November 18, 2015 Edition

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John Andrews (left) of Walnut Ridge visits with Tom Dillard, who was the featured speaker at the Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce banquet. Dillard is a well-known Arkansas historian, archivist and columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
TD Photo ~ Gretchen Hunt

Chamber celebrates Lawrence
County's 200th anniversary

John Bland

This year's Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce annual banquet paid tribute to the 200th anniversary of Lawrence County. The theme was "Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow: Celebrating Lawrence County 1815-2015.

The banquet, held Thursday evening at The Studio in downtown Walnut Ridge, featured Tom Dillard, who is one of Arkansas' leading historians, who spoke about some of the county's more colorful and interesting historic citizens.

Birthday cake, in the shape of Lawrence County, was served to the more than 125 attendees. Dr. Lisa Perry, archival manager from the Northeast Arkansas Regional Archives in Powhatan, displayed several documents from Lawrence County's earlier history.

Prior to Dillard's speech, Jon Walter read a proclamation from Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson. The proclamation recognized the 200th anniversary of Lawrence County.

A number of awards were presented and recognitions made. (See additional photos on page 5A.)

Dean Davis and Farm Air Flying Service in Minturn was named the 2015 Agriculture Business of the Year.

Ethel Tompkins of Hoxie received the Community Service Award.

The Ronald and Kathy Cavenaugh Family was recognized as the 2015 Lawrence County Farm Family of the Year.

Allen and Angie Gallaher of United Country-Scenic Rivers Realty in Imboden were honored with the 2015 Business of the Year award.

Dr. Tom Jones, president of Williams Baptist College, was named the 2015 Man of the Year.

Kathy Bradley, administrative assistant for the Chamber of Commerce, was named the 2015 Woman of the Year.

Ernest (Junior) Briner, Lloyd Clark, Tammy Franks and Deborah Smith were recognized for their service to the Chamber. Their terms on the board expire at the end of the year.

Elected to serve on the Chamber board, beginning in 2016, are: Aaron Andrews, John Householder, Ethel Tompkins and Lorra Whitmire.

Fran Cavenaugh, who has served as chair of the Chamber board for the past two years, has agreed to stay on as volunteer executive director of the Chamber for the coming year. She was also honored for her service as board chair.

Cavenaugh also shared highlights of the 2015 Chamber year and urged Lawrence County to "roll up our sleeves" to continue efforts for progress.

Dina Rose is chair-elect of the Chamber board. She, along with Cavenaugh, and Frema Gipson, board member, made the awards presentations.

Mother of Counties

In his speech, Dillard said it was an honor "to recognize one of the great counties of our state."

He noted that he, along with Chamber board member Lloyd Clark of Powhatan, have fought many battles to keep Arkansas history taught in Arkansas' public schools.

In 1977, Dillard the first staff historian for the Arkansas State Parks. "I was involved with Evelyn Flippo and others in trying to get the Powhatan Courthouse going (as a state park). It was one of my favorite parks at the time, and it still is."

He acknowledged that the park was named the 2015 State Park of the Year in Arkansas.

Missouri legislation of 1815 created Lawrence County on Jan. 15, 1815. "It was gigantic," he said.

"Well over one-third of the counties in Arkansas were created from it," he said, adding that it is aptly known as the Mother of Counties.

Early steamboat travel, as early as 1829, is recorded at Powhatan, where artifacts from international markets have been excavated from Indian sites.

Dillard shared stories of noted author Alice French, who wrote by the name of Octave Thanet and wintered at Clover Bend. "Her books sold by the millions," he said. She was the highest paid female writer in the 1880s and 1890s, he added.

Among others, Dillard mentioned Washboard Sam, the stage name for Robert Brown, who was born in Walnut Ridge in 1910. He moved to Chicago in 1936, where he was of the most popular Chicago blues performers of the late 1930s and 1940s, selling numerous records and playing to packed audiences. He recorded over 160 tracks.

General James T. Conway, 34th Commandant of the United States Marine Corps, is another noteworthy native. He was born in Walnut Ridge in 1947 and retired as a four-star general.

"I would like to make a toast to Lawrence County," Dillard said, in concluding his remarks.

Dillard, who writes a Sunday column in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, featured Lawrence County in his Nov. 15 column titled, "Older than Arkansas."

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