As we leave 2016 behind, we’re taking this time to reflect on some of the highlights of an active year. While crime stories are certainly a part of our business, we opted not to include those as we look back on the year. Looking back on those events often only reopens old wounds, and that’s not our goal with the year in review. Enjoy these highlights from 2016 and we look forward to serving our readers in 2017 and many years to come. 

We would also like to remind you, our readers, that this is your paper. We do our best to get stories of local relevance to you. Staff levels and resources may prevent us from covering or reporting on everything we would like, but every effort is made to bring your community news to you. Sometimes you may know of a story and wonder why you haven’t read anything about it. It may be that we haven’t caught wind of it. Give us a call at 501-362-2425 and ask for James Jackson or shoot me an email at jjackson@thesuntimes.com. You can also leave us a news tip on our tip line. Just call and ask for extension '232'. While there is certainly no guarantee there will be a story, due to the nature of the story and other mitigating factors with whatever issue it might be, I can assure you I look into almost every call, email, or written story suggestion. Sometimes there isn’t enough there for a solid story, but every idea/suggestion/tip is taken seriously and looked into. 

This is our community. Yours, mine, your neighbors’, and even the tourists that roll through only a few times a year. The Sun Times is your voice and has been, in its various incarnations, for over 125 years. We plan to be your voice for many years to come, even when the physical version of the paper gives way to digital copies, virtual reality, and whatever the sci fi future holds for us. You are not just our readers, you’re our friends, neighbors, and loved ones and we hope you continue to be a part of our life as we have been yours all these years. 

January 

The Sun Times kicked off the new year with a new look. We retired the old orange color and rebranded with a fresh new logo colored in blue and yellow, to represent the sun and the lake. 

Flooding hit Cleburne, and around the state in the early part of January, giving way to the first real snow of the season a couple of weeks later. 

The Sun Times Person of the Year for 2015 was announced and Laura Hicks of Heber Springs walked away with the well-deserved award. “Laura Hick exhibits a true servant spirit, displaying love and compassion without prejudice or judging," said Rev. Al Henager, who worked closely with Hicks and was on hand to help present the award. 

February 

The World Championship Cardboard Boat Races was named the 2015 Event of the Year by the Arkansas Festivals and Events Association (AFEA) at their annual conference. “This is wonderful for our community,” said Heber Springs Area Chamber of Commerce Events Coordinator Teresa Bobo. “When you look at other towns, like Conway, they have so many more resources to put on events like this. What we have here is people who want to be involved and community commitment.” 

Early voting kicked off for the big Super Tuesday primaries in March. The primaries would determine the outcomes of most Cleburne County races for 2016. 

The Heber Springs Area Chamber of Commerce celebrated 60 years of serving the local business community at its annual banquet. The event brought together many local businesses, individuals, and organizations at the Heber Springs Community Center for an evening of awards, food, and fundraising.

Jeff Moore, director of marketing and communication for the Arkansas Economic Development Commission was guest speaker at the event. 

March 

The Super Tuesday primaries saw the reelection of a few of our elected officials, including County Judge Jerry Holmes and Representatives Josh Miller and John Payton. Rachelle Evans was elected Cleburne County Clerk and Heather Smith was elected Cleburne County Circuit Clerk. With no opposition going into the November election, the primaries determined the race for those positions. 

The race for the Republican nomination for Sheriff resulted in a runoff between Chris Brown and Josh Johnston. Brown defeated Johnston in the runoff and would go on to face Democrat John Murphy in November. 

The national commander of The American Legion visited Saxton-Willis Post 64 in Heber Springs in March. Dale Barnett was elected national commander of the 2.2 million-member American Legion at the organization’s 97th National Convention in 2015 and paid a visit to the active local post. 

Another high profile visit to our area took place in March. A group of Turkish mayors and officials stopped in Heber Springs as part of their tour of American local governments. Members of the Turkish Association of Local Authorities met with Heber Springs Mayor Jimmy Clark, County Judge Jerry Holmes, Cabot Mayor Bill Cypert, and other local leaders as the group sought to learn more about city government in the United States. 

April 

April kicked off with another successful Anglers Expo in Heber Springs. Packed full of vendors and seminars, the event offered a plethora of attractions for visitors of all ages. 

An estimated 700 kids and volunteers attended the annual Earth Day celebration on the ASU-Heber Springs campus in April. The event, which continues to grow every year, is held to honor our planet and highlight the importance of our responsibility to be good stewards of Mother Earth. 

Heber Springs was a hub of activity as residents and visitors alike flocked to events and festivities all over town for the 2016 Springfest celebrations, which included the traditional festival in Spring Park, the Airport Roll, Run, & Fun Fest at the municipal airport, and the ‘Ride Like a Mountain Man’ cycling event. Mother Nature provided perfect festival weather, with mild temperatures and no rain in sight. 

May 

The community of Fairfield Bay celebrated spring with a pair of festivals kicking off the Mother’s Day weekend. Festivities began with the 13th annual Bloomin’ in the Bay at Ed Leamon Park in the city and ended with Blues and BBQ in the Bay, a competitive BBQ cook-off accompanied by live music. 

The Sugarloaf Heritage Council celebrated more than eight years of preserving and improving the local landmark during Heritage Day at ASU-Heber Springs. The organization was founded by local citizens and ASU-Heber Springs personnel in 2007 with the aim of restoring and preserving the mountain’s beauty.

June 

The Wilson Family was named Cleburne County Farm Family of the Year 2016. “It’s an honor and we certainly weren’t expecting it,” said Rob Wilson, a practicing dentist in Heber Springs who owns and operates Wilson Ranch with his wife and their six children. “It’s something that the Lord has allowed for us and we want to give him the glory.” 

Our local 4H kids brought home national championships from the 17th Annual Mid-America Grassland Evaluation Contest, which was held in Springfield, Missouri. This contest pitted our local kids against 4H and FFA groups from Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, and Missouri, with a total of twenty teams. Awards were presented to the top five FFA teams, top five 4-H teams, and overall high scoring team, as well as individual awards. 

Heber Springs became home to 101.9 The Lake, a locally owned radio station. “I see the advantages of having a local radio station and with a town of 8,000, I couldn't believe we didn't have that," said owner Ali Sugg, who grew up with a background in radio. "This is where my family lives, this is where we have made our home, this is where my kids are going to go to school, and this is where I wanted this station to be.” 

This brings us to the end of part one of our 2016 year in review. Look for part two to appear on our website Friday!