Rex Nelson, Senior Editor at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, had the crowd at the recent Baptist Health Foundation laughing, reflecting and thinking about the future. Nelson covered a variety of Arkansas history, some of which many had never heard before. He spoke about the Civil War, the many differences in the state geographically, meaning the Ozark Mountains, the Ouachita Mountains, Crowley’s Ridge, Piney woods of the South, the Delta and the flat fields in South East Arkansas. He said the major themes over the last 200 years have been a series of disasters from wars, floods, droughts. After the Civil War came the mechanization of farming which caused people to move out of the state to find work. What used to take 200 people then took 20 people. The majority did not own land so they went to Chicago, Cleveland and Detroit. From 1940 to 1960 Arkansas lost a larger percentage of the population than any other state. He went on to discuss several political leaders who began changing things around the state.
He discussed the three things Arkansas has had going for it. From Orval Faubus, Winthrop Rockefeller and on to three of the most influential and powerful people in Washington, D.C. Sen. John McClellan, Sen. William J. Fulbright and Rep. Wilbur D. Mills. The second thing was ever since Rockefeller “We have had a good run of governors, whether republican or democrat. We tend to elect those who have a pragmatic way of governing. In Illinois, if you get out of the governor’s office you go to prison.” Lastly, the state has had a group of entrepreneurs, homegrown in Arkansas. From Sam Walton, the Tyson Family, J.B. Hunt, Bill Dillard and the Murphy’s from El Dorado, not to mention Witt and James Stephens who took Wal-Mart and Tyson public.
“We are in an interesting time, what we see now is uneven growth. NW Arkansas, around Little Rock and the Northeast counties of Craighead and Greene are growing rapidly.” said Nelson. From 1938 - 2010, 36 counties lost population.
Communities need to focus on the right things. The youth who grew up here and then moved away, now want to come back and open a business. Communities must make their public school systems the best it can be. Second, healthcare must be the best it can be. Economic Development should also be about the quality of life.
“The fact you are here tonight shows you care. Heber Springs is a beautiful place with many assets. There are two degrees of separation within communities. Leaders must have their priorities straight.” said Nelson in closing.
Kevin Storey, Administrator of Baptist Health Heber Springs recognized Ed Lacy for his 20 years of service at this hospital and thanked him for being there. He also thanked Shelton’s Jewelry for sponsoring the auction and Jack and Olivia Dowell as presenting sponsors and for all they have done for Baptist Health.