First in a series.
The sheer scope of events in Hope and Hempstead County in 2013 mark the year as one of superlatives that were tempered, perhaps, with loss that touched everyone in both the city and county.
It was the year in which long-time dreams came true, as well as the year in which long-time friends were lost, and the year in which history was made and almost repeated, and in which courage was honored.
The argument on the impact between the resolution of the Amtrak passenger service stop formally established in Hope and the opening and meteoric success of Hempstead Hall at the University of Arkansas Community College at Hope is open to debate. Both events helped shape Hope and Hempstead County in unique ways that will be lasting, as the number one and number two stories of the year.
Amtrak now has Hope
“The history books have to be rewritten because passenger service has returned to Hope in 2013,” Hope Vice Mayor Steve Montgomery said at the May celebration officially inaugurating Amtrak passenger service to Hope.
The day was marked by congratulations and predictions from Amtrak Governmental Affairs Director Todd Stennis, who read a letter from Amtrak President Joseph Boardman noting that, “Amtrak now has Hope.”
The opening passenger rail service into Hope closed a 36-year gap in the service that had been a founding purpose for the city of Hope. Built as a railroad town, Hope had enjoyed passenger rail service since the laying of the Cairo and Fulton Railroad in 1872.
Since 1912, the Union-Pacific Railroad has been a major part of Hope, and helped bring Hope to life as it has so many other small towns in America. The railroad has shared its part of history, helping to bring presidential and vice-presidential candidates to Hope to stop and campaign, as well as celebrities such as Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and the King himself, Elvis Presley.
As the interstate highway system developed and improved in efficiency as the automobile became more affordable, safe, and available, the railroad in Hope gradually saw a decrease in the use of passenger trains. In 1971, the last official passenger train passed through Hope. The railroad continued to be used by freight trains and the depot was used as an office building until 1994 when it was closed for good.
In 1996, the City of Hope obtained the depot from the railroad company, and decided to use it as a starting point for the increasing number of tourists who were showing interest in Hope. City leaders began working in 1998 to restore passenger rail service.
In November, the 15 members of the Hope Platform Committee were recognized by Boardman with the 2013 President's Service and Safety Award – Champion of the Rails.
“The 2013 President's Service and Safety Award has become a proud tradition at Amtrak, one where we show our appreciation for the extraordinary accomplishments of our 148 award recipients who went above and beyond the call of duty to accomplish our goals,” Kimberly Woods, Amtrak spokesperson said of the ceremony.
Page 2 of 4 - The Hope contingent was recognized for bringing a unique aspect to the establishment of the Amtrak passenger stop in Hope with the development of a revolutionary platform design. Committee members included Rodney Bobo, Hope City Manager Catherine Cook, Jeff Cook, Hope Parks Director Paul Henley, Dolly Henley, Hope Vice Mayor Steve Montgomery, former State Representative David “Bubba” Powers, former Congressman Mike Ross, Henry Struckman, Kathy Struckman, State Senator Larry Teague, University of Arkansas Community College at Hope Chancellor Chris Thomason, Hope businessman John Watkins, and Dr. Bill Pollard.
Amtrak now runs two passenger trains daily, with Train 21 departing at 5:09 a.m., traveling west, and Train 22 departing at 9:18 p.m., going east, according to the official schedule. That makes the Hope connection part of the national schedule, allowing passengers embarking from Hope to travel to major Amtrak destinations nationwide.
Local and area residents got a preview of the variety of Amtrak services on an Amtrak display train featuring a dining car, coach, sleeper and engine which was open for tours. And, city, county, and state officials, as well as business and civic leaders launched the inauguration of the Amtrak schedule in January, 2013, with a special trip from Hope to Texarkana.
Boarding in Hope is at the Amtrak depot in the Hope Visitor and Information Center at the intersection of Division and Main streets, and taxi service is available in town.
Hempstead Hall success
Six months after the 50,000-square foot conference and concert center dubbed Hempstead Hall opened on the campus of the University of Arkansas Community College at Hope, the $10 million bonded debt on the facility was paid in full.
Built with the financial support of revenue bonds from a 3/4-cent countywide sales tax which was passed in 2008, during the tenure of former chancellor Dr. Charles Welch, current UACCH Chancellor Chris Thomason reported to the Hempstead County Quorum Court in June that the facility's mortgage was paid.
“As I told you very publicly at the grand opening back in January, I want to extend, again, my appreciation and the appreciation of the University of Arkansas System for the partnership and leadership of the judge and the quorum court, in allowing us to be the home to Hempstead Hall,” Thomason said at the time.
He said the facility had already attracted statewide attention and national bookings, including the grand opening concert by the Gatlin Brothers which was held in January, part of some 75 events held at the center since its opening.
“I hope you have seen the difference that it has made in our community,” Thomason said.
He said there have been educators from across Arkansas on campus since the opening of the facility who have been just a bit envious of what Hope, Hempstead County, and UACCH have accomplished.
Page 3 of 4 - “We have hosted almost 19,000 people in that one building,” he said. “We are adding events every day between now and the end of the year.”
The early payoff of the revenue bonds allowed more than $700,000 to accumulate prior to the sunset date for the sales tax on Sept. 30, which the quorum court tapped for a one-time pay bonus for county employees. The remainder of the funds will be held in the county's hospital investment fund, the interest from which is used to fund capital improvements for the county.
Hot Springs architect Ricco Harris, who designed most of the buildings on the UACCH campus, wanted the facility to have a forward-reaching sweep, which the silhouette of the building reflects in its side elevation.
“They have gone from pure function in buildings and programs and organization to a progressive approach that keeps up with technology and the world,” Harris said of the integrated design vision on the UACCH campus.
Hope Mayor Dennis Ramsey characterized the facility during the ribbon cutting ceremony as more than an educational asset for UACCH.
“It's an economic development facility for the business conferences that will be held; and, by the way, it's an entertainment facility, and, now, we have another facility besides what we have at Hope Fair Park,” Ramsey said. “You are to be congratulated.”
In a year of significant accomplishment, Hope and Hempstead County said goodbye to some significant friends.
George and Effie Frazier
The passing of George and Effie Frazier came just 10 days apart in October. The Fraziers were a consummate Southern couple and part of the soul of Hope civic life that stretched from Southwest Arkansas all the way to the White House.
“I loved George, and I wish he had lived forever,” said former President Bill Clinton. “George always gave more than he got, always with a smile on his face and spring in his step. His devotion to Effie and his children, his business, his community, and his friends knew no bounds. George moved to Hope and never left. He also never let those of us who were born in Hope forget our roots.”
“To me, Effie Frazier personified what it means to lead a full, rich, meaningful life,” former White House Chief of Staff Thomas F. “Mack” McLarty, III, recalled. “She was beautiful and gracious, like a true Southern lady. She was generous and kind...
“She contributed to Hope in countless ways, from her volunteer efforts to her work with the church to her active political involvement,” McLarty noted. “And she managed to combine the courage of her convictions with a warmth and infectious charm that made you feel like your day was a little brighter just for being in her company. Together with George, her lifelong love, Effie helped make Hope the rare and special place that it is. She leaves an enduring legacy and more memories than I can say.”
Page 4 of 4 - Clinton and McLarty were two of numerous native sons and daughters of Hope whom the Fraziers helped shape in life and public service. Active in important aspects of public life and service, Frazier was characterized as “Mr. Hope.”
Senator Jim Hill
Although former state senator Jim Hill resided in Nashville, he was a political fixture and valued figure in Hempstead County, having represented most of the county through his tenure in the Arkansas Senate.
“Senator Hill was on of those unique Southern politicians who could get along with anyone,” Hope Mayor Dennis Ramsey said. “He had wide support in Hempstead County and carried the county in every election.
“He was always accessible, even when he was President Pro Tem of the Senate,” Ramsey said. “He would return your phone calls. And, he was very valuable to the growth of UACCH. He was so important that when he left the Senate he was placed on the board.”
Hill died from pulmonary complications in December.
Sgt. 1st Class Ricardo Young
The combat death in August of Sergeant First Class Ricardo Young, of Rosston, in an insurgent attack in Afghanistan brought the War on Terrorism home to Southwest Arkansas, once again.
“Sergeant First Class Ricardo Young leaves behind a legacy of intense camaraderie with his fellow Soldiers. He had a special sense of humor that endeared him to his fellow man,” Col. James H. Raymer, 20th Engineer Brigade commander said.
His awards included the Army Commendation Medal, Purple Heart, Army Achievement Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Noncommissioned Officer Professional Development Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon, NATO medal, Parachutist Badge and Air Assault Badge.