Archive for July, 2011

Remembering Marianna’s Stanley Reed

Friday, July 15th, 2011

It was one of those pieces of news that hits you right between the eyes and almost knocks you out.

I had just finished a pleasant Friday lunch with former Razorback basketball player Blake Eddins at a favorite barbecue joint — the White Pig in North Little Rock — and stopped by the offices of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame.

Jennifer Smith, the administrative assistant there, asked: “Did you hear about Stanley Reed?”

I had, of course, heard that Stanley had not been selected Thursday as president of the University of Arkansas System. He was among the four finalists for that job. I also had heard rumors that it came down to Stanley and Donald Bobbitt before the UA Board of Trustees went with Bobbitt, a former dean of the Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.

Unfortunately, that’s not what Jennifer was talking about.

She handed me a printout of the breaking news story.

It began this way: “Stanley Reed of Marianna, the former Arkansas Farm Bureau president who had applied for president of the University of Arkansas System, died in a one-vehicle crash Friday morning, according to police. The accident occurred on U.S. Highway 64 east of Augusta.”

The accident, in which Reed’s vehicle suddenly swerved off the road and hit a tree, occurred shortly before 10 a.m.

It was shocking news.

This marks the 15th anniversary of the day Mike Huckabee took over as governor of Arkansas. That was my first day of what would turn out to be a 13-year government career after leaving journalism.

During the almost 10 years I spent on Gov. Huckabee’s staff, we had few better friends than Stanley Reed. When I was Gov. Huckabee’s campaign manager in 1998, Stanley consistently went to bat for us. It’s amazing how much things can change in 13 years. In 1998, it was still rare to find a leader in east Arkansas who would openly support a Republican for governor, especially in a race in which the Democratic nominee was from east Arkansas.

Stanley never wavered in his support.

In December 2003, Stanley defeated David Hillman of Almyra to become president of the Arkansas Farm Bureau Federation. He served that organization with distinction.

He also served with distinction after Gov. Huckabee appointed him to the UA Board of Trustees in 1998. He was the board chairman from 2006-08.

Stanley would have turned 60 on Aug. 1. That’s far too young to lose such a leader in a state like ours, which needs all the leaders it can get.

In a statement yesterday after he was interviewed for the UA president’s job, Stanley said: “The quality undergraduate and graduate education I received at the University of Arkansas’ Fayetteville campus has given me tremendous personal opportunities for service and has prepared me to be successful in many endeavors.”

Stanley graduated as the salutatorian of T.A. Futrall High School in Marriana in 1969. He received his bachelor’s degree in agricultural engineering from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville and later graduated from law school there. Each time, he graduated with the highest of honors.

As an undergraduate, he was Mr. Everything — president of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, president of the Interfraternity Council, president of the Cardinal XX Honorary Society, etc.

In 1976, Stanley made the highest score on the state bar exam.

I have no doubt Stanley could have been among the region’s top attorneys. However, it didn’t take the farm boy long to determine that farming was in his blood.

He had much rather be in the fields raising cotton than toiling in a law office.

Stanley invited me last July to join him for lunch at Jones Grocery in Haynes, a community on Arkansas Highway 1 in Lee County between Marianna and Forrest City.

Haynes had a population of just 150 people in the 2010 census (down from 214 in the 2000 census), but it’s surrounded by some of the most fertile farmland in the state.

The tables were almost full as I walked in the door just past 11 a.m. Stanley had saved me a seat.

The plate lunch on that Thursday morning featured sliced pork. Five plastic tables seating eight people each took up much of the store. There were a few groceries on the shelves that lined the walls, but the store had become mostly a good place for lunch.

The farmers chowing down that day ranged in age from their 20s to their 70s. They talked about the lack of rain, soybeans that were becoming stressed by the dry conditions, pigweed that was beginning to show up in the fields.

Stanley wanted me to hear all of that. He loved the world of farming, and he enjoyed opening that world to others.

The 25 farmers were in the store not only to eat lunch but also to hear updates from employees of the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture. The standard dress was jeans and boots. Stanley, who often attended meetings in Little Rock in a suit, had his farmer’s outfit on that day.

These obviously were men who had just come from the fields and would return to the fields once the briefing had concluded. That gathering reminded me how important agriculture is in Arkansas, home to some of the world’s best producers of food and fiber.

We’re a state with 33 million acres devoted to crops, livestock and forests. When the forestry sector is included, there are 270,000 Arkansans whose jobs directly or indirectly depend on agriculture. They receive more than $9 billion in annual wages, resulting in about 15 percent of the state’s total labor income.

With 46,000 farms, Arkansas ranks in the top 12 nationally in total farm receipts. We’re the country’s leading producer of rice and rank in the top five in cotton and grain sorghum production and the top 10 in soybean production. We’re a leading poultry and cattle producer. Arkansas, in fact, ranks 21st or higher nationally for the production of 19 commodities.

Stanley could quote those statistics and many more by heart. In addition to his Farm Bureau service, he was a past chairman of the Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board, had served five years on the board of Cotton Incorporated and had served on the State Support Committee for Cotton Research.

In a January 2009 statement on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives that honored Reed as he left the UA Board of Trustees and the presidency of Arkansas Farm Bureau, Rep. Mike Ross said: “Amid all of these professional successes, anyone who knows Stanley understands that his most treasured role in life is that of a husband to Charlene; father to Haley, Nathan and Anna; and grandfather to three grandchildren. Carrying on in true Reed family tradition, Stanley’s son Nathan continues to work with him on the family farm. Stanley Reed will long be considered one of Arkansas’ finest and a best friend and advocate for agriculture.”

Indeed, Stanley spread the word of Arkansas agriculture on trade missions to Cuba, Taiwan, South Korea, Mexico, Japan, Brazil, Turkey, Peru, Panama, Russia and Rwanda.

Stanley was anxious to introduce me to Nathan that day in Haynes. He was so proud his son had followed him into farming. Father and son farmed almost 6,000 acres together.

After lunch, I climbed into Stanley’s vehicle to tour the farm. We left Haynes and drove east on Arkansas Highway 131 toward the St. Francis River. Thousands of acres of soybeans, cotton and rice were on either side of the road. Crowley’s Ridge provided a brief interval of trees. On the other side of the ridge, the land flattened again and the crops were planted as far as the eye could see.

I remember another lunch with Stanley. It was on Friday, Dec. 4, 2009, and he was in town for the Farm Bureau convention. We met at the Capital Hotel, and Stanley talked about a possible race for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate.

It didn’t seem to me that his heart was in it.

That’s why I was surprised six days later when Stanley announced he would run. He said at the time: “We need to go ahead before Christmas to get our fundraising going. We’ll have two or three weeks here to get our canvass campaign organized.”

Within weeks, he admitted he had made a mistake and dropped out of the race.

Yesterday, as he visited with reporters in Little Rock, he talked about elevated blood pressure and sleepless nights during that abbreviated campaign.

He went back to farming after getting out of the Senate race. And after yesterday’s decision by the UA Board of Trustees to go with someone else as president, he was back at work on the farm this morning. He reportedly was on farm business when today’s accident occurred.

Friends say he was at peace with the board’s decision.

We’ve lost one of our best and brightest.

A Hot Springs Fourth of July

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

For decades (eight of them to be exact) Arkansans have been drawn to Lake Hamilton each summer.

Carpenter Dam, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in September 1992, was the handiwork of Harvey Couch, the founder of Arkansas Power & Light Co. The site for the dam was 10 miles upstream on the Ouachita River from Remmel Dam, the first of AP&L’s two dams on the Ouachita River used for hydroelectric generation.

Construction of Remmel Dam began in May 1923 and was completed in December 1924. The result was Lake Catherine, a 1,940-acre lake named after Couch’s only daughter (he also had four sons).

Construction of Carpenter Dam began in February 1929 and was completed in December 1931. The result was Lake Hamilton, a 7,200-acre lake named after Couch’s legal counsel, C. Hamilton Moses.

Cabins soon began springing up around Lake Hamilton. At the same time, some expensive homes were built on the lake during the 1930s.

Melissa and I stayed this past weekend in one of those homes — the Hamilton House. For years, the restaurant in the Hamilton House was a favorite spot for us to dine on trips to Hot Springs. Dinner is no longer served there. It’s now a bed and breakfast inn.

Located on a peninsula with grounds covering almost three acres, it proved to be the perfect spot to enjoy the fireworks show on Saturday night. We sat on the Hamilton House dock as the fireworks exploded just above our heads. On the lake, hundreds of boats were anchored for the annual show.

The house was patterned after an Italian villa and has marble floors from Mexico, red clay tiles from Mexico and glass tiles from Italy. The chandelier in the main room originally was imported to San Francisco from Austria.

Within minutes of checking in, we had changed clothes and were headed to the dock for a swim in the lake. I then sat on the dock, which is shaded by a large mimosa tree, and watched the boats pass on a hot afternoon. There was a steady stream of watercraft.

“Nice spot,” one man yelled from his boat.

He was right — a shaded dock, a front-row view of the activity on the lake and the prime location for that night’s fireworks show.

In this summer of high gas prices and a slow economic recovery, it was good to see each of the “ducks,” the World War II-era amphibious vehicles that have for so long been a part of the Hot Springs tourism scene, packed with tourists.

Several weeks ago, I had asked Steve Arrison, the promotional genius who runs the Hot Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau, how Hot Springs was faring this summer.

“We’re holding our own,” he replied.

On the weekend prior to the Fourth of July, the place seemed to be doing more than just holding its own. It was hopping.

The “ducks” are technically DUKWS. According to the website for National Park Duck Tours, the landing craft was developed “by the U.S. Army during World War II to deliver cargo from ships at sea directly to shore. The DUKWs then contained a hull pump that could pump 260 gallons of water per minute plus a hand pump that could also move 50 gallons per minute. The DUKW can climb up a 60 percent grade and also broach 18-inch high obstacles. Its range is approximately 220 miles on land and 50 miles in water, and its cargo capacity is 5,350 pounds. It was designed to transport up to 25 fully equipped troops on land or water.

“During World War II, the United States realized that an amphibious invasion of France from England was necessary to overcome the German occupation. Thousands of landing crafts and hundreds of cargo and transport ships would be needed to launch a successful invasion. DUKWs were engineered with maneuverability and great agility to help meet the challenge. They fought their way through choppy oceans, huge breakers and exited the water onto soft sand without losing traction to bring troops and supplies safely to shore.”

Prior to the fireworks show Saturday night, we dined at J&S Italian Villa, which is in a home once occupied by one of Couch’s four sons. The location is just above where the Couch Marina was located for many years.

The Couch sons were Johnson Olin Couch, Harvey Crowley (Don) Couch Jr., Kirke Couch and William Thomas (Bill) Couch. It was Bill who had the home on the lake that’s now a place for fine Italian dining. The four sons were outlived by the one daughter, Catherine Couch Remmel, who died in Little Rock in January 2006 at age 87.

In November 2002, brothers Jamal and Sham Afkhami transformed the former Bill Couch residence into a restaurant. They had owned and operated restaurants in the Dallas area for the previous three decades. The restaurant was packed Saturday night, and the food was outstanding.

I do, though, still miss ordering fried quail at Mrs. Miller’s.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was just building DeGray Lake when I was young in Arkadelphia, so Lake Hamilton was a lake of choice for Arkadelphians. I always envied those “old money” Arkadelphia families (if there’s really such a thing as old money in a town that small) who had lakehouses on Hamilton.

Childhood memories of Hot Springs revolved around special occasion dinners at Mrs. Miller’s and Coy’s (another restaurant I miss), sitting in the auction houses on Central Avenue (also gone) and (for more downscale entertainment) visits to Kmart and the Burger Chef. My hometown had neither a large discount store nor a chain burger joint at that time.

There are plenty of accommodations on Lake Hamilton if you decide to pay a visit. Those looking for upscale accommodations have their choice of the Hamilton House and Lookout Point Lakeside Inn. Ray and Kristie Rosset built Lookout Point in 2003 after becoming enchanted with Hot Springs. I’ve never stayed there but have heard nothing but good things about it.

Following a recent trip to Hot Springs, travel writer Sophia Dembling wrote a post on her blog headlined “Hot Springs Is Cool.”

She wrote: “The last time I was in Hot Springs it was kind of, um, worn down. It’s a pretty part of the country, but the fabulous old bathhouses that comprise Hot Springs National Park (there’s Hot Springs the city and Hot Springs the park) sat mostly empty and dejected. You could peer in, but you couldn’t go in, and they had nothing to offer but memories.

“That’s changing as the National Park Service is doing basic restoration on them (cleaning out the asbestos, fixing the wiring, adding heat and air conditioning) and renting them out. Maybe you’ve been dreaming about dropping out of the rat race and opening a business someplace lovely. This could be your opportunity.”

Dembling wrote a glowing article that ran June 2 in the Dallas Morning News.

“We’re, in essence, going back to our historic roots,” park superintendent Josie Fernandez told her when asked about the renovation of the bathhouses.

Of the Quapaw, which opened again in 2008 following a renovation costing almost $2 million, Don Harper told Dembling: “We knew people would come. On a Sunday, sometimes English is the third or fourth language you’ll hear in the pools.”

Meanwhile, the Museum of Contemporary Art at the Ozark opened in 2009.

Lori Arnold of the museum told Dembling: “A lot of tourists think we’re going to be very Mod Squad, but we’re not.”

Other bathhouses are almost ready to be leased.

After some sad decades when downtown seemed to empty out and almost all retail and hotel development was south on Central Avenue toward Lake Hamilton, there has been a bit of rejuvenation in downtown Hot Springs.

In addition to the work on the bathhouses, the art gallery scene seems to be flourishing.

The Gallery Walk on the first Friday of each month attracts thousands of people downtown.

There’s also the Antique/Boutique Walk on the third Friday night of each month that features shops on the 100-200 blocks of Central Avenue such as The Villa, Tillman’s, Blue Lili and Bathhouse Soapery.

One end of Central Avenue, however, remains anchored by the closed, rotting, forlorn Majestic Hotel.

There are other empty giants — the Medical Arts Building (built in 1929 and, at 16 stories, the tallest building in the state for decades until Winthrop Rockefeller built the Tower Building in Little Rock in 1960), the 1926 DeSoto Hotel and more.

I still contend that a major economic development and historic preservation goal in Arkansas should be to attract more private investors to develop condominiums, quality apartments, additional restaurants and upscale hotel rooms in downtown Hot Springs. It’s a rare Arkansas jewel whose buildings should no longer be allowed to languish.