January 30, 2008 Edition

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"Delta Dreams"

I enjoyed watching a documentary on Helena-West Helena shown Monday night on AETN. Another broadcast of this special called "Delta Dreams" is scheduled for 9 p.m. on Feb. 4.

Helena-West Helena in Phillips County was once the thriving center for culture and commerce in the delta and has a rich history. However, it has suffered much over the years with a loss of industry and business and therefore, jobs and population.

The documentary looks into causes for the decline and focuses on the city's recent efforts to formulate a plan for economic recovery, to rebuild the city and instill hope in its citizens.

The documentary took two years to compile and included interviews with many Helena-West Helena citizens ~ bankers, lawyers, teachers, young, old, black, white, a street rapper and others.

Although some of the problems in Helena-West Helena are unique to that city, they are also similar in many ways to other rural and urban communities that have faced decline. There are lessons to be learned from their struggle.

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Representatives from four counties, including Lawrence, are seeking to designate U.S. Hwy. 67 from Bald Knob to the Missouri state line as "The Rock and Roll Highway 67." State Rep. J.R. Rogers is one of the committee members.

In the 1950s, performers such as Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison and Sonny Burgess played from club to club along the highway.

Another suggested name for the highway was "Rockabilly Highway," but "Rock and Roll Highway 67" was decided on by a vote of 8-5. This is a working title that can be changed, members agreed.

Pocahontas musician Gary Gazaway developed the idea of naming this stretch of 67 as a way to highlight the highway's historical impact, reported Kenneth Heard in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

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It was sad news to learn of the Jan. 18 death of my former classmate, Jimmie Dale Shatsar, age 50, of Sherwood. Jimmie Dale had done well for himself. I had lost track of him after high school. However, when he returned to Walnut Ridge for our 10 and 20-year class reunions, we found out what he had accomplished.

In our reunion booklet, Jimmie Dale had stated, "My favorite memory (of high school) is graduation, because I never thought I would make it ..." After graduating from WRHS in 1976, he graduated from Williams Baptist in 1978 and Arkansas State University in 1982.

Jimmie Dale worked for the Arkansas State Plant Board for some 24 years and was a seed certification manager. He leaves his wife, Linda Hutson Shatsar, and their two sons, Caleb, age 12, and Adam, age 10. His mother and a sister still live in Walnut Ridge.

He had battled colon cancer for at least two years.

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