learned in 1976, while roaming the nation for a year on an Alicia Patterson Foundation fellowship, that I could count on meeting everyday people with links to Arkansas. All I had to do was pause long enough along the hinterland highways to strike up a simple conversation.

During a later driving trip to Denver, I decided to see if the phenomenon of an all-American Arkansas still existed. Sure enough, from a one-stoplight hamlet in the Oklahoma panhandle and across New Mexico to the bustle of downtown Denver, I encountered one stranger after another with personal ties to our state.

I walked into the Subway in Boise City, Okla., and immediately met James Bohanan. He said his mother-in-law, Donna Webster, lived near Fort Smith. Two of his brothers were born in Arkansas. And Sandy Shillig in the same sandwich shop said her 25-year-old sister Lasma Wolf was born in Little Rock.

At the only gas station and store along U.S. 412 in Slapout, Okla., I met Sheryl King. She said the station's former manager, Heath Persons, regularly visited his mother near Pine Bluff. Deanna Laverty, another employee, said her ex-husband and his extended family still lived near Springdale.

As I paid for a Diet Coke and peanuts, Deanna said that she had spent several summers on Beaver Lake over the years and had recently visited the Spirit Mountain Lodge near Alma. Even this hamlet's odd name is directly linked to our state. It was coined by store owner Tom Lemmons back in Oklahoma's Dust Bowl era. It seems that Lemmons used an old "Arkansas slang term" to describe when he had run "slap-out" of a product.

Inside the locals' favorite Matador Mexican Cafe along the interstate in Raton, N.M., I introduced myself to Mary Gaskin, who was having dinner with her family. She told of two close friendships she'd maintained for years with people who live in Mena.

In scenic Eagle's Nest, N.M., I stopped at the mountaintop National Vietnam Veterans Memorial overlooking the Angel Fire ski slopes to spend a quiet hour with the 589 Arkansas souls lost to that futile war. Their photographs and stories are forever enshrined here along with those of 52,500 of their comrades. I left a note on the message board to reassure them that they are not forgotten.

Mark Anderson, the program director at the Philmont Boy Scout Ranch near Cimarron, N.M., told me he'd arrived here three years earlier after leaving an executive position with the Boy Scouts of America that he'd held for six years in Hot Springs. He said he began as a scouting executive in Fort Smith back in 1974.

Three hours northward in Colorado Springs, Colo., I met petite and personable Laura Beth Zietz, who said her parents, Jeff and Marlene Jeffus, lived and worked in Fayetteville. Jeff was publisher of the Northwest Arkansas Times and a vice president of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Zietz, an administrator with Aveda Salons Inc., in the shadow of the U.S. Air Force Academy, was born in Springdale.

At the Denver Museum of Art, I walked through the doorway and directly into Jane Foster, whose husband John C. Foster was born in Little Rock and had graduated from Central High School before the integration crisis.

"We recently attended his 60th reunion back there," she said, smiling. "John also has extended family living around Paris, Ark., and a cousin named Elcie Nolan in Little Rock."

Lurching back and forth on the 16th Street bus in midtown Denver, the woman swaying beside me in the aisle said her grandmother, Pauline Rosegrant, lived in Norfork.

"I spent the second, third and fourth grades in school on top of the big hill in Norfork," said Peyton Cook, who said she worked at the Marriott Hotel.

Standing outside the Brown Palace Hotel in the heart of Denver where I'd checked in for the night was smiling LeRoy Brewster. He was a cheerful bellman who said he'd frequently traveled years ago to Fayetteville to visit four friends who were Razorback athletes.

"I was attending North Texas State back then," said Brewster, a Dallas, Texas, native. "And I'd make the trip to Arkansas all the time to see my buddies. Most of them played football there. You may recall one. His last name is Van Dyke."

Brewster also said he has a large extended family living around Pine Bluff.

Even inside downtown Denver's busy ESPN Store, the first young man who asked if he could help told me his grandfather was born in Arkansas.

And so it went at almost every stop and encounter with others along this 2,000-mile round trip. It was a good reminder of the significant impact that what seems like a small state has and has had on those who live and work across this broad nation.


Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.


Print Headline: All-American

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