About The Oddfellow…

The Oddfellow is a mostly a group of displaced recovering journalists hell-bent on forcing our craft even if the world doesn’t much like newspaper types anymore. We’ve got a few columnists, creative writers, and historians hanging around the place too.

We don’t promise it’ll all be good. But it will be local, if nothing else. And hopefully — heaven help us — anything but boring.

About our name

In the early 1800’s, as Batesville was first founded and began to grow, a society called the Independent Order of Odd Fellows was formed to serve the many needs in the community. Over the years the motley group of everyday working folks cared for the community through charitable acts: taking care of the poor, housing widows, and most notably, constructing a beautiful orphanage. The structure sat on the hillside in West Side where an elementary is now located.

While The Oddfellow is not affiliated with the original chapter of the I.O.O.F, the name “oddfellow” was picked as an homage to this group of people who once roamed the dirt streets of Batesville.

Writers and other generally odd people welcome…

If you are a writer (or a photographer, or a videographer, or a podcaster), we’d like to find a spot for you here.

Email OFBatesville@gmail.com to inquire.

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Reflecting on Sydney Southerland, from a sexual assault survivor

In the wake of this tragedy, I found myself murmuring to myself one night. “What a waste.” I was taken aback. What did I mean by that?

Last week, Sydney Sutherland, a 25 year-old woman, went jogging near her home in rural Arkansas along State Highway 18 near Newport and Grubbs.

Two days later, her body was found north of her residence.

Two days after that, August 23, 2020, Quake Lewellyn was charged with capital murder, rape, and kidnapping.

In the wake of this tragedy, I found myself murmuring to myself one night. “What a waste.”

I was taken aback. What did I mean by that?

I realized I had said the same words to myself, and maybe aloud to others, many times in the light of untimely deaths. In the light of global catastrophes. In the light of major losses.

What a waste of a life is what I think I meant.

But I hated how that sounded. I hated how it felt.

25 years lived vivaciously, beautifully, in service to others after nursing school… how is that a waste of a life? It’s certainly not. Not in any way at all. Just because a deviant perpetrator targeted Sydney Sutherland and opted to terminate her life abruptly does not in any way indicate that her life was wasted.

I vowed to stop using those words and to find new words, even if only to mutter to myself. What would those words be?

I reflected on my own incidences of sexual assault.

As a survivor of multiple incidences of sexual assault by multiple perpetrators over my lifetime (thank God none ended in death), I recall that vivid sense of purposelessness. Uselessness. Depravity. Feeling devoid of the desire to continue. Lack of hope. This often occurs in sexual assault victims after trauma; it lasts for varying lengths of time, depending on whether the victim seeks help or not.

Thankfully, I sought help, but not right away.

For years, I coped on my own terms. You can imagine how well that worked for me. Self-medication, self-help books, and talking to all the wrong people who give all the wrong advice will get you to all the wrong places. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I was scared to trust anyone at all with what hurt the most.

I finally found a cobbled path to healing through Christian counseling and a recovery program. It’s a continual journey. Post-traumatic stress disorder reminds me of getting divorced. It’s supposed to be final and over, but it’s never really over. I paid the money and moved the turd out of my house. But I’m still stuck with the residue, the financial effects of our marriage, and the reminders every time those stupid Facebook Memories pop up. “12 years ago today: ‘Can’t wait to watch Biggest Loser with X and eat banana splits at the same time!” Barfarama.

Over the past few months, I’ve found it interesting to observe this surge of interest related to #SaveTheChildren—all things related to sexual assault, child sexual abuse, and human trafficking. As a survivor who’s advocated, volunteered, and served in this realm for almost 20 years, I’m thrilled that the world suddenly cares.

I only hope it won’t stop at sharing posts and gory articles online. Let me reassure you if you’re only doing this much that there’s much more you can do to help save children’s lives, if that’s your genuine motive.

Locally, you can volunteer for the Rape Crisis Center operated under the umbrella of the Family Violence Prevention Center or for the Children’s Advocacy Center of Independence County.

If you’re interested in working to combat human trafficking, you can contact P.A.T.H. (Partners Against Trafficking Humans). In fact, you can attend their volunteer training for 20 hours to learn a wealth of information and then volunteer in numerous ways within their organization, too.

To support multiple global human trafficking organizations, select from a myriad of nonprofit organizations, some faith-based and others non-partisan, doing excellent work all over the world. You can volunteer remotely to manage social media, write articles, answer hotline calls, or perform a variety of other tasks. If you’re outspoken and comfortable with public speaking, many organizations need community representatives and educators. You can write a check if financial support is more your speed.

There are no limits to the ways these organizations need help—trust me. I personally align myself with two organizations—P.A.T.H. and The Asservo Project. I recently published a book and give $1 of each book’s proceeds to The Asservo Project. I’ll continue to look for ways—always—to support these organizations because the work they do changes lives, supports survivors, and brings perpetrators to justice.

Ultimately, we’re never doomed to sit around and feel sorry for ourselves, victims, or survivors unless we choose to. There’s plenty of work to be done. We just have to choose to take action.

The work of organizations (and volunteers) ensures that beautiful souls like Sydney Sutherland’s are honored, that tragedies like Sydney Sutherland’s assault and murder are redeemed.

Bethany Wallace owns a consulting business, Bethany Wallace Communications & Consulting, and partners with mission-minded organizations to build better workplaces through soft skills solutions.

Bethany presents research at conferences and contributes to major publications and recognized podcasts, including Glassdoor, College Recruiter, Zip Recruiter, Jobscan, Flex Jobs, the New York Daily News, Business Tech, Human Resources Online, Life After Teaching, Love Your Story, 10 Minute Mindset, Everyday People, and more. In June 2020, she also recently  published a collection of original poetry, “Hindsight 2020: A New and Selected Poems by Bethany Wallace.”

Bethany earned her Master of Arts degree in English Language and Literature at Arkansas Tech University and her Bachelor of Arts degree in English at Lyon College.

Pandemic: the second time around

By Courtney Beal

It was Wednesday, September 19, 2018. 

I disembarked, along with Reed, 7, and Ana, 2, from a flight across the ocean to meet my husband in Hong Kong.

He’d been there for a month already – which meant I’d been single parenting in Batesville and had now survived (the most accurate word I can think of) a 16+ hour flight with two young children on my own. We were, for all intents and purposes, moving to Hong Kong where Wesley was awarded a Fulbright grant to teach and research at the University of Hong Kong for the fall 2018 semester. 

I’ll confess that I was less than enthusiastic about this proposition, at first. There might not have been any place you could have chosen that would have felt more foreign to me at that juncture of my life than Hong Kong. I’d only ever left the continent of North America once – to visit London. You can imagine the mental space I was in as I disembarked from what seemed like a never-ending flight.

As I literally drag Reed down the corridor, with Ana and all the carry-on luggage I can manage piled into the stroller, we’re immediately met by a team of masked attendants wearing lab goggles and pointing temperature guns at us. They gestured for me to stop while they scan Ana in the stroller, then Reed, then finally me.

I can’t overstate, as a westerner, how intrusive this felt. I had a brief moment of panic contemplating what would happen if one of our readings came back slightly high. 

We were greeted with this same process two more times before we finally were allowed to exit the secure area of the airport: once before we were allowed into the baggage claim area and again before we entered the immigration and customs area.  It felt like we had emerged from the plane into a completely different realm – one that felt less like reality and more like some dystopian novel.

I remember, on one of our first outings into the city, Reed looking up and asking, “Why are all of these people sick? Are we going to get sick, too?” It took a minute for me to realize he was referring to all the people he saw up and down the sidewalks, on the subway, and in the shops wearing face masks. 

You don’t have to spend long in Hong Kong before you notice the prevalence of face mask wearing. Descending into the subway during rush hour, you’ll encounter throngs of people wearing them. For a westerner, it felt unusual at first, and I’m seeing some of the same reactions here in the United States.

While living in Hong Kong, I became keenly aware of how much I relied on facial expressions for communication – especially since I couldn’t understand the language. I was forced to really look into others’ eyes, even in casual interactions where I might have just relied on the other’s tone of voice or smile.  Maybe this is what feels so uncomfortable – this loss of a casual social “middle ground.” It becomes necessary to either not acknowledge anyone, or truly make eye contact and give your undivided attention.

Pandemics aren’t a new experience for the city of Hong Kong. Asia’s World City – as Hong Kong is often called – was the epicenter for the SARS outbreak of 2003, and you can still feel the aftermath and scars of that outbreak, even today. Temperature scans and mask-wearing are commonplace for residents there. Any time you move across a major boundary line (like taking the ferry to Macau, flying to Japan or “mainland” China, etc…) your temperature is scanned multiple times. 

For many Hong Kongers, face masks have become a part of their fashion, similar to picking out shoes, a hat, or another accessory. We saw regular medical masks, but also all manner of prints and solid colors. Children sport their favorite cartoon or movie characters. Reed was particularly jealous of Marvel character masks. What felt like another world upon our arrival in Hong Kong quickly came to feel routine. The sight of people wearing face masks just became a normal part of the landscape for us.

Beal’s daughter, Ana, in Hong Kong in 2018.

Fast forward to winter/spring 2020…headlines begin showing up in my Facebook feed. 

Headlines like:

 “Coronavirus Cases Rise Above 24,000”

“First Coronavirus Death”

“Coronavirus Strikes a Wounded City”

“Economists Warn Coronavirus Risk Far Worse Than Realized”

“American Airlines Extends Flight Suspensions … Amidst Coronavirus” 

“Containing new coronavirus may not be feasible, experts say, as they warn of possible sustained global spread.”

I’m sure these headlines seem familiar. They started circulating widely in the United States around early March. These specific headlines, however, were showing up in my personal Facebook feed starting at the end of January. The“wounded city” referenced is Hong Kong. 

Having lived in Hong Kong for the last half of 2018 and still having friends and connections there, I’d been watching this virus and the damage and chaos left in its wake for more than a month before it seemed relevant here. 

I’ve watched, via a Facebook group called “Hong Kong Moms,” families that live in much smaller quarters than the average American family (the average size home in Hong Kong is 484 sq ft – let that sink in for a minute…) trying to navigate quarantining and working and schooling at home since the start of February. Add to that school closures experienced due to the large-scale protesting Hong Kong experienced in the fall, and you have kids that have been out of school more than in this year. 

Their struggles are the same: finding enough time in the day, keeping children occupied long enough to conduct a remote meeting, finding new ways of entertaining themselves at home, feeling isolated from family and friends. They may be on the other side of the globe, but their everyday struggles look just like ours these days. 

Other headlines have been coming  through my feed this week:

“Hong Kong Reports No New Covid-19 Cases”

“Hong Kong Reports No New Cases for 2nd Time in a Week”

“Hong Kong Medical Experts Say Social Distancing Measures Could Be Relaxed in Early May As Infection Rates Slow.”

It isn’t an absolute drop off, but new cases for the last two weeks have been in the single digits. What hope that brings, to have even a single day with no new cases reported. 

Hong Kongers use a phrase: “Be water.” You may have seen it used in relation to the pro-democracy protest movement that swept Hong Kong in the summer and fall of 2019 (and is still brewing, under the surface, even now, but that’s another story for another day). It’s not so much a specific strategy as a general philosophy. It’s been particularly necessary to “be water” when handling this global pandemic. With the rapid rate of information changes, it’s been necessary to constantly adapt to new information and policies. Water can carry great force and brute strength. It can be hard as stone, but it can also bend and move around barriers with grace. It is flexible. It adapts. It can wipe out an obstacle in mere seconds or it can wear it down gently over time. Its sound can be both deafening and healing. I’ve found that places of water are often where I find my greatest restoration.

That dystopian world we emerged into back in the fall of 2018 seems to have crept into our own reality here. It’s been interesting watching our culture wrestle with these norms of the “other,” feeling the familiar uneasiness with practices we associate with “that other place.”

I’m curious to see if our own culture will hold onto any of these practices in the scars this pandemic might leave. Will we see mask-wearing become more commonplace? Will temperature scans become a regular part of entering areas with large crowds like airports, arenas, amusement parks, etc…? Will we see the disappearance of handshakes as greetings, replaced by an intentional meeting of the eyes and nod to acknowledge another?

Perhaps, and maybe this feels uncomfortable. Maybe it feels like there would be some sort of loss in this scenario, but I offer a different perspective.

I’ve watched my own community come together and find ways of caring for and connecting with each other – despite the physical distance. I’ve watched local individuals, school districts, groups and businesses step in the gap to support and hold each other up. I’ve watched the relationship between my own two children deepen in unexpected ways. I’ve seen people flow, adapt, and overcome.

There will definitely be scars left when we emerge, but I have hope and faith that we will all figure out the next right steps together. I believe that, together, we can adapt to the new world in which we will emerge.

Whatever the case, we still have time to shape how our story ends. Let’s meet this challenge with strength, but also grace. Let’s focus on taking the next right step together. It’s my hope that when we come out on the other side of this, we will rise up with a greater sense of “we,” rather than “us” and “them.” 

Let’s “be water,” my friends. 

Courtney Beal is the Assistant Programmer for the Morrow Academic Center – Lyon College. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Early Childhood from the University of Central Arkansas, and moved to Batesville when her husband, Wesley, was hired by Lyon College to teach English. Her family spent a few months in Hong Kong in the fall of 2018 when Wesley was awarded a Fulbright Grant to teach and research at the University of Hong Kong. Originally from Conway, Courtney is currently the Vice-President of the Eagle Mountain Elementary School Parent Teacher Organization and is a member of First Presbyterian Church in Batesville. She loves to travel as well as being a mom to her children.

Pandemic: Living with a Nurse

I was awakened by the sound of the garage door opening this morning as I lay in bed…

This sound meant my husband was home from his night shift as a critical care nurse. 

I laid there sleepily wondering how his night went. I knew he would be in the garage for a few minutes before he opened the door to come into the house.

The garage is where he puts his scrubs in a plastic bag to be washed. Then he removes his shoes and does his best to disinfect them, placing them on a shelf. He leaves his wallet and his keys there, too. Then disinfects his phone before coming in the house and heading straight to the shower.

We have never been germaphobes. I’ve never been that worried before about what microbes he may bring home from the hospital. “Just wash your hands and throw your scrubs in the hamper,” I’d say. No big deal. They’d get washed eventually.

But last night he worked in the COVID unit of his ICU. And all of this began to feel more real. And just… weird. 

As I leaned in for a normal greeting, he backed away. 

I protested: “Christian, it’s gonna be ok. You had on PPE and you’ve showered and you are clean now. I’m not overly worried about it,” I said.

“This is all new and serious,” he said. “Our hospital has done an excellent job preparing in the midst of this crisis, but no protective system is perfect, Meg.” 

There was a part of me that wanted to sigh deeply and say, “You are overreacting. It’s fine, just come sit by me.” But something stopped me. For one, that’s just not a healthy way to respond to someone – dismissing their concerns. But also… I wasn’t there at the hospital.

I was at home in our safe house trying to make children sleep in their own beds so I could watch “The Morning Show” on Apple TV. I am aware of the seriousness going on in the world around me and have my fair share of anxious moments about it. But I am also more consumed with potty training that toddler boy and figuring out how on earth to “homeschool” the girls and keep these kids preoccupied and healthy. Truth be told, the coronavirus can sometimes feel more like this mythical creature rather than a real threat.

He was in the COVID-ICU unit where care is given specifically to presumptive and positive COVID-19 cases. He is learning new systems and protocols… looking into the eyes of fear-filled patients who ask him questions with the desperation that a sick child would ask a parent. But these weren’t children. They were frightened adults who were alone and he was the only direct human interaction they had. No family or visitors allowed.

He used to be a pastor. Looking people who are hurting in the eyes is not foreign to him. But this is different. It’s like a collision of spiritual and physical. And it’s… weird? Real? Raw? I don’t even know what word to use.

He’s also the one, between us, that understands disease and contagion and the science stuff. I trust his perspective. 

This afternoon, as he prepares for another night shift, and I make the kids tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches… thinking existentially about a poem I wrote about songbirds… my Enneagram 4 thoughts are interrupted by this realization:

I don’t get it.

I’m not dumb or unable to educate myself on what is going on in the world of this pandemic. But I don’t fully get it because I am not there staring it in the face. And thankfully, so far, it has not infected anyone that I love.

It is staring me in the face through the eyes of my tired husband, though. 

My longtime friend (and editor) Rachael said, “We are experiencing the same collective threat but our circumstances and personalities are making it so we are all experiencing it differently. I think telling your personal perspective on the situation might help others realize how different this is for everyone.”

As a nation… as a world… we are experiencing this together. It is shocking and dramatic and life-changing. 

This is traumatic. 

This is a collective grief. 

And, as with any grief, there are layers. And it comes in waves. 

And we all find ourselves in different spaces. 

Loss is everywhere, affecting us all in one way or another. 

It is important for us to have perspective, yes. But it is also important to not compare our specific grief to others. And it’s important to listen. Listen to people’s experiences. There is no better time than now to practice empathy and care and love for humanity. 

Comparative suffering is dangerous. Empathy is not finite. When we practice empathy, we create more empathy. The exhausted ER doctor doesn’t benefit more if you reserve your empathy only for her and ignore your feelings or withhold empathy from someone lower on the “suffering scale.” Hurt is hurt, and every time we honor our own struggle and the struggles of others by responding with empathy, the healing that results affects all of us. – Brené Brown

So before I become impatient at the idea of my husband being nervous to be close to me and our kids after being around sick people… before I’m tempted to compare who is under more stress, him at work or me at home 24/7 with the kids, I need to look at his eyes, see his grief, and hear him.

It is important to trust the accounts of people who are on the “front lines.” 

My husband does not work in a metropolitan healthcare system. His experience is from a regional healthcare system in the south. He feels they are prepared, as much as possible in the current environment, and he has been very impressed with the leadership of his unit. But all things considered… this is a pandemic. Not a normal day at the office.  

I am not suggesting that we live in a state of panic and fear. That’s not productive. Nor am I suggesting we trust every article shared on Facebook. But I am suggesting that we listen to the people we trust who know and experience things that we do not.

So in a few hours, when he heads back to work, I’m going to listen to him. And I’m going to pray for him. And I’m going to look him directly in the eyes and hope that the care and support our family gives him can be supernaturally transferred, through all that life saving PPE, and be felt by the patients with whom he interacts. And I’m going to trust him when he says this is serious and real.

And I’m gonna remember to give myself grace so I can give others grace, too. Because this is all a lot. 

And I’m gonna stay home. 

God, have mercy.

Megan Baxter is a regular contributor on The Oddfellow. In addition to her writing ventures, she also is part of the women’s ministry team at Fellowship Bible Church in Batesville, Ark. She has a degree in Family Psychology from Williams Baptist University, and lives in Batesville with her husband, Christian, and their children.

Hell, Church, and the Sylamore

Photo taken by Arkansas native Jonas Mark

In kindergarten, I would get off the school bus and walk down Sturrock Rd., the long, paved, country road to get home, and some afternoons I knew by the strong smell of asphalt and motor oil that a light rain shower had come through, and I had missed it. I liked school well enough, but I loved the rain. The ditch in front of my house had that red, chalky dirt that, when a little wet, became a young potter’s dream—molding bowls and cups and sitting them out to dry. But after a downpour, that clay became a hellish red color, and I didn’t trust it. I would submerge my bare feet in the mud, count to three, and immediately pull them out. Each second being a measure of courage. And one wet day, I walked the complete length of the ditch, talking to the Devil. My feet would sink low into the Earth, and I believed it was something or someone pulling me down to the pits of hell, grabbing at my ankles and chanting my name. These are the thoughts of a child who watched horror films with her father while occasionally attending Sunday service at her grandmother’s Baptist church. Hell was real and a layer of it was in the ditch of my front yard.

But hell wasn’t the only landscape. As early as I can remember I talked to God, along with the birds and anything else that would listen. It was all very simple really, I could feel that God loved me, and I knew I loved Him back. I felt very close to Him while knowing very little about Him, and I don’t remember a day I questioned if He was real. That came later. I had already chosen that belief for myself, I think. And without a lot of people telling me or showing me, I just gathered from my conversations with God that He was really kind and good. He was peace, and he showed up early for me in my life. I needed that.

But as I started attending church with my grandmother, my Nanna, it was no longer just me and God. Now other people were involved, other voices. Church for me was like finding a special, secret place to play, and then learning that is was open to the public. Church was like sharing the Sylamore creek. My time in the Sylamore in Arkansas is personal and very hard to share.

it was no longer just me and God. Now other people were involved, other voices.

I slowly hobble through water on visible stones below, avoiding any trench that would be too deep. My body is awake and my mind, alive, aware of deep meaning without deep thinking. I turn my body and my breathing toward the flow of the water, toward the bubbling brook up ahead. Clear, cold water. I can see where to place my foot, and I can see that it’s just me and the minnows that have come to nibble my toes.

After the Hymns and after the organ, I sit down in the pew and hear a car drive up on the creek bank. I hear loud hoots and hollers from a father and a mother corralling five, loud and whiny kids. I hear the sound of a large, middle-school-aged boy trying to squeak and twerk his way into his little sister’s intertube. On impulse, led by a charge, they all stampede the Sylamore waters. My minnows scatter, and the water gets murky; I lose my footing, and me — and my flailing limbs — flop into the breath-taking waters. But I hung around church long enough to see that the ripples eventually settle and the good things are often better shared.

Truthfully, I’ve never been able to sit in a church service and see right to the bottom of this whole metaphor. I’ve now learned to embrace the murky waters that we stir up, and I can speak to the value of inviting people in to my Sylamore church. But as a young child who learned God mostly from the East Texas pines, church was disorienting.

It became confusing because “Jesus was the way to God.” Okay yes, if Jesus is God in human form, I believe in Jesus. And so I learned more about Jesus; and I loved Him, too. He was also kind and good, and so I needed him. Done. But then “I had to first pray a prayer and ask him in my heart” and “I’ll know it’s time when it’s time. But do not tarry. Hell awaits.”

Although I began this process with gumption and fight, over time I began to question myself, and I don’t take myself lightly. Okay, Jesus, you can have my heart. I know you are good. Done. Let’s keep going. But I was met with faces that said “slow down. You might be too young.” All that peace tunneled into an underground pipeline, and I found myself pacing in that hellish red clay.

My spirit stayed connected to God’s spirit, and no one could tell me otherwise. I molded clay bowls from the left-over rain until I decided on my own I was His but just like going to school, I had to do some learning in the church or what they called Sunday school. Some of it I would benefit from and some would be garbage, just like school. But since I only attended church with Nanna, my ride to New Hopewell Baptist was limited to mainly holidays and revival week. So here’s what happened: sitting on my metal-framed day bed with my Holly Hobby sheets, alone in my room, I popped a VHS tape into the VCR, and fell in love with the stories of the Bible. A corny cartoon with two kids, their dog. and a robot named Gizmo were sucked into a “Super Book”, the Bible.

My Nanna saw my interest, or rather obsession, with the stories and bought me the whole series as they were released. I cried when Adam and Eve were banished from the garden, I cheered when David defeated Goliath, and I laughed when Jesus was born in a stable. And when I came to the crucifixion of Jesus, I turned the TV off, and never watched that tape again. For five more years, these VHS tapes were my church. I processed everything I learned with my younger sister and our naked Barbies. And for the bigger questions, like that one VHS tape I turned off, I saved those questions for my Nanna at her kitchen counter.

Today in my 30’s I’m making my way back to that little girl before she went to Vacation Bible School and Youth group and Bible College — she’s just as real and as important as the theology that followed her.

Follow Jonas Mark’s photo journey on his Instagram and at www.jonasmarksphotography.com

Pandemic: Reporter Angelia Roberts covers local changes

The reporter in me felt some of you might like to read what local medical Dr. Adam Gray and Gary Paxson with White River Health System have to say about the current situation.

By Angelia Roberts

Contributor’s note: The reporter in me felt some of you might like to read what local medical Dr. Adam Gray and Gary Paxson with White River Health System have to say about the current situation. I came away from the meeting feeling better informed.

“We’ve got something at our doorstep that we are going to deal with one way or another.”

Dr. Adam Gray

When Dr. Adam Gray, who serves as the Izard County Health Officer, and Gary Paxson, CEO of White River Health System, spoke to a small group of medical personnel, first responders, business owners, law enforcement and others Monday night at Ozarka College in Melbourne, seating was limited and everyone was screened before being admitted.

Paxson gave an overview of the Corona Virus saying there is a lot of noise on social media.

“The goal is to give you some facts, some reality of what is going on.”

“People are saying we are overreacting and it’s not real. I’m here to tell you it is real. It is a very real, very contagious virus.”

He explained it usually obtained through person to person contact which is why social distancing is so important.

Studies show the people most affected are over 65 years of age, but that doesn’t mean a 20-year-old can’t contact it.

“The CDC (Center for Disease Control) is telling us it is very likely it will hit all our communities.”

Paxson talked about safety measures the Batesville facility have already put into place as a precautionary measure.

He said 20 percent have the potential to be hospitalized, five percent could become critically ill, the importance of having the required staff and supplies are dwindling and very much needed.

In order to flatten the curve, a term that is being used to slow down the infection time-frame, schools are being closed, businesses are changing guidelines and social distancing is being urged. People are being told they should avoid large gatherings and with the latest number being no more than 10.

Paxson said the virus is extremely contagious and there is a limit to what the health industry can handle.

By shutting things down and asking people to self quarantine it can help spread that out over a greater amount of time.

“It is recoverable, but there is no vaccine for it. We are prepared and we have been talking about this like Dr. Gray said, for weeks. We have a plan that is set in place. We started screening before there was ever a case in the state of Arkansas.”

Paxson said he could not express enough the need for people to get correct information from reputable sources, such as the CDC, Arkansas Department of Health, the Surgeon General and others.

“We will probably have a patient at some point and at that point we will lock that unit down. We will most likely go to no visitors in our hospital. Our nursing homes are already there.”

—Gary Paxson

He also addressed people who are hoarding supplies saying, “It’s a terrible idea for our society.”

“We’ve had people who are business owners call and ask if one of their employees has been tested. If someone is tested and that test comes back positive we are mandated to report that to the Department of Health. He said that agency will do extensive questioning of who that person has come in contact with and track those people down to let them know they have been at risk.”

Those results are not immediate and can take as long as four days to get results.

In the meantime, people are being told to continually wash their hands and avoid as much contact with others, as possible.

Paxson said people should sing the Happy Birthday song twice while washing their hands and those who use hand sanitizer should make sure their hands are dry, because it doesn’t work if they are still wet.

He also addressed people who are wearing masks in public saying it’s a horrible idea and is not the required mask to give them protection from the virus, plus it’s causing a shortage in hospitals, nursing homes and first responders who need them.

“If you do contract this virus, research is showing the wearing of that (particular) mask is ineffective.”

While there is a growing concern of people wondering if they might have symptoms, Paxson said they need to understand they cannot randomly just test people at this time. “If you don’t have the symptoms, it’s not appropriate to do so. We have to preserve the resources we have.”

He said physicians are going to screen and rule out other sources before the OK is given to test for this particular virus.

“We feel like we are prepared. We’re treating this as if it is going to come. And, when it comes our staff is prepared and ready.”


“We are evidence based, and numbers driven,” Gray said.

The average person will give the flu to one and a half to 5 people.

The problem with this virus is that it affects an even high number with studies showing how one person can give it to anywhere from 6 to 8 people in about 6 days.

Gray talked about the math curve and how it doubles over a certain period of time.

Doubling time, in this instance, has been measured at about 6 days.

“Sixty days into this, at the rate it is going and with the known cases we have right now, we could potentially have 150,000 to 200,000 cases in the state of Arkansas within about a 30 day period.”

He gave an example of having 100,000 cases in 60 days and if 15 percent needed to be hospitalized they would need 15,000 beds. Arkansas has approximately 8,000 beds at this time.

“We can’t let it get there. We are not trying to scare anyone, we are just trying to stay ahead of it,” Gray said.

Looking at the statistics from China and Italy, Gray said we have an opportunity to learn from them.

He said China handled it very poorly and took a communist approach by quarantining 60 million people with guns pointed at them, “Which you can’t do here.”

Gray pointed out that Italy didn’t get behind the curve fast enough which caused it to spin out of control.

“Their health system got inundated and they are having to make choices that no doctor or family wants to ever have to make.”

Dr. Gray

“We are not freaking out. We know that probably 60 to 70 percent in the next four months is going to contract this and I would rather spread that out over 12 months instead of the next 60 days. This is a preparatory response, not a reactionary one,” Gray said.

Living in Arkansas does have its rewards, Gray said.

“I think Izard County Arkansas is the one place I want to be if something like this happens, because we are at the end of the world. They (Italy and China) are telling us, ‘Get people away from each other. Slow it down.'”

“Most of the people in this county, think alike really. We look alike. We think alike. We pray alike. Half think the government is out to get us and have been prepping for a long time. We have canned goods in our basements. We are prepared for this. We are gong to be fine.”

In closing Gray reminded everyone that we are all in this together.

“We have to lock arms and come together as a community and find out how to mitigate this. If we do the right thing – bend, don’t break – we will come out on the other side.”

Angelia Roberts served the Independence, Sharp, and Izard County areas as a seasoned reporter and the managing editor of the Batesville Daily Guard for decades. She is one of the most well-known, experienced, and APA-awarded news journalists in the state. She currently publishes Next Door magazine.

The team training the next generation of musicians at BHS

Fine arts education has some unexpected benefits for students, according to the four directors at Batesville High School.

The programs – band, theatre, choir, and orchestra – teach problem solving, communication skills, and how to work as part of a team, in addition to technical skills for future musicianship and performing arts opportunities.

These are useful skills for securing future employment.

According to a survey recently released by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, 86 percent of those responsible for hiring want a candidate to demonstrate his “ability to work as part of a team.”

Imagine being a part of a team where there is no bench/backup and no do-over. That’s choir, according to Choir Director Alicia Davidson. “Everyone has to be on the same page” – and ready to go.

Hannah Cummings, the theater director agrees.  “It is not about the individuals, it is about the group, all the time.”

Learning how to be part of a cohesive team – it takes time. Which is why the fine arts programs are structured so that the directors and the students are able to spend four to six years together.

“When I was student teaching, a colleague told me I would have to get to know all the kids before I would make any progress,” said Band Director Josh Poff. “He was absolutely right. I remember spending my first year getting to know the kids, what makes them tick, what makes them happy, and what brings them joy.”

Spending time with them is a big part of the process because it develops trust.

“It’s more than:  ‘You come here, do what you are supposed to do and get an A,’” Alicia said.

“You have that relationship where you can step outside [of the typical] and say:   ‘Okay, well she’s asking me to do this. Seems a little weird, but I trust this person and I trust what we are doing here,’ and they try.”

This level of trust leads to better communication. And communication is necessary for a group when they perform. During a performance, the group is collectively telling a story to the audience members.

Therefore, in these programs, “the Chromebooks are shut,” Alicia said. “We create a safe space for them to feel, experience, and be uncomfortable.”

Especially valuable in an era of distraction and avoidance. Which brings us to another aspect of the arts: empathy

“One of the first few weeks of Theater II this semester, we read this play called ‘The Yellow Boat’, which is about the AIDS epidemic and the impact it had… There was this little boy who got AIDS and ultimately died from it. By the end, half the class was just in tears,” Hannah said. “That’s the kind of effect the arts can have.”

Josh said vulnerability is key.  “We have to push the boundaries ourselves to show that is part of it (the success of the arts). We have to take steps to do what others might see as embarrassing.”

Instead of avoiding trying new things that might be embarrassing, the fine arts programs teach students to identify the discomfort, and effectively push through it. The students then apply this discipline to other areas of life.

“In a culture where it is just easy to pick up your phone and avoid things that make you feel uncomfortable  —  avoid circumstances  —  we have to think through them and have our students process through them so they can perform it accurately,” Alicia said.

Here is an example.

“At Christmas one of my choirs did a song, a carol based off when Herod committed mass genocide against the babies in Jerusalem. For students to sing it accurately   —  with the right mood  —  and to understand the significance of how the carol came to be, we had to talk about what that would have been like,” she said. “It was very uncomfortable.”

Doing something to stretch someone to the point of discomfort is necessary for growth, and prompts problem solving.

“One thing we do is we celebrate mistakes, and follow it up by asking: ‘How can you fix it? Do you know what you did wrong? Do you know how to fix it?’” Alicia said.  

“We make it a good thing, like ‘Cool, you were so confident in yourself that you were not embarrassed to have everyone know you were human.’ But then immediately after:  ‘What exactly didn’t work? How can you fix it in the future?’”

She said this type of teaching is especially valuable in junior high because the kids get picked on. They trip, and people laugh at them. So instead of ridicule, it’s:  “I am giving you a sticker AND asking you what you can do differently in the future,” she said. Examples: “My voice cracked, but I was going for it” or “I sang it for two beats instead of one beat, but now I know what I’ve done.”

It prompts the students to strive for selfawareness, and teaches them how to problem solve in those moments.

Alicia said she does not teach the students to learn music by memorization. They learn how to do the work themselves, rather than relying on someone to do it for them.

“I don’t sing for them. They have to figure it out. Starting in sixth grade, we begin to learn intervals by using the steps of scale, the same ‘Do Re Mi’ stuff from the Sound of Music,” she said. “Then we start skipping over notes and introducing intervals of greater distances.”

This process enables students to eventually look at a piece of music and generate the pitches in their head without ever needing to hear someone else play it.

“This is how we develop independent musicianship,” she said. “We (the four fine arts directors) equip the students with a lot of independent skills so they can do music forever.”

Are there social benefits for participants in these programs?

All the while the group is problem solving, they are becoming friends.  In a time when loneliness is a growing problem, and teen suicide is on the rise (to read more, click here), students find friendship within these programs.

“The way fine arts works, you are there for several years,” said Orchestra Director Noah Davidson.  “In the beginning class, I already see students become friends, and I can tell they will stay together for a long time.”

Josh agrees.  “Going through those experiences together is one of the privileges of the fine arts.”

Speaking of going through experiences together…

These four directors would love to be able to do more integrated joint performances.

Josh mentioned an example being having a pit orchestra for musicals.

“There are several plays that call for music accompaniment,” Hannah said.  “Unfortunately it just isn’t an option right now.”  She said it would require a facility with a live pit.

“I’d also love to collaborate on smaller events  –  like fine arts showcases to give more performance opportunities for all of our students,” she said. “I think it’d also be great to combine our end-of-year activities  –  to have a big fine arts banquet to unify us as a department.”

Josh said he would also like to see band and choir be able to provide integrated performances.

What goes into each performance?

Hannah says first and foremost, the students think about the audience.

“When we’re making Theatre, the audience is at the core of everything we do. We make choices and rehearse based on how we want the audience to interpret a story,  and react to these stories.

When the performers and audience members both dig down and feel this empathy, pretty amazing things can happen. There are scientific studies that suggest that audience members’ heartbeats sync up when they’re watching a theatrical performance. That’s a pretty powerful idea.

We spend weeks and months at a time to prepare for a performance,” she said. “We get just a few chances to perform and hopefully receive the reaction we’ve been working towards…We get a solitary moment. We perform. Then we move on.”

Why choose to spend time teaching fine arts to kids?

For Hannah, it’s a legacy.

“I grew up with a teacher for a mom. Her dedication to her students definitely inspired me from a young age to pursue a teaching career.

I joined band and choir in sixth grade after playing piano for several years. I’d always loved music but in 10th grade, my oral communications teacher convinced me to audition for the musical (not that it was a hard sell). From that moment I was hooked.”

She said cast members form strong bonds. She has also seen it build confidence in kids, and inspire their personal growth. 

Hannah has been personally affected as well. “My theatre friends in high school created a safe haven for me to be myself and forget about all of the awful high school things we all go through,” she said. “Teaching theatre allows me to do the same for today’s students.”

Speaking of today’s students…

Alicia’s choir has an officer’s panel. The students are nominated and are voted in by their peers.  These officers run some of the rehearsals, take attendance, and teach lessons to sixth-grade choir members. They also organize Christmas caroling for different groups in town.

Giving students opportunities to grow leadership skills is an important benefit of these programs.

Some of the choir’s leaders this year are Emma and Caroline Russell, Nate McDonald, and Aristyn Glasgow.

For orchestra, Noah said the leaders are Erin Seymore, Brandon Grant, and Nate McDonald.

“Erin is always prepared for class, and leads the others by example,” he said. “When she is willing to play out loud in class, it helps the others to be confident also.”

He said despite Nate being new last year, he is the primary leader in the cello section. He is also willing to help younger students.

“Brandon is a super hard worker,” he said. “He practices more than any student I have ever known.” Also…willing to help others.

For the theatre department, it’s Kenly Long, Jose Hernandez, Jazmine Edwardson, and Cristal Martinez.

“Kenly has shown dedication to making sure the program is strong after she graduates,” Hannah said. “She builds relationships with some of the younger members, helping them learn lines, as well as helps with sets and costumes.”

She said Jose brings an appreciated does of enthusiasm to the group. “He always shows up with a smile.”

Growing more musicians and performers in Arkansas is a worthwhile endeavor, according to a new study commissioned by the Northwest Arkansas (NWA) Council and cultural planning firm Sound Diplomacy.

Nelson Peacock, president of the NWA Council, said in a March 9 news release: “A vibrant music economy contributes to economic growth, workforce development, artistic education and tourism.”

Which is why Sound Diplomacy made several recommendations to be addressed throughout the next three years, one of which is “building partnerships with K-12 schools, arts education organizations, Northwest Arkansas Community College and the University of Arkansas to create intentional pipelines of local skills and creativity.” Another is “activating cities, through cultural planning, to strategically support music with municipal resources and new and existing venues.”

Not a bad time to invest in the fine arts in Arkansas.





Local couple to restore building’s history

The building in question is actually two storefronts, which at some point in history were combined into one, and no photos can be located of the righthand storefront.

At 250 E. Main Street, the historic building that most recently housed Babb’s Upholstery and at one time was Harris’s, is going through another rebirth in its approximately 100-year life.

Stella’s Brick Oven Pizzeria and Bistro will soon take its place at the location as the newest addition to the ever-growing downtown district.

But first, owners Doug and Laurie Gottschalk are restoring the building to its original design — which, interestingly enough, is a mystery.

The building in question is actually two storefronts, and at some point in history were combined into one. Despite working with state preservation specialists, the local Main Street Batesville organization, and the Old Independence Regional Museum, no photos can be located of the right-hand storefront. Photos are usually readily available of most all downtown properties, but in the few that were located, the right-hand building is obstructed by parade floats, etc., or just out of view of the camera.

An old photo shows the building but is too blurry and obstructed by the parade to inform the construction. Courtesy of OIRM.
A photo of historic Main Street shows the lefthand storefront (circled) but not the righthand storefront. Courtesy OIRM.

The building(s) is currently covered over in aluminum, by means of a ‘slipcover’, a method used mid-century to try to make old buildings look more modern.

The building is suspected to be stucco or brick underneath the slipcover, although stone is a possibility as well, “so removal of the metal slipcover will be imperative to determine what materials exist and what restoration will need to be done,” the Gottschalks informed the city’s Historic District Commission (HDC), the approval authority on any changes to downtown commercial buildings.

The HDC approved the removal of the current metal slipcover to further investigate the situation, and commended the Gottchalks on their thorough research of restoration standards to ensure the building is properly restored to its original state.

“We love Main Street and we want to honor these two separate facades as they are intended to be,” the owner explained of the project, which on the exterior will once again be two separate storefronts, but on the interior, will function as one large space for the pizzeria.

They have also found a supplier of original “vitro lit glass” — a type of decorative tile found on several downtown buildings, including this one. They have ordered replacement glass that will perfectly match the originals, now broken.

The project is being completed by M&A Jones Construction Company.

Once open, the Gottschalks plan to serve Neapolitan style pizza — arguably the first type of pizza made in Italy. Neapolitan style pizza eventually gave rise to American adaptations of the pizza made by Italian immigrants to the United States in the early 20th century.

Also offered will be classic Italian desserts such as pizzelles and a gelato bar.

Work is currently in progress on the building. We will post updates as they unravel!

State Sen. Joyce Elliott coming to Batesville

Lyon College and the University of Arkansas Community College at Batesville (UACCB) are partnering again to this year to provide the community with a celebration of the legacy and contributions of African Americans.

The Fourth Annual Black History Month Celebration will be held at 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 23, at UACCB.

State Sen. Joyce Elliott will be the keynote speaker.

Dean of Campus Life and Diversity Lai-Monté Hunter said the event brings Batesville together for a community-wide celebration of African American traditions and culture. It will feature music and ministry.

“The church is very prominent in African American culture, so we’re bringing those elements together,” Hunter noted.

Musical groups from various churches in the Batesville area will perform, as well as the Lyon College Gospel Choir.

The event will be student-focused, with participation from Lyon’s Black Student Association and UACCB’s Multicultural Student Association.

The event is free and open to the public.

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Dinner with Georgeanne: Veggie S’ghetti

This Christmas, Carter and I received a gift we didn’t even know we wanted… an Instant Pot! I’ve seen recipes and heard from friends for years how amazing these are, but I never thought I had a use for one. Man was I wrong… It cuts down on cook time, the house smells so fragrant, and most importantly it cuts down on dishes!!!! To say we’re obsessed is an understatement.

So let me share one of our go-tos: Veggie S’ghetti.

Y’all know by now that I try and cram as many vegetables into my picky-eating children as possible. Everyone in my house loves this recipe, and even my youngest vegetable refuser consistently asks for seconds!
*Note: I usually use chickpea noodles, but with the Instant Pot, the Barilla veggie noodles seem to cook better. 


1/2 cup frozen chopped onion
3 carrots, peeled and diced
1 green pepper, diced
5 stalks celery, diced
1 lb. ground beef
1 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
1 12 oz. box Barilla rotini veggie noodles
1 24 oz. jar spaghetti sauce
3 cups water


1. Put InstantPot on saute mode for 5 minutes. Let veggies saute and soften.

2. Add 10 minutes to the saute mode; push the veggies to one side, and add the ground beef.

3. Brown, and after 10 minutes drain the fat. Cancel saute mode.

4. Add spices and stir into beef/vegetable mixture.

5. Add noodles, then sauce, then cups of water. Make sure noodles are completely covered by sauce/water mixture.

6. Place lid on Instant Pot and put on high pressure for 8 minutes.

7. After the 8 minutes, do a 5-minute natural release, and then finish with a quick release.

8. Stir to mix together and then serve!

*My crew loves this topped with cheese, surprise surprise. But you can also top with fresh basil!

If you also love your Instant Pot, please share your favorite recipes in the comments!