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.


Is the Ozark Folk Center in danger of closing?

For supporters of the Ozark Folk Center, now is the time to rally. Changes are coming.

In July, the Mountain View City Council voted to abolish the Ozark Folk Cultural Center Commission, surprising both the commissioners and the Arkansas State Parks Department.

The city council said the commission was not in compliance with one of its bylaws, which states two of the commissioners must live in the county.

Brooks Blevins, PhD, has researched and extensively documented the history of the folk center. He was on the commission.

“The abolition of the commission was completely out of the blue, from my perspective. And no one on the commission, as far as I know, has ever received a full explanation,” said Blevins. “I don’t know how the center has been affected by the change. Now that the commission has been abolished, I have no connection with the Center and have received no communication from anyone at the Center or at State Parks.”

Before it was abolished, the commission acted as a legal representative between the city and State Parks, approving the yearly budget and overseeing improvement projects at the park for 55 years.

The move was not the first of problems at the Folk Center though.

The park is not a money maker and administrators admit marketing attempts have failed to fill seats at concerts.

The mayor of Mountain View, Roger Gardner, wants to see the land used for a theme park.

According to an article in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, the Folk Center loses $2 million per year.

Explanations from responsible parties include:

The average concert hosted there costs more than it brings in, with attendees only taking up slightly more than 10 percent of the seats.

The county is dry and city council won’t approve an alcohol permit which would help draw attendees.

History on the center

The 600-acre cultural center opened in 1973 in Mountain View.

According to “A Brief History of The Ozark Folk Center”, published by the Regional Studies Center at Lyon College, the idea originated from John Opitz, who approached Mountain View leaders with a plan.

Mountain View needed a water and sewer system, and Opitz thought the town needed a music venue. He recommended the city apply for federal funds to build the auditorium, which would include funding for a water and sewer system for the venue. The town could then connect to the federally funded system.

After many years of efforts by Bessie Moore, Jimmy Driftwood, and others, the city was able to obtain a $3 million federal grant to build the center.

The park has continued to receive government money to offset expenses ($15.2 million from the state since 1996, which is equivalent to about 5 years of its total yearly budget of $3.2 million).


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Local headlines

“It takes a small town to keep you humble.” – Bess Aldrich

Apr 24, 2020: Education: Jimmy Hodges named new principal at Southside Charter High School to replace Roger Ried, who is retiring after 29 years.


Apr 18, 2020: Healthcare: There are currently 2.1 million positive Coronavirus cases reported worldwide, and there have been 145,329 deaths reported. A total of 18 million have been tested, according to nCoV2019. In the US, there are 675,640 confirmed cases reported, and 34,522 deaths, 16,106 of which happened in New York (and 226,198 positive cases). Arkansas has reported 1,620 cases, and 37 deaths.

Apr 18, 2020: Healthcare: A beef processing plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota is the biggest single source hotspot in the United States. Out of 3,700 total employees, 644 tested positive for Coronavirus and one has died so far (as of two days ago). The company started using protection measures “social distancing, extra cleaning, and thermal scanning” on April 9, when they had 80 active cases. To read more, click here.

Apr 17, 2020: Business: Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson announced his plan to begin reopening businesses on May 4.

Apr 13, 2020: Healthcare: Independence County has one more positive case of Coronavirus, reported today.


Apr 11, 2020: Healthcare: According to the Arkansas Department of Health COVID-19 map, there are five total cases, and four recoveries as of today in Independence County.

In Arkansas, there are 1,228 confirmed cases, 25 deaths and 346 recoveries.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, commended Arkansas on the handling of COVID-19. Governor Asa Hutchinson has continued to thank and applaud Arkansans for adhering to social distancing guidelines (staying 6 feet away in public areas, and not gathering in groups of more than 10 people). He says the guidelines are working, and a stay-at-home order, which has been implemented in most states, is not necessary in Arkansas.

The experts are currently projecting 297 deaths in Arkansas by Aug 4 due to COVID-19, which is much lower than the previous 707 projection made in March.

Apr 11, 2020: Healthcare: The Coronavirus pandemic has now claimed more than 100,000 lives, and more than 20,000 American lives, nearly half in New York State at around 8,600.

The federal government passed a $2.2 trillion stimulus package on March 25 to help families and small businesses.

Some celebrity lives claimed by the virus include country singer Joe Diffie, 61, known for his song “Pickup Man” and “Bigger Than The Beatles”, Adam Schlesinger, 52, who wrote “That Thing You Do!”, Alan Merrill, 69, who co-wrote “I Love Rock and Roll”, and Bill Withers, 81, who wrote “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “Lean on Me.”

Apr 6, 2020: Education: Governor Asa Hutchinson announced all public schools in Arkansas will remain closed and all learning will be done remotely for the remainder of the school year.


Mar 31, 2020: Healthcare: The Coronavirus pandemic continues its course of destruction. As of now (Tuesday at 11:26 a.m.), the reported data on the John Hopkins data tracking map shows 3,178 deaths in the United States attributed to the virus, and 914 of them are in New York City. Total confirmed cases in the US is 165,874, which is the highest level of any country in the world. Italy is reporting 101,739 cases, and 11,591 deaths. Spain has 94,417 cases 8,269 deaths, and China reports 82,278 and 3,309 deaths. Arkansas has reported 523 cases and 8 deaths. Independence County has reported 3 confirmed cases and one death.


Mar 26, 2020: Healthcare: The United States has surprised all other countries in number of reported confirmed Coronavirus cases, more than 82,000 as of Thursday evening. The cases rose by 14,000 on Wednesday, according to the New York Times.

Mar 24, 2020: Healthcare: Six new medical doctors are coming to Batesville in June. University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences North Central Regional Campus in Batesville announces the names of its newest class of Family Medicine residents: Dr. Tim Baty, Dr. Anita Kisiedu, Dr. Jon Mark Lane, Dr. Christopher Mayfield, Dr. Jonathan Pennington, and Dr. EJ Williams.


Mar 20, 2020 | Education: The special election for an increased millage for the Batesville School District has been postponed from its original date of April 14 to an undetermined future date, due to COVID-19.

Mar 21, 2020 | Healthcare: The Coronavirus – cannot stop talking about this. At this point in Arkansas, there are no deaths, and 118 confirmed cases (two of those are in Independence County). The governor has closed schools, gyms, and dine-in areas of restaurants. The state parks department has closed playgrounds, although campgrounds and cabins remain open. Fishing license requirements in the state have been waived by Arkansas Game & Fish while schools are closed. Wal-Mart, usually open 24 hours every day, is closing at night for extra cleaning. The ACT, a national college entrance exam for high-schoolers, has moved its April test date to June.

Worldwide, as of 3-21-20 at 2:56 p.m., there are 303,505 confirmed cases worldwide, 13,024 deceased, and 93,615 recovered from COVID-19. In the United States, there are 23,126 confirmed cases, 272 deaths, and 26 recovered. We are in fourth place in number of confirmed cases. The places with more cases are China, where it started, Italy, and Spain. The total countries affected are 172 out of 195.

The governor said experts are predicting that at peak, there will be 1000 Arkansans hospitalized for the virus. (Which means the state’s hospitals will need that many ventilators at one time.)


Mar 13, 2020 | Healthcare: The Coronavirus made itself known in Arkansas yesterday, Mar 12, in Pine Bluff. By the next day, there were a total of nine patients in Arkansas who tested positive. Some colleges moved all classes online. Lyon College canceled its Scottish Festival scheduled for April. Little Rock closed its schools. Churches canceled services. City offices closed. The Arkansas Activities Association suspended all spring sports and activities starting Mar 15 until Mar 30. Even the National Collegiate Athletic Association canceled March Madness. Also affected by the virus: the stock market.

Mar 10, 2020 | Education: Lyon College promoted Chris Hill and alum Madeline Pyle this week – Pyle to Director of Communications and Hill to Director of Creative Services. To read more, click here.


Mar 2, 2020 | Business: The owner of the local U.S. Pizza closed his Jonesboro location, but says the Batesville location is secure, according to a regional news source.

Mar 4, 2020 | Business: Bad Boy Mowers will start selling tractors in 2021. To read more, click here. Private equity firm The Sterling Group invested in Bad Boy Mowers in December with plans to help the business grow. To read about other companies The Sterling Group has invested in, click here.

Mar 5, 2020 | Tourism: Danny Dozier hands over the management of Maxfield Park to the City of Batesville. To read more, click here <–requires a subscription.

Mar 6, 2020 | Statewide news with local relevance: The COO of ARcare Joey Miller is the president a newly formed Rural Health Association of Arkansas, announced at the Rural Health Summit in Morrilton. To read more about Miller, check out this interview from one year ago. ARcare has three medical clinics in Independence County.

Mar 4, 2020 | Statewide news with local relevance: Arkansas Insurance Commissioner Allen Kerr announced he is resigning Mar 27. To read more, click here.


Feb 26, 2020 | Business: Someone stole a commissioned owl worth $2,000. Hand carved out of walnut, the owl was returned to the Batesville craftsman this week, per a regional news source.

Feb 28, 2020 | Education: After two seasons as head football coach at Lyon College, Casey Creehan is leaving for Peru State College in Nebraska, which is in the Heart of America Athletic Conference (Lyon College in the Sooner Athletic Conference), per a local news source.

Feb 29, 2020 | Youth: Batesville High School Boys Swim Team won state. You can see their banners displayed at the Community Center.

Feb 28, 2020 | Statewide news with local relevance: UAMS is now offering laughing gas for free to laboring women to reduce anxiety about giving birth, per a regional news source.

March 1, 2020 | Nationwide news with local relevance: A new virus is disrupting the stock market right now, and is widespread news. There are currently no confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Arkansas.


Youth: Southside High School Boys Bowling Team won the 3A-4A State Championship, led by Caleb Patterson bowling a 222.

Youth: Batesville High School Girls Basketball Team won the 4A-3 Conference Championship Friday night, Feb 21, defeating Southside.

Education: Social media in Batesville is blowing up with millage talk this past week. Batesville School District is holding a series of public meetings and tours at its facilities to demonstrate why it is asking for a millage increase in a special election on Apr 14. The deadline to register to vote in this election is Mar 16.

Business: A Bentonville man joined Citizens Bank Board of Directors. Mark S. Forbis is a recent retiree from Jack Henry & Associates, where he was Chief Technology Officer. Forbis is also on the board at IncredibleBank in Wisconsin and 3E Software, Inc. in Springdale, according to his public social media profile.

Statewide news with local relevance: A former state representative is trying to find 71,321 registered voters collectively from at least 15 counties in Arkansas to sign a petition to get used cars exempt from sales tax. Currently, buyers have to pay sales tax on any used car costing more than $4,000. The proposal would move it to any used car costing more than $20,000. Read this story in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette (requires subscription).


Healthcare: White River Health System is being sued for alleged age discrimination, according to a news source. Meanwhile, they have been recognized as an “Age-Friendly Health System” participant, according to the Institute for Healthcare Improvement. This status is valid for one year. To see the other 270 health systems that have been recognized as participants as of Jan 2020, click here. A quick review of the list revealed WRHS is the only hospital in Arkansas to participate in this program.

Business: Gary Huskey and William Ball (Stellar Sun in Little Rock) say they want to install community solar energy centers in Strawberry, Ark., and Evening Shade, Ark., to provide power to 11 counties, including Independence County, according to a news source. The centers will be paid for by customers, who will lease the land, according to Ball. Customers affected are those of North Arkansas Electric Cooperative and Craighead Electric Cooperative. They are planning a public meeting to discuss the project and answer questions.

Business: A new bank opened in town. The Bank of England Mortgage opened a branch at 1501 Harrison Street in Batesville. The Bank of England was started in 1898 in England, Ark., and according to its website, it is “Arkansas’s oldest and largest lender,” with more than 1000 employees and 99 locations in 39 states.

Business: A local lawyer is now also selling real estate. Johnathan Burgess joined Crye-Leike as a sales associate, according to a local news source. According to Crye-Leike’s website, they have 11 total agents in the Batesville area.

Education: FNBC Community Bankers paid $100,000 for naming rights for the Ozarka College Technical Center in Ash Flat, Ark. To read more, click here. I wonder how this will translate to naming rights for Batesville’s proposed new facilities...

Noted: The County terminated its recycling agreement with the City of Batesville. To read more click here and here. I wonder how many people in town are still recycling, and who is buying the recycled goods...

Youth: The Southside High School Bowling Team, led by Caleb Patterson who bowled a 222, won the state tournament for 3A-4A. To read more, click here.

Lifestyle: Want to know what a local priest has to say about Valentine’s Day? Click here.

Statewide news with local relevance: The closest water park to Batesville is going up for auction on April 14 (same day as the special election for the Batesville School District millage), according to a news source. Starting bid for Wild River Country is the unpaid taxes owed ($282,000). The property is 62 acres in North Little Rock. Another Arkansas theme park is up for auction soon. The 400-acre Dogpatch theme park in Jasper, which last sold in 2014 for $2 million, will be auctioned on March 3 because the current owners owe more than $1 million and are behind on payments. The bidding for this property will start at $1 million, according to an article in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette published on Jan 24.

Tourism: In case you missed it –> Currently, state parks do not allow use of all-terrain vehicles on state forest roads. This limits Arkansas’s all-terrain vehicle tourism potential. And affects Batesville, because if that industry grows, so will one of our home grown companies, Intimidator. In 2019, the state legislature passed ACT 671 for there to be a study conducted called the ATV Tourism and Trail Expansion Study, and from the study should come recommendations for a “statewide all-terrain vehicle trails system,” with intentions of using state forest roads as connectors. To read more about ACT 671, click here. To read more about ATV tourism, click here. To see a list of ATV tourism destinations in Arkansas, click here.

Nationwide news with local relevance: The Kansas City Chiefs won the Super Bowl Sunday night, Feb 2, 2020. They defeated the San Francisco 49ers, who hired the first female to coach a team in the Super Bowl. Katie Sowers is an offensive assistant for the 49ers.


Statewide news with local relevance: Applications opened yesterday, Feb 1, 2020, for HealthTech Arkansas, which is an accelerator program for five new healthcare companies each year. Startups get $75,000 upfront and pilot projects with at least two Arkansas healthcare providers. There are currently ten providers associated with the program: Arkansas Heart Hospital, Arkansas Children’s Hospital, Arkansas Urology, Baptist Health, CHI St. Vincent, Conway Regional, Mercy, St. Bernards Healthcare, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS), and Washington Regional Medical Center. The director of HealthTech Arkansas is Jeff Stinson, MBA. He is also involved in the Fund for Arkansas’ Future. To read more about the program, click here.

Noted: There were 85 human trafficking cases in Arkansas reported to the national human trafficking hotline in 2018, a big jump from 46 in 2017. There were 41 cases reported to the hotline in the first half of 2019. To read more, click here.

Important: In case you missed it, in order to enter a federal building or board a commercial airplane after Oct 1, 2020, you are required to have a “Real ID.” The large amount of paperwork could be harder to compile than you think because of name discrepancies on documents. Therefore, starting the process now is recommended.

Local headlines: A tea shop opened Wednesday, Jan 29, located across from the Citizen’s Bank headquarters on St. Louis Street. The Tea Crate is owned by Nathan and Shaelyn Ellyson, and the structure that houses it is built out of stacked shipping containers. The shop opened with already 2,348 Facebook likes. To see a menu, click here (requires a Facebook account).

Business: Citizen’s Bank promoted Helen Shaw to Vice President – Corporate Security Officer and Facilities Manager. To read more, click here.

Business: Brian Emison is the new Chief Deposit Officer at First Community Bank in Batesville. To read more, click here.

Lifestyle: Great article about a local writer in the Batesville Daily Guard this week – Madeline Pyle. With a Master of Arts degree in Applied Communication from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, she is currently the Associate Director of Communications for Lyon College, and freelances for the Batesville Daily Guard and White River Now.


Healthcare: One of the local Internal Medicine residents, Ron Varghese, MD, was accepted into an endocrinology fellowship program in Maryland. To read more, click here.

Education: The Batesville School Board voted this week to put a millage increase before voters on April 14. The board is requesting voters to approve a $49 million, 8.4 millage increase, which would put the total school millage at 47.15. To read more about the plan, click here.

Nationwide news with local relevance: Kobe Bryant was killed in a helicopter crash today (1-26-2020). Bryant was a legend in the basketball world. His last tweet was congratulating LaBron James for surpassing his third place spot in the National Basketball Association’s All-Time Scoring List. Bryant scored 33,643 points in the NBA, and currently is the second-highest paid NBA player in history at $323.3 million.


Tourism: It took many years for the Ozark Folk Center State Park to be built. It now struggles to fill seats at concerts. According to an article in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, it loses $2 million per year. To read more about this issue, click here.

Media: White River Now has an app. This is good news because…now there are fewer barriers for me to access local stories. Fewer clicks and fewer distractions. And aligns with my habits already built into my daily routine of clicking on apps on my phone.

Lifestyle: Local yogi Roman Plaks is offering locals the chance to become Registered Yoga Teachers (RYT®s). To achieve certification, enrollees are required to attend the course one weekend per month for eight months at his studio, Yoga7, located beside BodyFit. The certification, offered by the Yoga Alliance, is widely recognized, and requires no prior yoga experience to enroll. According to Plaks, many who register do not intend to use the certification to become yoga instructors. To see what they plan to use it for, click here.

Tourism: The lights display brought in $64,893 from the riverfront activities, which included $29,158 in donations. A year prior, White River Wonderland brought in $55,346, which included $25,410 in donations, according to city council minutes. (They estimated 174,000 visitors in 2018.)

Tourism: The municipal golf course’s new green fees are now in effect. The increased rates were compiled by the newly formed Batesville Municipal Golf Association. The creation of the association is an attempt to save the golf course from being repurposed by the city. The motivation to repurpose was due to the course being $100,000 shy of meeting its 2018 budget. The new single rate is $540 annually, and $600 for a family. To see a list of all the new rates, click here.

Noted: The county (Independence) filed a lawsuit against the city (Batesville) on January 10. Lawyers on the case are Daniel Haney for the County and Tim Meitzen for the City. To read more, click here.

Statewide news with local relevance: Arkansas is one of four states to partner with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. Because of this, 39,000 books are delivered EVERY MONTH to Arkansas children (1.4 million nationwide) who are enrolled in the program. The program is free for the family receiving the books, they just have to sign up. Which more and more families are doing, 87 percent more in the past two year. Independence County children ages 5 and under are eligible. To sign up, click here.

Noted: Primaries in Arkansas will take place on Tuesday, March 3.

Noted: A summary of Arkansas laws changed in 2019: Due to Act 182, more than half a million taxpayers in Arkansas will have reduced income tax. Act 822 will lower tax rates for businesses, and will allow them to carry net operating losses eventually up to 10 years. Act 190 restructured the state government, reducing the number of cabinet-level agencies from 42 to 15. To read more, click here.

Education: Last year, only 30 percent of low income students in Arkansas scored at grade level on the ACT Aspire Test (57.2 percent of non-low income scored at grade level). That is a big difference. To read more, click here.


Education: Southside Junior High School received a $1.25 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education, who awarded Arkansas Public School Resource Center $42.53 Million to fund charter school programs. Their high school received its conversion charter status five years ago, which means it is up for renewal this year, 2020.

Education: Cedar Ridge School District now has an app, free and available to the public. And a new website.

Lifestyle: A new summer festival is coming to Batesville in July of 2020. To read more, click here.

Business: Arkansas-based Walmart opened a beef packaging facility in Georgia, in order to have more control over its products. To read the press release, click here. Walmart previously opened a milk processing plant in Indiana in 2016. In other news from Walmart, they recently started using a robot named Alphabot in New Hampshire to bring items from storage to associates to expedite online grocery pickup orders. To read more, click here and here.

Youth: The Independence County Spelling Bee was won by Alexander Tenace, an 8th grader at Batesville Junior High School. Second place was Brayden Vines, a 5th grader at Southside Middle School.

Youth: Sophia Strain at 14 is the youngest person to ever bowl a perfect 300 in Batesville. To read more about this, click here.

For 2019 YEAR IN REVIEW, click here.

DECEMBER 13, 2019


The City of Batesville has branded itself “Christmas Capital of Arkansas” due in large part to having the largest free Christmas lights display in Arkansas (more than 1.5 million lights attracting more than 100,000 tourists each year).


Walmart plans to use more than 1.1 million cubic feet of mass timber, grown and produced in Arkansas, to build its new home office campus in Bentonville. Arkansas currently has no production facility able to manufacture such a large project; therefore, Walmart has invested money to bring Canadian-based Structurlam to the center of the state and its 19 million acres of forest. This move will create 130 new jobs in Conway according to this press release. And the growth continues for Conway.


Energy bills will increase by an average of $15/month starting next month for residential customers of Entergy Arkansas due to a tax credit expiration.

A bridge over the White River connecting Stone & Izard counties was named in memory of Sgt. Mike Stephen, who worked for the Stone County Sheriff’s Department and lost his life in the line of duty this past summer (2019). To read more, click here. History in the making.

The Pew Research Center released some findings for 2019, the most notable being that for the first time in history, the Hispanic population in the United States is projected to be the largest minority group to vote in 2020. Interesting. Did you know Batesville School District at 16 percent has one of the highest percentages of English Learners of all school districts in the state (top 7 percent).


The Arkansas Razorbacks hired a new head coach, Sam Pittman from Georgia. The former Razorback coach, Chad Morris, was hired by Gus Malzahn to be his offensive coordinator for Auburn.

DECEMBER 7, 2019


A new organization has emerged in Batesville to provide support for new foster parents and children to help with the transition. To watch a three-minute video explaining their mission, click here. To follow them on social media, click here. The organizers of the group are: Amber Ellis, Meeta Foster, Brooke Cherry, and Taylor Cox. What an excellent and practical way to help area foster moms. Keep up the good work!

A local football coach published a book, available for purchase on Amazon. It currently has 3 reviews. To hear his interview on White River Now, click here.

A deer in Oil Trough tested positive for chronic wasting disease this week, according to the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission. To read more about chronic wasting disease in Arkansas, click here. As of now, chronic wasting disease has not spread to humans; however, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains the World Health Organization’s recommendation: “it is important to keep the agents of all known prion diseases from entering the human food chain.”


The Internal Medicine Residency Program at White River Medical Center was 1 of 20 throughout the nation to receive a grant from the Society of General Internal Medicine (and American College of Physicians). The money will be used to fund a Proud To Be GIM event, for the promotion of the Internal Medicine profession. One of the other programs to receive the grant was the Harvard Medical School Center for Primary Care / The Massachusetts Chapter of the ACP. To see a list of all grantees, click here.


Myers Davis Life Coaching & Business Consulting recently hosted Cookbook Wars between the students in the school districts where their transition class is offered. The class trains students who qualify, and helps them locate work-study jobs that are a good fit. It is offered currently in 11 area schools.


General Election Day has been set: Nov 3, 2020. Mark your calendars.

NOVEMBER 30, 2019


Urban Forge in Mountain View designed and created 300 twenty-foot-tall metal holiday trees and stars for a holiday festival in Houston, Tex., attended by more than 100,000 people. The trees have integrated choreographed lighting and an app that can stream music. To see the trees in action, click here. Congratulations to this local company for its innovation, creativity, and successful execution.

First Community Bank announced this week its plans to build a three-story operations center next to its main branch at the corner of St. Louis and Harrison streets in Batesville. It is projected to be completed by the end of 2020 and will house 125 employees.


Lyon College inducted four people into its Athletic Hall of Fame last Saturday. Aubrey Bell, ’72; John Harvey, ’01; Steven Wright, ’07; and Maribeth (Waters) Richards, ’09 made up the 2019 class of inductees. Read about it here.

Among all the community colleges in Arkansas, University of Arkansas Community College in Batesville (UACCB) saw the highest enrollment increase, at 12 percent, since 2014, according to the Arkansas Department of Higher Education. Other community colleges in the state decreased an average 14 percent since 2014 . To read why, click here.

In other news, the college is building a new 15,000-sq ft facility, to be completed by the end of the year, that will house an industrial technology program and a MAKERSPACE with 3D printers and a variety of metal and woodworking tools from hand tools to CNC mills and lathes. Congratulations, UACCB!

NOVEMBER 23, 2019


First Community Bank expanded to Conway, Ark., and Harrison, Ark., this month (and Newport last month). Where will they go next? Russellville?


The Independence County Budget Committee budgeted a five percent raise for all county employees for 2020. The raise was to prepare for the rising minimum wage to $10/hour in 2020 and $11/hour in 2021.


Batesville High School senior, Veronica Laslo, who was announced as a National Merit Semi-finalist in September, was named a Coca-Cola Scholar Semi-finalist this week. She is one of 22 semi-finalists from Arkansas, and one of 1,928 high school seniors nationwide who were selected from more than 93,000 applicants. The Coca-Cola Scholars Program is an achievement-based $20,000 scholarship awarded to 150 students each year. In 2019, four of the scholarship recipients were from Arkansas. To see a list of all 2020 semi-finalists, click here.

NOVEMBER 16, 2019


Local businessmen bought Ramsey Mountain for $125,000 this week, and are working with local authorities to make sure the land is preserved in an aesthetically pleasing way.

Cave City Mayor Jonas Anderson dedicated a new monument in Veteran’s Park yesterday, Nov 15. He thanked Council member Ed Turnbough for the idea, and showed appreciation for the mayors, county judges, state representatives, and senators in attendance. According to Anderson’s social media post, “There are now almost 300 names etched into those granite slabs. Five of them belong to my own family; grandparents, uncles, a step-dad.” Pay attention to this young mayor. He continues to impress.


Thirteen local choir students were accepted into the SWACDA regional honor choir. Congratulations to Sarah Barber, Stephanie Barber, Alexis Bulger, Sophia Cole, Eli Dockins, Nate McDonald , Brandon Grant , Julia Gross, Larkin Jones, Josh Narramore, Caroline Russell , Emma Russell, Claire Simmons, and Cole Weaver.

Batesville and Southside high school football teams both lost Friday night.

NOVEMBER 9, 2019


Intimidator announced its 2020 Spartan Mower. To see owner Robert Foster discuss his newest mower, with a 7-gauge deck system, click here.

White River Medical Center (WRMC) was given a safety grade of C from The Leapfrog Group on Thursday, Nov 7, on a grading scale of A to F. Leapfrog also gave a C to other nearby hospitals, the two owned by Unity Health, one in Searcy and the other in Newport. St. Bernards Medical Center in Jonesboro earned an A. To read more about this safety grading system, click here. (Leapfrog performs twice-yearly assessments, and has given WRMC a C grade 5 out of the last 7 times. The other 2 times, in the fall of 2017 and spring of 2018, the hospital earned a B.)

The Stage store in the Eagle Mountain Shopping Center is closing, and being replaced by a Gordmans.


Batesville School District proposed a millage to build an auditorium and a new basketball gym, as well as update some existing facilities. Three plans were proposed, and the district wants feedback. Also this week, the state gave Sulphur Rock Elementary $14,200, which is $50 per student, for being a top 6-10 percent performer. Closest school to also earn was Concord, who received $20,100 for being in the top 5 percentage for showing growth on test scores.


Many people in Batesville woke up alone this morning, because their spouses and maybe children were in the woods hunting deer. Today marks the first day of this year’s modern gun season.

The Independence County Parks and Recreation Committee voted this week to bid on Ramsey Mountain this coming Tuesday, Nov 12.

Local mother of six, Rachel Kelly, published a book, and held a signing at Lyon College this week. To buy her book, visit her blog.


Local politician Stu Smith filed this week to run for the State House of Representatives in 2020. To see who else filed, click here.

UPDATE ON NOV 10: Arkansas fired their head football coach, Chad Morris for obvious reasons.


Batesville High School & Southside High School football teams both lost last night.

NOVEMBER 2, 2019


Discover Arkansas of THV11 featured Batesville’s own Maxfield Park in a video this week. To see the video click here. As of Nov 2, the video had 144 views. (Update: As of Nov 10, 195 views.)


Lyon announced it is offering a fermentation science course in the Spring of 2020, taught by Alexander Beeser, PhD, available for students aged 21 and older. Students will learn about the processes of making beer and kombucha. Maybe they were inspired by the University of Arkansas, which began offering a Certificate of Proficiency in Brewing Science earlier this year. This industry is certainly growing in our state. According to the Brewers Association, Arkansas has 40 craft breweries, up from 6 in 2011, which have a $838 million impact on the state’s economy. To read more, click here. The course would also be of interest to future winery professionals. The Arkansas Association of Grape Growers held their annual meeting in Fayetteville this weekend.


An Advanced Overdose Investigation Course was held in Little Rock this weekend. In September, the federal government announced $18.5M for Arkansas to use to gather and report data on overdose deaths in order to identify patterns. Arkansas has a long way to go to address this issue. Its providers write an average of one opioid prescription per person, double the national average. In response to this national directive, the state pharmacy board collaborated with law enforcement to offer the course. Batesville’s own Steve Bryant, P.D., is one of six pharmacists on the Arkansas State Board of Pharmacy. Gary Bridgeman featured the opioid crisis on a three-part series on The Official Word in August of 2019. To listen to Part One of the series, click here.


The Batesville High School & Southside High School football teams won last night. The Pioneers made the 5A playoffs.

OCTOBER 26, 2019


Two local non-profit organizations named new directors recently. The Alpha Center has named Danielle Adams, former Spanish teacher for Batesville School District, as its new director, to replace Amanda Steel. The Humane Society of Independence County named Megan Trail as its new director, to replace Nanci Solis.


Despite the rain, there were two races in Batesville on Saturday, October 26. The first one was The White River 4-Mile Classic, and it took place downtown. In its 41st year, a 41-year old male from Maumelle, Brian Sieczkowski, won the event with a 5:43 pace. Highest placing Batesville resident was a 25-year-old female, Logan Bishop, who finished 5th overall with a 6:12 pace. She turned around and won the local hospital’s 5K race that night at a faster pace of 6:05. To see results from both races, click here and here.

Local radio personality Gary Bridgeman was featured in October’s issue of Next Door Magazine, by the Batesville Daily Guard’s former Managing Editor, Angelia Roberts. To read Roberts’ story on Gary B, click here.

Ducks Unlimited donated 40 acres to the Earl Buss Bayou Deview WMA, a nearby hunting spot for local duck hunters.

Arkansas hunters killed 84 alligators this season, according to Arkansas Game and Fish. To read more, click here.


Henderson State University announced this week it will join Arkansas State University system. Local Batesville professionals who attended Henderson State University include local radio personality, Big Daddy Randy, Randy Seale, and White River Academy Director, Mary Eary,

Announced October 9, a Mountain View Pharmacist received the first and only Director’s Choice Award from the UAMS Arkansas Saves Stroke Program for her advocacy for affordability of the stroke medicine, Activase, in rural areas. She reported to Kaiser Health News in 2017 the small Mountain View hospital paid $8,010 for one dose of Activase while the larger Batesville hospital, located one hour away, paid $1,600 per dose. To hear Langston talk more about the issue, click here. To see all of UAMS’s stroke program award recipients, click here.


Ramsey Mountain is up for auction.


Batesville High School and Southside High School football teams both won Friday night.

OCTOBER 20, 2019


Southside received its first liquor license request this week since incorporating in 2014. There are currently 13 liquor licenses in the Batesville area. To see who requested, click here.

The Chamber released results from the HeART Your Community Meeting held in September. Ninety percent of the more than 150 attendees wanted to see the riverfront more developed. For more, click here and here.


Bad Boy released 2019 Plant Tour Video on Friday. To sneak a peek inside the operation, watch here.

OCTOBER 12, 2019


Maxfield Park officially opened on Friday, thanks to the vision and efforts of Batesville’s own Danny Dozier. To find out more, click here and here.

More than 2,200 people from across the state descended upon Batesville last weekend for the Acts 1:8 One-Day Mission Trip. More than 30 Batesville organizations participated. To see a video of the event, click here.

Some local teachers started a new non-profit organization called Grand Hands which offers support to grandparents raising their grandchildren.


Local youth artists, Donna Terrell and Gareth Brookshire, won the Artoberfest Sidewalk Chalk Competitions last weekend. This is Terrell’s fourth time to win, which makes her a legend. Calling all artists for next year’s contest to start practicing now.

Everything has been “coming up aces” for the Batesville High School music organizations lately. This week BHS announced three of their students, Erin Seymore, Sarah Johnson, and Brandon Grant, earned spots in the All-Region Orchestra and performed in Little Rock on September 21. Last weekend, Batesville Junior High Choir earned a 95 percent acceptance rate into All-Region Choir, and Canon Chaffin earned First Chair. Meanwhile in Jonesboro, the high school band won a marching contest (1st place 4A, 8th overall).

The Southside Southerner football team won last night, and the Batesville Pioneers lost.


ASU-Newport received a grant called Workforce Opportunity for Rural Communities worth $379,443 from the US Dept of Labor and the Delta Regional Authority. Great job, Newport for continuing to pursue money for our region. For more details, click here.


After weeks of discussing a new open burn ordinance, the city council voted to stick with the 2015 adoption of the state fire code as its ordinance. To read more, click here.

OCTOBER 5, 2019

An espresso machine at a local downtown coffee shop broke this week. It took only four days for 84 of the regulars to raise $4,500 for the owners to purchase a new machine (Update on 10-8-19: 105 donors and $5,275). What this tells me: the locals really like the owners, Brice and Haley Stephens, they really like lattes, and the right people announced this fundraiser at the right time on the right medium.

I noticed the National Merit Semi-finalists hit the local papers this week. It was announced mid-September that two students in Batesville achieved this high honor. One was 16-year old Zach McClain, one of only two homeschool students in the state this year to achieve this honor. The other local semi-finalist was Batesville High School senior Veronica Laslo.

The Arkansas Employer Support of the Guard & Reserve Committee awarded First Community Bank the highest honor of its kind in the state, the Pro Patria Award, for its supportive personnel policies.

Southside Junior High School started a fishing club. Congrats to them for getting local students interested in this growing sport.

2019: A look back at Batesville’s top headlines


Citizen’s Bank opened its new headquarters on a main drag, 655 St. Louis Street.


The City built a new steamboat-themed playground in place of the old wooden playground located beside the train engine. Total cost: $100,000.


The Batesville Lady Pioneers won the state basketball championship for 4A.


Heritage House, the oldest gift store in town, located at the corner of Harrison and Fitzhugh Streets, closed its doors because the owner, Virginia Ketz, retired. It was the go-to for buying wedding and baby shower gifts, and in its last few years carried high end clothing and accessories for women.


Intimidator, in its sixth year of operation, completed construction on a building of more than 206,000 square feet taking up five acres at 1525 White Drive. Governor Asa Hutchinson and country music legend Neal McCoy attended its grand opening,

A one-hundred-year-old mural was repainted by the Lyon College Art Department under the direction of art professor Dustyn Bork. The students worked for an entire month restoring the classic Coca-Cola logo located in downtown Batesville.


Southside, established in 2014, completed construction of its City Hall building located at 2181 Batesville Blvd. It broke ground in June of 2018 on a 4,650-square-foot, $675,000 building.

The only local, daily newspaper, the Batesville Daily Guard, completed its first entire year under new ownership. (The Jones Family sold to Paxton Media Group of Paducah, Kentucky in June of 2018. At the time it was sold, it was the last non-chain family-owned daily newspaper in Arkansas.)

More than 800 people attended Batesville’s inaugural Pride Celebration in downtown Batesville.

The Batesville Community Center hosted two Pyramid Fights in 2019: on June 22, Justin Frazier defeated Benjamin Rowland, and on Nov 16, Solo Hatley Jr. defeated AJ Cunningham. As of the end of 2019, Cunningham of Batesville was ranked 5th in the state for his division, Arkansas Pro Featherweights.

The Arkansas Country Music Awards announced Tim Crouch of Strawberry, Ark., as Fiddler of the Year. Kenny Loggains of KWOZ Batesville was nominated for Radio DJ of the Year which was won instead by Del Hughes of KWCK in Searcy. KWOZ ‘The Country Super Station” in Batesville was nominated for Radio Station of the Year, but lost to KDXY “The Fox” in Jonesboro.

Two new coffee shops opened around the same time this summer: Nova Joe’s Coffee built a building beside the new Hampton Inn hotel on Harrison Street, and Blue Moon Coffee built across the street from the Riverside Conoco gas station.

Former Arkansas State Senator, Linda Collins, was found murdered in her home.


The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences opened a new family medicine clinic beside Hobby Lobby, and started a new family medicine residency program, which will bring a total of 18 resident physicians and their families to Batesville when at full capacity.

Flowers Baking Co. of Batesville earned the 2019 Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) ENERGY STAR certification, which means it scored in the top 25 percent of all U.S. commercial bread and roll bakeries for “improving energy performance through best practices and making cost-effective improvements,” according to a Flowers Foods press release.

Cave City celebrated its 40th Watermelon Festival with concerts by Shenandoah and Mark Chestnutt.


A study conducted by Background concluded that Batesville ranked as the fifth safest city in Arkansas (based on FBI crime statistics of cities with a higher than 10,000 population).


Stan and Shanna Fretwell renovated the Maxfield-Wycough Building, built in downtown Batesville in 1897, to be a luxury boutique hotel, The Royal on Main. The bottom floor is a salon and clothing boutique, Main Attire.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) awarded $500,000 to two Main Street properties in the United States, and one of them was The Adler Building, located in downtown Batesville. The grant specifies the money be used to renovate the building to include affordable apartments.

There were two National Merit Semi-finalists in Independence County this year. One was Batesville High School senior, Veronica Laslo. The other was 16-year-old Zach McClain, one of only two homeschool students in the state this year to achieve this honor.

More than 200 community members gathered to provide input to the City of Batesville and IMPACT Steering Committee on priorities for the town going forward. Riverfront development was mentioned the most.

Batesville Community Theater bought the old Van Atkins building at the top of Main Street, and plans to build a theater.

University of Arkansas Community College at Batesville (UACCB) saw a 10 percent enrollment increase in one year, from 2018 to 2019. Other news from UACCB for 2019 is that, based out of California, ranked its online nursing program eighth in the nation (among online licensed practical nursing to registered nursing school programs) due in part to national licensure pass rates. The college also hosted a concert by Lee Greenwood, who is known for “God Bless the USA” in Sep 2019, and a meet and greet with University of South Florida head football coach Charlie Strong in Mar 2019.

A new 80-room Hampton Inn hotel opened in Batesville, located across Harrison Street from the old White Rogers building.

Independence County voted to sue the City of Batesville for outstanding payment of jail fees.


Danny Dozier, alongside the Batesville Downtown Foundation, completed a playground at Maxfield Park using recycled materials from the old Riverside Park playground torn down in February. Dozier gave credit to local stonemason Lloyd Blake and master electrician Andy Edwards for helping with the project. The park also now contains the only public restroom downtown.

The Foll Family Farm, established in 1919 and owned by Stanton and Cheryl Foll of Stone County, was honored by the Arkansas Agriculture Department for having been owned by the same family for more than 100 years.

Ozark Mountain Poultry completed its first entire year under ownership of George’s, headquartered in Springdale.

Peco Foods, headquartered in Alabama with a processing plant in Batesville, created a new corporate director position to focus on health and safety. Peter Van Derlyke, with a Ph.D. in Safety Sciences, is the first person to fill the position.


Sulphur Rock Elementary earned a Grade of A on school performance for the third time in a row from the Arkansas Department of Education.

Local man, Larry Bentley, bicycled 80 miles on his 80th birthday. Story found here.

The Child Advocacy of Independence County completed its first full year in the house it renovated at 510 East Boswell Street, diagonal from the Post Office.

The North Arkansas Dance Theater performed their 15th annual Nutcracker ballet, and featured four professional ballet dancers, Leah Morris and Aldrin Vendt of Ballet Arkansas, and Jon Drake and Amy Turner.

Future Fuel Chemical Company’s net income for the first nine months of 2019 was down to $15.8 million from $51.3 million in 2018.


The cities of Batesville and Southside, and Independence County agreed collectively to buy Ramsey Mountain (19 acres) to preserve it for future generations.

Matt Smith bought the vacant movie theater located in the Oaks Shopping Center, and plans to renovate. Smith’s other theaters in the state offer luxury seating, an extensive food menu, and some serve beer and wine.

Independence County went from a ranking of 17th in the state in 2018 to 71st in the state in 2019 for how much important information its website contains, according to the report Access Arkansas: County Web Transparency released by the Arkansas Center for Research in Economics at the University of Central Arkansas. Independence County’s website is under construction. Jefferson County showed the most improvement, mostly due to its new stand-alone website.

Due to a lawsuit filed locally, the community learned a grandson of the former Vice-President and 2020 Presidential candidate Joe Biden currently lives in Independence County.

Four out of four Lyon College students who applied to dental schools were accepted. Keifer Hartwig will be going to Tennessee Health Science Center College of Dentistry, Vinston Van will attend the University of Florida College of Dentistry, Ayden Henry will attend the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Dentistry, and Taylor Dale was accepted to five schools and is still undecided. In other news from Lyon, alumni Clare Brown, Ph.D., was interviewed by CNN about her article concerning the effect of Medicaid expansion on low birth weight and preterm birth published in April 2019 in the Journal of the American Medical Association. And…Lyon built a dog park this year and named it in memory of a beloved biology professor, Mark Schram, Ph.D., who passed away in 2017.

White River Health System (WRHS) now offers telemedicine via Ivanti, a computer software company with 1,600 employees, headquartered in Utah. Other news from WRHS in 2019 includes recognition from the Arkansas Hospital Association of Dylan Carpenter, MD, for being the first surgeon in Arkansas to offer minimally invasive anterior hip replacement (using Stryker’s Mako, a robotic arm); Dianne Lamberth for her work with the Independence County Child Advocacy Center; and Kevin Spears for his work in getting sleep chairs for Stone County Medical Center. Additionally, a local pharmacist, Erin Beth Hays, was selected to serve as President for the Arkansas Association of Health-System Pharmacists.

Cave City erected a new monument to honor veterans.

For the 25th year, the Southside School District hosted its highly successful and annually sold-out ‘Ye Olde Christmas Madrigal Feaste’.

First Community Bank opened three new branches in Arkansas: Newport, downtown Jonesboro, and Conway. Then the bank broke ground on an operations center addition off its main headquarters. The new three-story addition will be more than 28,000 square feet and house 125 employees. Also in 2019, First Community Bank partnered with television host P. Allen Smith to install pollinator gardens at 20 of its bank locations in Arkansas.

County’s transparency ranking drops from 17th to 71st

The rankings and scores are determined by “how much financial, political and administrative information their websites contain.”

Independence County went from a transparency ranking of 17th in the state in 2018 to 71st in the state in 2019, decreasing from a score of 0.231 down to 0.029 for transparency of important public information online, according to a report published by the Arkansas Center for Research in Economics at the University of Central Arkansas.

The rankings and scores are determined by “how much financial, political and administrative information their websites contain.”

Currently, the county’s website gives an error when accessed.

“We are having our website rebuilt,” said County Judge Robert Griffin. “It had too little function and was obsolete. When finished, we will have better access to different offices and be able to publish documents. “

Per the report, Jefferson County improved the most due to a new stand-alone county-owned website.

What is the minimum required by law?

An Arkansas state law passed in March of 2019 requires all Arkansas counties to post their annual budget on a website owned or maintained by the county, the state, or the Association of Arkansas Counties beginning on Jan 1, 2020.

Independence County posted a scanned document of their 2019 budget on a website provided by the Association of Arkansas Counties.

Lyon students learn the job of ‘influencer’

Since September, these local influencers have been busy promoting both the college and Batesville in general, mostly on Instagram.

Influencer marketing is expected to more than double in size in one year, to $10 billion in 2019, according to this article in Edelman.

Lyon College noticed.

During the past summer, its marketing department announced a new Influencer Program and for the 2019-20 school year, five out of twenty applicants were chosen in September to represent the school as influencers for Lyon on social media.

“The purpose of the program is to not only help our influencers develop their skills but also to reach prospective students through the authentic voices of our Lyon Influencers,” Madeline Pyle of the marketing department explained. “Our influencers are ambassadors for the College and serve as another way for prospective students to learn about Lyon. If the program is successful, our office would like to expand it.”

Now, as the program’s inaugural semester wraps up, both Lyon and the students involved can attest to its benefits.

One of the five chosen was Michael Jorgensen, a sophomore biology and chemistry major from Manila, Ark. Michael said he wanted to be a Lyon influencer to connect with and reach more people.

“Before, all I was doing was class and baseball,” he said, and he wanted more. “I had not felt I had joined in as much.”

“Now I am a person others can rely on to know what’s happening around campus. People definitely know who I am.”

Not just current students, either. Potential students have also reached out to Michael to find out more about what there is to do in and around the campus.

Does Michael want to pursue being an influencer outside of college? An influencer, yes, “but not on social media,” he says. He wants to be a doctor and influence people to be healthy.

Others chosen were Batesville native, Haley Cormican, a junior art major who is also serving as the Student Government Association President, Katherine Jeane, “KJ”, a junior psychology major, from Wooster, Ark., Alexandria Denton, “LeeLee”, a junior business major, from Cabot, Ark., and Marcos Fernandez, a sophomore economics and business major from Argentina.

Since September, these local influencers have been busy promoting both the college and Batesville in general, mostly on Instagram.  

Why Instagram? Because influencer marketing happens on Instagram, say 92 percent of marketers, according to a 2018 study by Linqia, a leading platform for influencers. The study also concluded that engagement and number of clicks are effective measures for return on investment when hiring an influencer.

For those with a mild interest in growing their influence on social media, consider the following.

According to this article in Forbes, people who are most effective influencers are those who are able to obtain and maintain trust of those they are influencing. This can take time, especially if the only interactions are happening online. Those social media users who are saturated with hundreds of thousands of followers have trouble keeping up logistically, and are therefore rendered less effective in their ability to influence.  

This leaves the door open for micro-influencers, or those with roughly 3,000 to 30,000 followers on Instagram. 

According to this article on Whalar, one of the leading companies for influencer insights, marketers are now hiring micro-influencers because they have better engagement — more effective influence — with their followers.

With access to a good editor, becoming a micro-influencer on social media as a side hustle is a realistic goal for someone who has expertise in an area and is willing to post about it online. Even in a small town.

To see what the Lyon College influencers have been posting to attract potential students, click here.

The BSD Millage, Part 2: How Batesville tax rates stack up

This article is the second in a series about the upcoming School Millage vote.

The upcoming school millage vote affects property tax, but not all millage votes do. For instance the vote to build the community center affected the local sales tax rate.

In order to consider a tax increase, voters need to know about our current tax rates. Here’s how both our property taxes and sales taxes stack up against other areas.

Our Sales Tax Rate

In 2010, Batesville voters said no (by 70 votes) to a $45 million project.

The proposal was adjusted, and in 2012, voters said yes to a $25 million project that included a 100,000 square foot Community Center, $2.1 million baseball complex, and $800,000 soccer complex and rodeo arena.

The community center opened in June 2017, and one year later had 8,400 members.

In 2008, voters said yes to a 1/4 cent sales tax increase that allowed the county to offer an incentive package to attract industry to the area.

When Pilgrim’s Pride shut down operations in Batesville in 2013, which affected 400 employees, the Independence County Economic Development Commission was able to attract Ozark Mountain Poultry to the area, and retain 250 employees, because of this incentive.

Arkansas has the third highest combined average state and local sales tax rate in the nation, at 9.43 percent.

Batesville is above the Arkansas average, at 10 percent. Sulphur Rock is below average at 8 percent. To check a rate for a specific address, click here.

See chart below for how Batesville’s sales tax rate compares to other cities in Arkansas. It is currently the same as Fayetteville and Bentonville, and below Conway.

Our Property Tax Rate

Currently, Batesville has an average school millage for Arkansas.

Passing the minimum plan would put the district’s millage in between Fayetteville and Bentonville school districts (see chart below).

Bentonville and Fayetteville school districts are growing (at rates of 7.5 and 6.3 percent, respectively, since 2016). The Batesville school district is growing at a similar rate, 6 percent.

Passing the complete plan would position Batesville as having the second highest school millage rate in the state (see chart below).

It would also place Batesville as having the highest overall total millage rate in the state (includes school, city, and county millage rates).

…compared to other states:

Arkansas property tax rates are lower than most other states. (Arkansas has the fifth lowest median property tax rate in the nation.)


Property tax rates in Batesville and in Arkansas have some room to grow. Sales tax rates do not.

To read the author’s disclaimer and see a list of sources, click here.

To read the first article in the series, click here.

‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’ actress headlines local fundraiser

On Thursday, Nov 14, she traveled to Batesville and spoke to a gathering of 111 people at the Cherish Life Gala.

Robia Scott was born in Queens, New York, and has toured Europe with Prince, acted in the first three seasons of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, and appeared in “Beverly Hills, 90210”.

On Thursday, Nov 14, she traveled to Batesville and spoke to a gathering of 111 people at the Cherish Life Gala, a formal evening of fundraising for The Alpha Center, held at Compass Church.

Scott’s most recent acting role was in the movie “Unplanned“, which is based on one of the youngest Planned Parenthood clinic directors in the country, Abby Johnson. The Alpha Center offered a free preview of this movie at the local AMC Theater on March 28. The movie hit theaters the next day and has since grossed $19 million worldwide.

Scott shared about how the timing of the release of the movie coincided with the Reproductive Health Act in New York, and said it especially alarmed her to discover that more African American babies are being aborted in New York City than are being born.

She also shared about her conversion to Christianity, which occurred in her life while she was working on “Buffy, the Vampire Slayer“. As a result, she subsequently quit Hollywood in order to become a minister, and did not go back to acting until “Unplanned”.

After Scott concluded her talk, a local resident shared via video testimony about her experience with The Alpha Center. She said when she found out she was pregnant with another baby, her initial plan was to abort. However, after seeing the ultrasound, and speaking to the local volunteers about her situation, she chose to parent the baby. When the video concluded, with the support of her family members who were also in attendance, she stepped onto the stage with her young baby and thanked those who support the organization.

The night marked the official end of Amanda Steel’s time as Director of The Alpha Center, as she handed the baton to the new Director, Danielle Adams.

Following in a long-standing tradition for this fall event, the dinner at the gala was prepared and served by John 3:16.

To read more about Scott, visit her website.

Both book authors, Robia Scott and Rachel Kelley pose together at The Alpha Center’s Cherish Life Gala on Nov 14 at The Compass Church in Batesville.

THE BSD MILLAGE, PART 1: An auditorium and a gym

This article is the first in a series about the upcoming School Millage vote.

Batesville School District wants to upgrade its facilities, and fund it via a personal property tax rate increase. It has offered three proposals for citizens to consider.

The Auditorium

All of the three improvement options center around two large additions: an auditorium and a gym.

Russellville School District’s auditorium, which seats 1,875, was used for an event 26 weekends last year, according to their Executive Director, Chrissy Clayton. She said their building hosted 170 events throughout the year, 6 of which filled it to capacity. Thirty of those events were rentals (non-district). The 130,000 square foot Center was completed in 2012, after the people of Russellville said yes to a 6.9 millage.

Hannah Cummings, Theatre Director for Batesville High School, and Josh Poff, Band Director for BHS, visit with Daniel Stahl, the technical director for Russellville’s The Center For the Arts on Sep 14, 2019 during a fact finding trip for the upcoming millage.

Batesville School District no longer has an auditorium.

Its previous auditorium was built in 1951 and was in use by students until last school year, for a total of 68 years.

The cost to renovate the old auditorium up to code would cost 97 percent of what a new building would cost, according to the district’s Buildings and Grounds Steering Committee member Courtney Beal.

To build one that meets the minimum requirements for a 5A school, the district says, would cost $17 million. They want to build a new one.

The Gym

The district also wants to build a new gymnasium, since the current school gym has been used for 50 years. When it was built, the school was classified as 3A, and the population was 33 percent less than now. Also, the only team using it in 1969 was the men’s basketball team.

The school’s architect says a new gym would cost $15 million. Same story with the renovations. It would cost more to renovate than build new.

To build these two facilities, and update existing facilities, the district is asking local property owners to contribute $45 to $85 million.

The Cost

PLAN A, the lowest option, a $45 million bond:

An increase of $13.50 per month per $100,000 of a person’s property value (to include homes, real estate, business, vehicles)

That tax amount increases for Option B and Option C.


Asking locals to pay a higher tax is not an easy ask. Tight budgets could get tighter. Those on a fixed income would have less. (Click here to read what the local tax collector had to say.)

One of the FAQs, according to the school district’s information, is whether the millage will affect Senior Citizens at the same rate. The answer is yes.

Some of these concerns were expressed by citizens who attended the town hall meeting at the community center on Tuesday, Nov 12.

To hear more concerns being expressed, watch the district’s first meeting, which was broadcast live on White River Now’s social media page, and as of Nov 17, had 4,600 views.

Why should I invest in these two buildings? Will they help the economy grow?

Years ago, voters said yes to a millage for the University of Arkansas Community College at Batesville (UACCB) to build a 1,500-seat auditorium, hoping it would provide economic growth. The college completed Independence Hall in 2001 and made the final payment in 2018.

According to the Strategic Community Plan Report released by Impact Independence County in 2015: “Despite being a nearly $50 million a year industry, Independence County’s tourism sector has been on a steady decline, both in terms of visitor interest and revenue, for more than a decade.”

Which means that unfortunately, building the largest auditorium in town did not increase tourism revenue during that decade.

Still, the facility is widely used. Examples of recent events there include: former NASA Engineer, Dr. Christine Darden, presented to more than 1,000 local middle school and junior high students on Apr 11, 2019, and Lee Greenwood held a concert there on Sep 7, 2019.

Currently, Batesville School District is not in the running for hosting events. They lose out to places like Russellville, chosen to host the State Thespian Festival in Feb 2019, which lasted three days and included 1,222 high school students from around the state and 98 guest artists, including a producer from New York City. This is their third time to host, and they say they were chosen because of their facility and people.

Will local growth eventually alleviate some of this new tax burden?


Tourism is the second largest industry in the state and has shown growth for nine consecutive years. Batesville wanted to experience that growth, so voters said yes to hiring a full-time position devoted entirely to growing the local tourism. Kyle Christopher was hired in 2016, and since then, the tourism industry in Batesville has been increasing. Last year, visitors paid close to $1 million in taxes to our community, and travel expenditures in the county were up 4.2 percent.

If the tourism industry in Batesville continues to grow, Batesville will grow, and the millage debt can be paid off sooner. (More tax payers means more money for the school and higher property values for land owners.)


In 2002 (the year after Independence Hall was completed), Bad Boy Mowers of Batesville sold their first mower. They now employ more than 700 people. They manufacture and store their zero-turn mowers in more than one million square feet of facilities, according to their website. They currently host their annual meeting in Little Rock. Batesville does not have the facilities to host a large event like this one.


Banking deposits in Independence County increased 18 percent in 2018 compared to 2014, according to data reported in the 2018 Economic Report for Batesville and Independence County (Report is available on First Community Bank’s website.)


In 2017, White River Medical Center welcomed its first class of resident doctors, and now has 29 Internal Medicine residents. The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) clinic in Batesville welcomed its first class of residents this summer, and at full capacity will have 18 family medicine residents. Many residents do not come alone. They bring family members with them. Which increases the population and economy.

According to the American Medical Association, a physician who practices in Arkansas provides an average yearly economic benefit of $1.8 million to the community where they practice. (Jobs are created to support them. The average number is 11 per physician.)

Unity Health, located in Searcy, has graduated 27 residents since they started in 2015, and has retained 5, or 18.5 percent, to work within their hospital system, according to their Graduate Medical Education Manager, Leslie Provence.

If Batesville follows that same pattern, the area would retain 4 physicians and their families every year. Which means, unless those physicians are directly replacing a retiring physician, the local economy could experience economic growth of $7.2 million per year.

To read the author’s disclaimer and see a list of sources, click here.

To read part 2 in the series, click here.