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.

2019: A look back at Batesville’s top headlines

January

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

February

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

March

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

April

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.

May

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.

June

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.

July

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.

August

A study conducted by Background Checks.org 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).

September

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 RegisteredNursing.org, 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.

October

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.

November

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.

December

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.

Tomahawk Chop opens on Main Street

Tomahawk Chop Company is the newest business downtown, adding another entertainment activity to the growing district — and a somewhat unusual one at that.

“It’s an ax throwing entertainment center,” owner Mike Moss described of the new business, located next to door to the Main Attire boutique and The Royal on Main, downtown’s new luxury hotel.

He said Batesville is overdue for more activity-based businesses.

“You can go to the movies and you can go bowling or you can go to a bar… but there’s not much for people to do so we decided to do this,” Moss said, adding that his son Drew is involved in the undertaking as well, handling marketing and IT. Both have enjoyed ax throwing as a personal hobby.

“It’s gaining a lot of interest. It started in Canada, and has come down through the Northeast and is making its way across the United States,” Moss said. “It will garner enough interest to be popular for quite a while I think, because it’s easy to do and you don’t have to be great at it to have fun.” 

Moss said the fact that everyone can do it is one of the reasons he chose the building downtown: it has a wheelchair ramp and he wanted that accessibility.

“We looked around town at different locations… There were a couple on Harrison Street, and we thought about high traffic areas. But parking lots can be kind of hard to get in and out of, and this is kind of an eclectic activity, so downtown kind of made sense… People that come down here come for a purpose, and it’s growing here — you’ve got The Melba, several stores, 109 that’s about to be opened back up, The Pinto, Big’s… It fits with the vibe.”

The space is currently being built out with lanes, each one 10 feet wide and built according to regulation for the leagues associated with the sport:  World Axe Throwing League, International Axe Throwing Federation, and National Axe Throwing Federation. The center will offer about 5 lanes, plus a seating area and a snack bar. Patrons will pay for an hour of play, with the second hour discounted. Admission to the center will be limited to ages 14 and up, with all participants required to sign a waiver.

“You’ll go through a 10-minute safety orientation with one of our staff. They’ll show you how to do it, how not to do it, and make sure you have all the proper attire like closed-toed shoes and no loose jewelry,” Moss explained. “The axes weight between 1.8 and 2.4 pounds each, so it’s a little bit of a workout. You’ll use both hands most of the time, but we’ll have some little axes you can throw with one hand.”

Tomahawk Chop Company is detailing their progress on their Facebook page which has already garnered over 1,000 followers prior to even opening. 

Moss says he gets frequent calls from people anticipating their first visit.