William Carl Garner, the "Father of Greers Ferry Lake", passed away on Sunday at the age of 99.

We write a lot about our “gems” here in Cleburne County and one of our most precious gems of all, indeed one of our crown jewels, left us this past Independence Day weekend.  Legend and icon William Carl Garner passed away on Sunday, July 6th, at the age of 99, leaving a legacy unmatched in Cleburne County history. Some of the biographical information in this story comes from an article published in our Lake Lifestyles magazine by Lorie Mink.


Garner was born on June 1, 1915 in Sulphur Rock, Arkansas as the oldest of four children.  Having to walk to and from the one-room Lone Oak School in Independence County, Garner mused, “The only heat we had came from a wood stove.  We had more fun walking home from school because there was a large group of 15-20 kids to walk home with. We would play games, laugh, and talk.” Garner attended this school from first through eighth grade then he went to high school in Sulphur Rock. “Our school bus was a pickup truck with a canopy on the back,” he said. “And it was a cold ride in the winter.”  Garner played basketball and graduated valedictorian.


After high school, Garner attended Arkansas College (now Lyon College).  While there, Garner took a surveying course, eventually teaching it by the end. As a result of this course Garner got his first job with the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers. “I was able to get this job through the surveying course I took,” Garner said. “It was temporary at first, which helped keep me from getting laid off when others did. It was hard work but I never failed from taking advantage of an opportunity that came along.”


In 1945, Garner transferred to the Little Rock District of the Corps of Engineers, eventually being named Chief of the Engineering Division, which would be in charge of the construction of the proposed Greers Ferry Dam.  Garner directed construction of the Dam and planned its dedication by President John F. Kennedy on October 3, 1963. 


Alongside being the “Father of Greers Ferry Lake”, Garner also initiated the Greers Ferry Lake and Little Red River Cleanup in 1970, leading him to national recognition by the Keep America Beautiful Program, among other prestigious awards.  Garner was a leader in environmentalism, especially pertaining to the Greers Ferry Lake area.


“He was an environmentalist before environmentalism was cool,” said his wife, Jean.


Garner survived to see the 50th anniversary celebration of the Greers Ferry Dam last year, attended by dignitaries from around the state and country, including President Bill Clinton.


There isn’t enough space to describe the life of William Carl Garner and there will never be enough space to accurately describe his impact on Cleburne County and the legacy he leaves. One person we spoke with said, “Carl Garner was the closest thing we had to a rock star.  We will all miss him.”


Rock star.  Father of Greers Ferry Lake.  Crown jewel of Cleburne County.  All of these apply to our own William Carl Garner and though his body has left us, his spirit and his legacy will forever shine down on the people of this county he loved and called his home.


Leaders and citizens react to the passing of Carl Garner:

“He was always a first-class gentleman, and he was the ‘Father of Greers Ferry Lake.’” –Governor Mike Beebe


“The Greers Ferry Lake that we have all come to know and love wouldn’t exist without Carl Garner. A life-long Arkansan, Carl helped make Greers Ferry Lake the embodiment of our state’s nickname by dedicating his efforts to making it one of the cleanest lakes in country. As a result, tourism has thrived, the area’s population has grown and generations of Arkansans continue to enjoy their summers at the lake. Greers Ferry Lake has remained pristine because Carl’s work has inspired residents and visitors alike to ensure it remains a symbol of the beauty the Natural State has to offer.” – U.S. Senator John Boozman


“I join all Arkansans in honoring the life of Carl Garner, a man who dedicated his life to making Arkansas a better place. Today Arkansas families are able to enjoy the beauty of Greers Ferry Lake thanks to his hard work. While Carl may be gone, his impact on our state will never be forgotten.” – U.S. Senator Mark Pryor


“Carl was a dedicated public servant.  When he began work at Greers Ferry Lake he said his goal was to make it one of the best facilities in the country and he did.  Today, Greers Ferry Lake is still recognized as one of the Corps’ premier lakes. It was Carl’s vision and the hard work of all our employees that keeps Greers Ferry Lake a top vacation destination in the country.”  -- Laurie Driver, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers



“Carl Garner dedicated his life to seeing Cleburne County and Greers Ferry Lake grow and prosper into one of the most visited lakes and areas of Arkansas.  His forty-three year career with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers undoubtedly spanned one of the most important periods of Arkansas history with the construction of Bull Shoals Lake, Table Rock Lake and Greers Ferry Lake.  Both Arkansas and Missouri have enjoyed great economic prosperity as a result of their construction.   Carl Garner is the Father of Greers Ferry Lake - a title I give to him because of his sincere passion and love for the lake, for Cleburne County and for the many tourists that visit.  He will be missed, but his legacy and work will carry forward.”  -- Arkansas State Senator Missy Thomas Irvin on behalf of herself and the Rotary Club of Heber Springs.


“As long as Greers Ferry Lake will be in existence, so will Carl Garner’s legacy.  He was instrumental in the lake being what it is.  I spoke with Carl and his wife.  He was part of the original water garden project in 1963 and he realized what that would have done to help this region of the state.  He will be missed.”  -- Cleburne County Judge Jerry Holmes


“Carl Garner was a great man.  He truly loved the lake area and is responsible for all we have to enjoy on the lake and river today.  He will be missed by all who knew him.”  -- Heber Springs Mayor Jackie McPherson


“The Hall of Honor Recognition given by the Heber Springs Area Chamber of Commerce to Mr. William Carl Garner in 2010, reflects our respect and admiration for Mr. Garner’s dedication of service to the area for many decades.  We all feel the loss of this great man.” -- Ina Brown, CVM Volunteer Coordinator, Heber Springs Chamber of Commerce


"There is so much to be said about Carl Garner, simply put, Heber Springs would not be the thriving community that is today without his tireless efforts.  We are all reaping the benefits of his life long dedication." Mary-Margaret Couch, Executive Director, Downtown Heber Springs


"Another side of William "Carl" Garner, Carl was a retired Federal employee who was very dedicated to the National Active and Retired Federal Employees (NARFE), Chapter 1156, in Heber Springs. Carl joined NARFE on 12 December 1996, and he was always involved in protecting benefits of Federal employees both active and retired.  He supported legislation, promoted general welfare with respecting the rights under the retirement laws and regulations.  Chapter 1156 members will always remember Carl as our strength to preserve our earned rights and benefits as Federal employees.  Carl will always be with us in our hearts, and we share in your loss." -- Lynn Williams, President, Chapter 1156

"The Heber Springs LIONS Club members would like to express our sincere sympathy in the loss of one of Heber Springs finest, Williams Carl Garner.  Carl's influence in the local community and involvement in supporting the needs to improve our community will always be remembered and appreciated.  The LIONS send their heartfelt thoughts of sympathy and prayers to the family." -- Lynn Williams, President, LIONS Charter 3764,


“In 2009 the Sugarloaf Heritage Council joined the Greers Ferry Lake/Little Red River Association in the annual clean-up efforts, which was started in 1970 by Mr. Garner. He was a committed environmentalist before that word became popular. He received a "Lodestar" award as recently as last month from the Keep Arkansas Beautiful Commission at their 25th Greeniversary reception. It has been a pleasure and privilege to know him personally and to regard him as a friend.”  -- Mark Johnson, Secretary, Sugarloaf Heritage Council


“Mr. Garner’s insight and love of the area grew into some of the most amazing contributions both through his attention of preservation of the environment and the development of Greers Ferry Lake.  These gifts have helped the Parks Department to grow by allowing visitors from all walks of life and from every state in the country to enjoy the City’s parks and beach.  What an unbelievable gift Mr. Garner has provided our Parks Department” -- Jimmy Clark, Director of Heber Springs Parks Department