It's like old times. I'm spending the night in Clarksdale, Miss., and thinking about the Delta. I'm in town with Kyle Peterson, who has served since June 2016 as the executive director of Bentonville-based Walton Family Foundation.
A dynamic leader takes charge at Walton Family Foundation
In 1945, with World War II having come to an end, Sam and Helen Walton purchased the franchise for a Ben Franklin five-and-dime store in downtown Newport, the county seat of Jackson County. Newport was thriving in those days. Stores stayed open late on Saturday nights as thousands of sharecroppers and tenant farmers came to town from surrounding farms to do their shopping for the week.
They'll be selling corned-beef sandwiches for 50 cents at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs today. That promotion has become a given on the first Saturday of the race meet. The other given is that there will be a member of the Cella family calling the shots.
For 18 years, Gary Brinkley was the general manager of Stockyards Station, the shopping and dining component of the famed Fort Worth Stockyards National Historic District. In 1849, Fort Worth was established on a bluff overlooking the West Fork and Clear Fork of the Trinity River. It was the last civilized stop on the Chisholm Trail.
Last month, I was reading this newspaper's account of yet another study on the future of Little Rock when I checked my social media feed. A friend who owns a business in downtown Little Rock reported that the large glass windows at his business had been broken out for the second time in less than a week.
I recall how sad I was when I heard the news. It was February 2012, and Mary Gay Shipley, the owner of That Bookstore in Blytheville, had decided to retire as she neared her 68th birthday. She announced in a Facebook post that she was looking for a buyer for the state's best-known bookstore.
It's a quiet Sunday afternoon in downtown Brinkley, and Tommy Robinson is showing me around his office in a small strip center. It's hard to believe that Robinson is now 75. In my mind, he will always be the brash Pulaski County sheriff and U.S. congressman in his 30s and 40s, a man who managed to make the front pages of the Arkansas Gazette and Arkansas Democrat more often in the 1980s than a certain governor who would go on to become president of the United States.
It was a year that saw me return to full-time newspaper work after more than two decades away. That meant more time to travel the state in search of stories. I talked to people in every section of Arkansas, drove down highways I hadn't been on in years, read local newspapers, listened to small-town radio stations, ate in long-forgotten restaurants and eavesdropped on conversations at adjacent tables in an attempt to determine what topics Arkansans were talking about in 2017.
The invitation was one I couldn't turn down. Becky Halsell Westbrook of Blytheville had written to say that her father, 88-year-old Buddy Halsell, had stories to tell about the rich history of Blytheville barbecue. She wanted someone to write down those stories.
Ken Wheatley stands in the parking lot he owns across from Bathhouse Row in downtown Hot Springs and talks about the future.