February 14, 2007 EditionAlso in this issue...
A tribute to KyleBy Keith Brand
It has now been a year since the death of Kyle Guimon, who was truly a native son of Walnut Ridge. If you lived here in the 1960's or 70's, there is a 99 percent chance that you remember Kyle in some way or another.
Kyle was born Oct. 19, 1959, exactly 19 days before my own birth. I assumed for years that Kyle had to have been at Dr Joseph's Clinic in Walnut Ridge when I came into this world on Nov. 7 of '59. Our parents were friends, and our families spent a lot of time together.
Things around Walnut Ridge were much simpler in those days for kids growing up. There were no computers, iPods or DVD's, and the only person who had a cell phone was James Bond. We rode all over town on bicycles anywhere we pleased, and everyone watched out for everyone's kids.
We had the usual activities, such as Little League Baseball, then out at Logan Field on Hwy. 412, swimming at the city pool, going to the Polar Freeze, a lifetime favorite of Kyle's, or playing pinball and listening to the jukebox at Razorback BBQ. We hung out at Billy Joe Rogers' recreation hall next to his barbershop and stuck every nickel, dime or quarter we could scrape up into the pinball machines.
We also spent many hours at Big Star in Walnut Ridge, where Kyle's father, Bob, worked along with guys like Alex Latham, Bill Carson, Mr. Dub Gullett and many others. Kyle, Bill Wilcoxson and I, together, worked the soda bottles there until we were relieved of our duties.
We would go to Ben Franklin, Sterlings, Burrow Hardware, Osburn's Grocery, Mutt Hawkins Grocery, Jr. Foods, The Grill, Mae Reeds, Booth's Store and many others. That was back in the day when most local businesses had counter checks from the local banks laying on the counter. Kyle, at the age of 9 or 10 years old, could go in any store he wanted and write a check and they would take it. (Kyle's mom, Nedra, worked at the bank.)
Another activity we had to pass the time were green walnut fights that consisted of metal trashcan lids and football helmets. We even had our own version of ABC's "Wide World of Sports: Live from The Cliffs of Acapulco," which many will remember. Our version consisted of a tomcat, which Kyle would catch, a washtub filled with water and a tall tree in my parents' backyard. We played Wiffle ball, we caught lightening bugs at night, knocked on the neighbors' doors and ran off and hid and caught pigeons behind the old Citizens National Bank building on Main.
We threw water balloons at cars until we were caught by Police Chief Kenneth Guthrie and sentenced to picking up trash up and down Front Street along the railroad to the Hoxie city limits sign and back home down Southeast Second. There were 14 boys on that "chain gang."
Another activity was playing football in our backyards, which eventually grew into the peewee football program that is still active today. We had a good time and made our fun. Basically, "you name it; we tried it."
At Kyle's funeral service, Buck Pickrell, who knew Kyle his entire life, helped raise him and attended church with him, talked about Kyle running around on an "old bicycle" when he was a kid. One of my most vivid memories of Kyle to this day is him riding a bike around town, wearing what I call a Russian leather hat, with the ear flaps down in the winter, his coat would be wide open and him dragging a long stick of some kind to beat off the dogs or anything else that dared come near. Kyle knew where every dog in town lived and whether or not they would chase you.
Another story Buck shared about Kyle was when, at an early age, he requested "Mommas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys" during hymn selection time in church. That was "vintage Kyle."
At the age of 14, Kyle was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease and ended up in Houston at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. During Kyle's treatment period, my Dad and I flew to Houston to visit Kyle and his parents. That was a humbling experience for me that I have never forgotten. Kyle recovered fully and was back home playing football and in the band within a few months.
Kyle went on to excel in academics as well as sports and music and graduated from WRHS in 1978. He entered college and eventually obtained his doctorate in nuclear chemistry and worked for the federal government, including NASA. He met his wife, Debbie, while at the University of Arkansas, and she was truly the perfect match for him.
Following his work in the government sector, Kyle chose to teach college and pursue his career in religion as well as science. Then, sometime in the mid to late 1990's, while Kyle was home for a visit, he told me he was considering moving to Africa to be a missionary. At that time I could not understand why he would give up his career in science and education until I questioned him about it. He told me without hesitation: "This is what God wants me to do." I never doubted his sincerity or reasons after that.
Kyle went on to accomplish many things in Uganda with his wife, Debbie, and son, Matthew. They built an orphanage, school, churches and converted many, many people to Christianity and the hope of a better and more meaningful life.
Immediately following Kyle's death, many of his accomplishments abroad and his work in God's service were mentioned and many testimonials were delivered about Kyle and his effect on those lives he touched. The things he accomplished during his time in the ministry both in the United States and in Africa are amazing and will have long-lasting benefits for those he ran across.
Kyle was probably the most unique person I have ever known. I have chosen to reflect on our childhood here in Walnut Ridge in this column and remember him the way most folks around here do and always will. He was raised by two wonderful parents and his Pap and Nanny Counts and many friends, schoolteachers and administrators.
Kyle loved Walnut Ridge, and Walnut Ridge loved him! One of the things I am most grateful for about Kyle is that he always stayed in touch with many of us here at home. He never lost his hometown connections. The huge outpouring of love and affection shown following his death, not only by those here locally but from across the globe, were a testimonial to his life's accomplishments. He was truly one of a kind!
Kyle had more courage than most. He faced his illness in his teens the same way he faced many other challenges in his life. He endured a radical culture shock in Africa and dealt with it. I was with him the day before he went into the hospital for heart surgery late last January, and he was as courageous about that as he was anything else. He was at peace with himself and with God.
It was close to midnight on the 13th of February when Alex Latham informed me of Kyle's death. The following morning I called my mother to tell her of the news, and I will never forget her response. She said, "Kyle was a good man."
In the days that followed, I know of that same statement being made by several others. Kyle was truly a good and faithful servant of God, a loyal friend and a truly "good man." May his memory live on for many years to come!
(Editor's note: Keith Brand is president of Regions Bank in Walnut Ridge.)
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