September 24, 2014 Edition

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Sloan lives up to 'legend'
as he marks 100 years

Tennis friends of Larry Sloan (center) gathered Sunday evening in Jonesboro to celebrate his 100th birthday. With him are Tom Waldron (left) and Larry's brother, Tom Sloan, both of Walnut Ridge. Larry will be honored again on Sunday from 1:30 to 3 p.m. at Walnut Ridge First Baptist Church's Ministry Activities Center. All family and friends are invited to attend.
John Bland

Larry Sloan was a legend well before reaching his 100th birthday on Sunday. He continues to live up to the nickname "Larry the Legend" that was given to him on his 80th birthday by his tennis-playing buddies, often called the Weekend Warriors.

For Sloan's 80th birthday party, his friend, Mickey Bridger, printed T-shirts that stated, "I played with Larry the Legend." Sloan's T-shirt stated, "I am Larry the Legend."

In 2004, Larry's tennis friends gathered again for his 90th birthday at the home of Rush Barrett in Jonesboro.

While some of them are now deceased, many of those same tennis friends gathered Sunday evening at a Jonesboro restaurant to again honor Sloan. The group of approximately 25 included Sloan's former tennis partners and competitors, a few spouses and media representatives.

Sloan was raised in the country on a farm in the Strawberry area and was a longtime resident of Walnut Ridge. He now lives at St. Bernard's Village in Jonesboro.

On Sunday evening, he was "totally shocked" when restaurant patrons and party guests stood and sang "Happy Birthday" as he walked through the restaurant to the party, said Bridger, who accompanied him. Each of Larry's tennis friends had stories to tell about him.

Bridger and Dr. Joel Gambill, both of Jonesboro, co-organizers of the party, told The TD that Larry continued to play tennis into his 98th year until he fell during a match.

Bridger has played tennis with Sloan for years. Over 35 years ago, Larry asked him to join him for dinner one night after a match. Bridger, at first declined, but then found out it was Larry's birthday and that his wife, Gertrude, was then residing in a nursing center.

Bridger, of course, joined Larry for a birthday supper, and he has been eating out three or four times a month with him ever since.

Gambill, retired head of the Arkansas State University journalism department, first met Larry in the late 1960's.

"He had such great timing," Gambill said of Larry's tennis playing skills.

While Larry played tennis year-round, Gambill played primarily during the summer. "It would take me all summer to get up to his level," Gambill added.

Doug Bradley of Jonesboro said he was on the court with Larry when he fell while playing at age 98. "Larry played with us, and at 98, he played better than some people do at age 68 or 58."

Tom Sloan of Walnut Ridge, Larry's younger brother, said that Larry first played tennis while attending high school in Batesville.

Larry said he was sent to Batesville to live with his mother's sister and attended school there from the first grade through the first year of college.

Larry's first job was at First National Bank in Walnut Ridge, where he would be employed approximately 10 years. At that time, the only tennis court was at the Harry L. Ponder home, so that limited his tennis playing.

When his number came up in the draft during World War II, the military gave him an 4F status due to finding a spot on lungs. He apparently had a slight case of tuberculosis and would have regular chest X-rays in Booneville and later Memphis for a period of five years or more.

"Back then they thought the only treatment (for TB) was rest," Larry said. This further limited his tennis playing.

Tom Sloan recalled that Hal Heck, who formerly lived in Walnut Ridge, got Larry interested in tennis again when Larry was in his 40s. "I played with Hal for a long time," Larry said.

Along with his tennis-playing history, Larry shared some of his career highlights. After leaving First National, Sloan got into the retail clothing business. When Earl VanHook, owner of Van-Adkins Store, was drafted, Larry and the late Charles Snapp bought that business. They owned it until they had a chance to buy another clothing store, which was known as Sloan's Department Store.

Larry operated that until after Citizens National Bank opened in Walnut Ridge. Citizens was a new bank, and Larry owned a little stock in it. Jimmy Jeff Sharum was president.

In the meantime, Charles Snapp sold his stock in the clothing store to his brother, Pate, who needed a job after his military service. Larry said that Jimmy Jeff didn't really enjoy the banking business, so with his previous banking experience, Larry started working over at Citizens, where he would become president.

Larry had a very successful career in banking and business, and shared that success when he endowed Williams Baptist College with a large monetary gift. In 1999, the science building at Williams was renovated and expanded and renamed the Sloan Center in honor of Larry and his wife, Gertrude Bush Sloan.

Dr. Brett Cooper, vice president for institutional advancement at Williams, noted that Larry was also on WBC's Board of Trustees for many years and that he was awarded an honorary doctorate by Williams, as well.

When asked the secret to his longevity, Sloan said, "I can't give any definite answer to that. It's probably the same with all of us. We're gonna be around as long as God wills it."

Sloan did admit that diet and exercise could be factors. "I try to eat responsibly, and I give a lot of credit to the exercise I got on the tennis court."

More celebrations

Larry's family honored him this past Saturday in Jonesboro, when approximately 48 of them gathered for a birthday lunch at the Jonesboro Country Club.

He will again be honored this Sunday by his home church, First Baptist in Walnut Ridge. A celebration is set from 1:30 to 3 p.m. in the church's Ministry Activities Center. All family and friends are invited to attend.

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