Five values rolled into one event

Working at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute means embracing a set of five core values: Believe the Mission; See the Possibilities; Focus on We, Not Me; Do the Right Thing; and Have Fun! We had the chance earlier this week to live out all five of those values when we hosted a Christmas party for a group of children and their caregivers from the Southern Christian Children’s Home in Morrilton.

According to SCCH’s website, its founders sought “to care for, keep, train and educate orphan children. One of their goals was to act on the behalf of orphaned, neglected, and dependent children. Southern Christian Home continues to pursue this purpose. Southern Christian Home is licensed by the State of Arkansas as a Residential Childcare Facility. Southern Christian Home intends to serve families by providing a safe place for neglected, abused, and dependent children when they need to be placed out of the parent(s)’ home.

“Southern Christian Home is committed to the belief that children should not be placed unnecessarily out of their home. There does come a point when children may need placement where they can feel safe and have their needs met. These children may also need to learn to have healthy interpersonal relationships with their own families as well as substitute care givers. Southern Christian Home understands those needs may be met in the more structured environment of our residential facilities.”

Human Resources Manager Jennifer Pipes led the group that coordinated the special event here at the Institute. Here’s how she summed it up:

“Special,” she said. “That is the word I've heard employees use to describe Monday night's Christmas experience for kids and families who live at Southern Christian Children's Home in Morrilton. It was indeed a special night. Approximately 30 kids and adults joined us for a memorable night of good food and holiday fellowship. One of my favorite parts of the night was posing in the photo booth for pics with sweet kiddos. Other special parts of the night were when our director of programs, Janet Harris, interacted with the kids to teach them a little bit about Winthrop Rockefeller, and then watching rock-star employees coordinate the entire evening.”

Harris said she spent a few minutes asking the children from SCCH what they knew about Winthrop Rockefeller.

“A few of them knew he was ‘rich because of the oil and stuff,’” she said. “A young man wise beyond his years reminded the group that true wealth ‘came from God,’ which was a good opportunity to talk about how Mr. Rockefeller agreed, and how he reminded his own son (Win Paul Rockefeller) about this in a letter written many years ago. In that letter, Mr. Rockefeller reminded his son that respecting and understanding our neighbors is the key to human happiness, and to peace in the world, and that if we ‘attempt to live and act in terms of human values, then rich or poor, [our] lives will be rewarding.’”

While our guests enjoyed a home-cooked meal, our marketing assistant, Venita Berry, printed photos that had been taken before dinner and framed them to send with the kids as a keepsake.

“To say the kids were thrilled with their gift is an understatement,” Pipes said.

 For Berry, who started working at the Institute a couple of months ago, this was her first time to participate in a companywide volunteer project.

“I thoroughly enjoyed volunteering at our ‘give back night,’” Berry said. “I was reminded of how very blessed I am. The children were amazing. I loved watching their faces light up after getting to see the pictures from the photo booth. They were a joy to be around.”

After dinner, the kids were given the opportunity to decorate Christmas cookies and get their picture taken with Santa.

The children seemed to have a great time, and our staff members were genuinely excited to be able to serve and share in the holiday spirit.

“Maybe the best proof of this event’s success is the buzz it has created for next year's plans to entertain our new SCCH friends,” Pipes said.

Winthrop Rockefeller’s legacy is at the heart of our mission. That legacy includes his generosity and his willingness to open up his estate to people beyond just those in his inner circle. That’s how we “Believe the Mission” through this event. We “See the Possibilities” by trying a new idea. We have participated in service projects before, but never anything quite like this. We “Focus on We, Not Me” by considering how to help others. We embraced “Do the Right Thing” by creating a special experience for those who we believed needed one. As for “Have Fun!,” it was hard to tell who enjoyed themselves more on Monday night, our guests or our staff.


Rockefeller legacies intersect to do good work

This article first appeared in the Roaring Rock, a Rockefeller family newsletter.

The legacies of two family members separated by a generation and 1,500 miles converged earlier this year. The impact of Winthrop Rockefeller on his adopted state of Arkansas lives on through the work of the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute, located on what was part of Winthrop’s cattle farm atop Petit Jean Mountain. So, too, does the work of Laura Rockefeller Chasin live on through the organization she founded in Boston – Essential Partners.

These two organizations with two separate missions and in two different geographic locations came together accidentally around a common purpose, resulting in a new and wonderful partnership.

How did this happy accident occur? The Winthrop Rockefeller Institute convenes leaders, thinkers and practitioners to address issues and search for solutions that improve the lives of Arkansans and others. We do this by employing the Rockefeller ethic given to us by the example of both John D. Rockefeller Sr. and JDR Jr. of first framing the issue, then bringing the foremost expert(s) together with others who care about the issue, and structuring the conversation in a way where all voices are respectfully heard and solutions are sought.

The Institute’s mission naturally involves us in the work of civil discourse, so we were recently contacted by two state representatives whose districts had played one another in football. The game was played during the campaign phase of the 2016 presidential election, and because of inappropriate behavior by some of the adults involved, the evening resulted in ugly activities from both sides. The two legislators asked the Institute to guide the students and school/ community leaders through a civil discourse exercise to help students learn how to respect and understand the views of others, even though different from their own. As we began to frame the issue and design the program, we reached out to our partners at the Clinton School of Public Service. That is where we learned about Essential Partners (EP). The Clinton School told us that EP provided effective training in Reflective Structured Dialogue, a method that guides people through a safe and respectful process, to first turn inward and examine themselves, and then turn their focus to listening and understanding others, appreciating their similarities and differences. At the time, the Clinton School did not realize that EP was founded by Winthrop Rockefeller’s niece, Laura Chasin.

Coincidentally, one tidbit of Winthrop Rockefeller’s advice to his son, Win, in A Letter to My Son was to “Never be quick to blame others—turn first to an examination of yourself and your own shortcomings in your relations to them. Enjoy and understand others for the qualities that are good about them—not their faults.” Laura called this a “journey into the new,” providing a new way to engage people with whom we deeply disagree.

Since our early encounter, the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute has utilized what we learned from Robert “Bob” Stains, whose mentor was Laura Chasin, to successfully facilitate a conversation around the divisive herbicide dicamba for the Arkansas Department of Agriculture. The result of that conversation was new agricultural policy in Arkansas, and it has the potential to affect ag policy across the country. Likewise, Essential Partners encourages other clients by using the Institute’s example of employing reflective structured dialogue to help groups reach consensus on difficult issues. We have since learned that our founders shared other values and beliefs also. They both believed in rolling up their sleeves and working alongside those “doing the real work of making the world a better place.”

Bob Stains summed it up nicely by saying, “It is like a family song that is sung across generations or an underlying melody that informs and sustains the passionate commitment to changing the world in a way shown to us by both Winthrop and Laura and many other family members we’ve had the privilege to meet. That kind of music seems in such short supply today.” 

Both organizations and those with whom we serve remain forever grateful to Winthrop and Laura for their big ideas on human relations, reminding us what is possible and how people can connect across a big divide.


Fly like an eagle

It’s not an everyday sight, but it’s also not terribly uncommon.

Working here on Petit Jean Mountain, we have our fair share of bald eagles that occasionally take a peek at our corner of the broad plateau that rises above the Arkansas River Valley.

What IS uncommon is seeing an eagle on our front lawn, tethered to a human handler. Don Higgins, who first began working with large birds in 1972 and now lives on the mountain, has spent the past few mornings working with Verna, a female bald eagle who showed up in someone’s driveway a few weeks ago.

The person who found Verna outside their home in Mount Vernon (Pope County) had the presence of mind to call Lynne Slater, who runs the HAWK (Helping Arkansas Wild Kritters) Center near Russellville. Don has worked with Lynne to rehabilitate raptors since 2011, so she immediately gave him a call.

“She took the eagle to a local veterinarian,” Don said. “She checked her over, and there were no serious physical injuries, but she was full of parasites.”

The parasites were both internal and external, Don said, which affected both her ability to eat and her ability to fly. Once Verna – so named because she was found in Mount Vernon, and Don said he wasn’t going to call a female eagle “Vern” – got past the need for medical attention, it was time for her to learn to fly again. That’s where Don stepped in.

Since he began working with the HAWK Center in 2011, Don has rehabilitated about 30 raptors, everything from screech owls to several types of hawks and falcons. But Verna is his first eagle.

“With most of the other birds I’ve worked with, they were smaller, and I didn’t need as much space to work with them,” Don said. “With an eagle, she can cover 100 yards in no time, so I needed a much bigger space.”

It was also important to have space with short grass, he said, because when Verna began her rehab, she could only fly very low to the ground due to a tether, called a creance, and he worried that if he took her out to a pasture, she could get her wings snared on a bush or tall grass.

Among the many features of the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute’s 188-acre campus is several open fields that we keep well-manicured. Don, having gotten to know our executive director, Dr. Marta Loyd, over the past few years, rang her up and asked if he could use our front lawn for some flying lessons. Marta agreed, on the condition that she could come take some photos.

“I’m really grateful to Marta and the Institute for letting us come out there and take advantage of the wonderful grounds,” Don said.

While Don was working with Verna today, two bald eagles soared overhead, making sure their cousin was in good hands.

“That was pretty neat to see,” Marta said.

Verna is close to being back to full strength and seems to be responding well to her training. The rehab techniques that Don uses are all based in falconry, he said. He got his start training the mascots for the Air Force Academy when he was a cadet there in the early 1970s.

The last test for Verna before she can be released back into the wild is called live-prey testing, and it’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like. A small mammal that would be a typical part of an eagle’s diet will be released in a controlled setting and Verna will have to hunt her own supper successfully.

Once she’s cleared for release, various wildlife agencies will be notified and will assist in delivering her back to the wild, possibly at Holla Bend National Wildlife Refuge.

Don said he and his wife, Janie, find this type of volunteer work to be very rewarding, and he urged me to encourage people to consider supporting the HAWK Center, which helps care for and rehabilitate all kinds of animals, not just birds of prey.



Good news coming

The judging is complete. The lineup is set. A big announcement is coming.

Our esteemed panel of judges for Art in its Natural State (AiiNS) finished their work last month, and we have secured agreements with the 10 winning artists whose impressive work will grace the grounds of the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute and Petit Jean State Park beginning this spring.

As a recap, AiiNS is an exhibtion of public, outdoor, temporary art installations that will be on display here on Petit Jean Mountain for one year. A call for entries went out in February, and judging took place during September and October. Our panel of judges hailed from Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, the Arkansas Arts Center, the Arkansas Arts Council, the art departments of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, UA-Fort Smith and UA-Little Rock, plus the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism.

As for the art itself, we're keeping things a bit under wraps for now, but we plan to make a big announcement in January to introduce the artists. We can tell you that they hail from all across the South, with four artists from Arkansas, three from Missouri and one each from Texas, Tennessee and Florida.

Each artist will receive a $5,000 stipend to help cover the cost of constructing and transporting their art.

Be sure and reserve Saturday, April 28, on your calendar. That's when we plan to unveil the exhibition. Once we get past the New Year, we'll give you more details on the unveiling.


What they’re built for, after all

It was seeking relief from the heat that ignited Angela Danovi’s passion for historic theaters. That respite led to a love of classic movies shown at the Orpheum on mid-afternoon summers in sweltering Memphis. Of all those films, Gone with the Wind was her favorite. It was the now 101 year-old Olivia De Havilland with her portrayal of Scarlett O’Hara’s kindly but fierce sister-in-law Melanie Wilkes that led Danovi to seek out De Havilland’s other films and eventually develop a website dedicated to the film icon.

“I’d seen Gone with the Wind on TV but never in a theater, much less a theater as majestic as the Orpheum,” the now Rogers resident said on a recent call. “At that time ‘pan and scan’ versions of films were shown on television.”

Pan and scan compresses the film for what were square-ish televisions vs. the rectangular projection shown in a movie theater.

“Watching it at the Orpheum, we saw parts of the background and characters who were cropped out for television. Seeing that made me want to see what else I’d missed.”

Part of “seeing what she missed” led to about a dozen road trips throughout the United States to check out historic theaters. She’s been to Marietta, Ga., Franklin, Tenn., Birmingham, Ala., Wichita, Kan., and Knoxville, Tenn., among others. But the highlight of her Historic Theaters road trips was to Austin, Texas’ Paramount Theater for the 75th anniversary showing of Gone with the Wind.

“When I heard that the David O. Selznick Archives (held at the University of Texas, Austin) would be partnering with the Paramount Theater to provide memorabilia from the film, including costumes, I knew I just had to go,” she said.

This was the first time her historic theater tourism required more than a tank of gas. Plane tickets, hotel rooms and a rental car would be involved, not to mention tickets to the 75th anniversary red carpet showing.

“It was an event. A true experience,” she said. “They had the Paramount fully programmed. In every space where there was an activity or experience in every nook and cranny.”

These experiences ranged from costume displays to props with interpretive panels to a photo booth where you could have your picture taken in front of a digital background from the film that was immediately available for online download.

“These are the kinds of experiences we can replicate in our historic theaters in Arkansas,” she said, echoing the advice of League of Historic American Theaters Executive Director Ken Stein gave during his keynote at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute’s Historic Theaters Conference in August. Stein was the executive director of the Paramount Theater in Austin during Angela’s pilgrimage.

Having traveled across the country to visit and experience historic theaters, she’d always wanted to attend the Theatre Historical Society of America conference, where she could learn more about historic theaters and their role in 21st century communities.

“Those conferences are very expensive and have a national focus,” she said. “That’s why I was so glad to have learned about the conference at the Rockefeller Institute. It was nearby, affordable and would be full of other locals passionate about the same things I’m passionate about.”

The Historic Theaters Conference and its 75 attendees from across the state have formed a network where one didn’t exist before. They will be sharing stories of successes, failures, best practices and obscura ranging from lighting issues to how to best deal with the need for wider seats in the modern era and much more. A Facebook group started by the Institute will help keep the dialogue going in between summits like the one held last month atop Petit Jean.

“Who knew that there was a League of Historic Theaters board member who lived in Northwest Arkansas? I had no idea,” she said.

Making these sort of connections and putting smart people in the same room to solve problems facing the state is exactly the thing Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller did repeatedly. This follows directly in his legacy, his love of the arts and passion for historic places.

In the meantime, Danovi will be working on programming classic films in historic theaters in her neck of the woods.

“That’s what they’re built for, after all.”

She’ll also be taking the advice of Ms. De Havilland, who said, “One must take what comes, with laughter.”


Uncommon Communities initiative begins its third year

Uncommon Communities initiative begins its third year

PETIT JEAN MOUNTAIN, Ark. (Sept. 5, 2017) — The third year of the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute’s Uncommon Communities initiative will kick off this week with a meeting in Morrilton.

This year’s sessions will differ from previous years in that the bimonthly meetings will take place in the five counties – Conway, Perry, Pope, Van Buren and Yell – that are part of the initiative. First up is Conway County, which will host the two-day workshop beginning Thursday at the University of Arkansas Community College at Morrilton. In past years, the bimonthly meetings were held at the Rockefeller Institute on Petit Jean Mountain.

“This year’s sessions will highlight the good work that these five counties have been doing since the start of the program in 2015,” said Janet Harris, director of programs for the Rockefeller Institute. “In addition to bringing in speakers and hearing from our partnering experts, our participating community leaders will help one another assess the potential strengths and opportunities for improvement in each of their communities. They will report on their successes and help each other look ahead to a vibrant and sustainable 21st century economy in rural Arkansas.”

Uncommon Communities marries the wisdom and proven methodology of Dr. Vaughn Grisham, a celebrated community development expert and professor emeritus of sociology and founding director of the McLean Institute for Community Development at the University of Mississippi, with the award-winning Breakthrough Solutions partnership – under the direction of Dr. Mark Peterson at the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service – and the expertise of Dr. Roby Robertson, retired professor of public administration and former director of the Institute of Government at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

Uncommon Communities began as a pilot program focusing on five counties in the vicinity of the Institute: Conway, Perry, Pope, Van Buren and Yell. All of these counties are largely rural and have poverty rates between 17 and 23 percent; lost 1,249 jobs between 2007 and 2013; and have unemployment rates that are 109 percent of the state average. Uncommon Communities serves as a model in addressing these critical issues in quality of living and community/economic development.

“The Institute partnered with Drs. Grisham, Peterson and Robertson to create Uncommon Communities because we know it’s the kind of work that Winthrop Rockefeller did,” Harris said. “Gov. Rockefeller made significant contributions to rural Arkansas through personal philanthropy and through policy initiatives. We know he would be proud of the progress these five communities have made over the past two years.”

This week’s session will feature two guest speakers: Greg Tehven, co-founder of Emerging Prairie in Fargo, N.D., and Charlotte Strickland, founder of Strickly Speaking and director of professional development and training at the University of Central Arkansas. While most of the two-day session is restricted only for the community leaders participating in the initiative, the two keynotes are open to public. Those interested in attending the keynote presentation should contact program officer Samantha Evans at 501-727-6257 or

For more information about Uncommon Communities, visit


About the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute

In 2005, the University of Arkansas System established the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute with a grant from the Winthrop Rockefeller Charitable Trust. By integrating the resources and expertise of the University of Arkansas System with the legacy and ideas of Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller, this educational institute and conference center creates an atmosphere where collaboration and change can thrive.

Program areas include Agriculture, Arts and Humanities, Civic Engagement, Economic Development, and Health. To learn more, call 501-727-5435, visit the website at, or stay connected through Twitter and Facebook.


Uncommon Communities spurs community development in Conway County

Spend a few minutes talking with Barry McKuin and it quickly becomes evident how much he loves Conway County. You can hear it in his voice and his choice of words. He’s spent the greater part of his life there. It’s home.

But not too terribly far in the past, he says, he felt that something was missing. He just couldn’t quite put his finger on it. But it kept coming to mind whenever he would discuss economic development and job recruitment in Conway County. In his community.

Then, approximately 20 years ago, McKuin was at a symposium in Batesville where he heard a speech from Dr. Vaughn Grisham, professor emeritus of sociology and founding director of the McLean Institute for Community Development at the University of Mississippi. Something Dr. Grisham said immediately struck the now former director of the Conway County Economic Development Corp. “That’s it! That is what’s missing.”

Community development precedes economic development, Dr. Grisham said. 

“The message from Vaughn Grisham [was about] the history of Tupelo focusing on community development, and how it led to economic development,” said McKuin, who is currently on the board of directors at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute. “I have never been one to take many notes, but I found myself writing on every blank piece of paper I had.”

Fast forward a couple decades.

In August 2015, the Institute began training sessions for a two-year pilot program based on the methodology and insight of Dr. Grisham. This community and economic development program, Uncommon Communities, was created with the goal of producing community leaders who were equipped to assess the gaps in their communities, as well as mobilize the community to fill those gaps in the areas of economic development, education and workforce development, and quality of life and place, said Cary Tyson, the former program officer who led the pilot program at the Institute. The program was developed as a partnership between the Institute, Dr. Grisham, Breakthrough Solutions – under the direction of Dr. Mark Peterson at the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service – and Dr. Roby Robertson, retired professor of public administration and former director of the Institute of Government at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

“Before you can do 21st century economic development,” Tyson said, “you have to do community development.”

Tyson also noted that from the beginning, representatives from all five counties who participated in the Uncommon Communities training – counties near the Institute: Conway, Perry, Pope, Van Buren and Yell – all participated together. They had to learn to cooperate with each other more as partners and less, perhaps, as competition.

“Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller strongly believed in partnership and regionalism,” Tyson said. “I always called it, ‘coopertition.’”

To that purpose, said current Institute program officer Samantha Evans, year three of Uncommon Communities will feature tours of each participating county, during which representatives will be able to report on their community development progress. This new aspect – which will kick off with a tour of Conway County – will allow communities to learn from each other and assess what might work for them in their own backyards.

“If you want jobs, want economic development, then you have to have leaders – the right people on the bus,” Evans said. “Then you just determine where you want to go.”

Dr. Linda Birkner, vice chancellor of administration at the University of Arkansas Community College at Morrilton, is already on that bus, and she’s already looking forward to touring her neighboring counties to witness the transformations taking place.

“We’re building bridges, really – ‘people-bridges’ – to address any problem that may arise in our community,” said Birkner, who moved to Conway County in 1984.

In fact, to continue with the bridges metaphor, Birkner says she can best describe the work that has been taking place in Conway County under Uncommon Communities as “making connections.” And, nowhere was the importance of community connections more evident than during Munchin on Main Street – a new one-day community festival that was a big success this past spring.

Due to some unforeseen challenges, the joint project of Main Street Morrilton, the Morrilton Area Chamber of Commerce and Uncommon Communities had to come together in a relatively short period of time: music, entertainment, food trucks and activities for kids all had to be finalized within six weeks. Not only did everything come together, it was such a success that another festival is planned for next year, as well.

“That would have never been able to happen in six weeks if we had not already had all those [Uncommon Communities] meetings and made those community relationships,” Birkner said.

Munchin on Main was a dynamic community achievement. Perhaps the type of dynamic achievement McKuin felt was missing from Conway County over the years. It didn’t help that an existing leadership program ended in the mid-2000s, McKuin said. But that’s now slowly coming back.

“As a result of Uncommon Communities, we were motivated to restart the leadership training (Leadership Conway County),” he said. “We had our first graduating class last year and we already have a second class filled for 2017. Through our leadership classes we are identifying community projects that merit working together and developing funding, when appropriate.”

But the success of Uncommon Communities can perhaps be best summed up in something else McKuin said: “This is not the end of the story.”


Final thoughts from a leader

I remember the first time I met Dr. Dan Rahn. He was taller than I expected, distinguished and had a handshake that could crush a cue ball.

I watched him over a two-and-a-half-day period in late 2013 as he and 60 other health care leaders debated and discussed the issue of obesity in Arkansas. Dr. Rahn was passionately cool, if such a thing exists. He addressed each complexity of the issue with pointed thoughtfulness. He was careful not to dominate the conversation, though when he spoke, people listened.

Through his leadership and that of many others – like Dr. Joe Thompson of the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement and Dr. Joe Bates, now retired from the Arkansas Department of Health – a plan to combat obesity was born.

The plan was formally drafted here at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute throughout 2014, and in 2015 we sought and received the endorsement of Gov. Asa Hutchinson to launch Healthy Active Arkansas, a statewide initiative to increase the number of Arkansans who are at a healthy weight.

Throughout that process and since, my impression of Dr. Rahn hasn’t changed. He’s often the smartest person in the room, but he treats everyone he encounters with respect.

Today is Dr. Rahn’s official last day as chancellor of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. When I met with him a couple of weeks ago, his shelves were already empty, his desk nearly bare. I encountered that same strong handshake, and Dr. Rahn eased from pleasantries and salutations to a succinct assessment of the origin of Healthy Active Arkansas.

“The starting point was specifically focused on obesity,” he began with the kind of energy one would expect from a leader just stepping into his role, not leaving it. “In Arkansas, we have a strategy for the health care sector. That strategy is insurance expansion, promulgation of electronic health information through incentives, and payment redesign. We’re gradually shifting from a volume-based structure to a value-based structure.”

He continued to explain to me the problem that UAMS and other health care systems face when trying to address obesity.

“If one looks at the drivers of ill health in Arkansas, there is an uneven distribution. The majority of the factors that contribute to ill health are not due to access to high-quality health care services. The majority are due to social and behavioral factors. The general concept is about 80 percent of the determinants of health care outcomes are external to the health care delivery system.

“Through our strategy for health care, we can deal with the consequences of obesity, but we can’t deal with the root cause.”

He says his support for Health Active Arkansas was borne of a desire to “move upstream” and work on strategies to prevent obesity from occurring in the first place. That decision starts at birth with a mother’s decision to breastfeed, he says, and continues through the child’s life with their intake of healthy foods and their level of physical activity (which, he notes, are both often affected by access).

I ask him about the state of Healthy Active Arkansas today, where we are and where we’re headed. I’ve learned over the past several years that Dr. Rahn is not a man to talk around a topic. He keenly analyzed our current organization, identifying that the HAA board is weighing a decision of whether to approach the initiative with a top-down management approach or a bottom-up system of encouragement. Faced with a decision between these two approaches, “the answer is likely ‘yes,’” he says and laughs.

He acknowledges the challenges of motivating players from various sectors to commit to the same ideals, especially if it involves instituting new policies or limiting choices, such as reforming the way vending machines are stocked.

I’ve long thought that Dr. Rahn is a prime example of someone who embraces what Jim Collins called the “Stockdale Paradox” in his best-seller Good to Great. The concept, broadly defined, is that the best approach to problems is to always preserve hope of a positive outcome while always honestly confronting the challenges that are in front of you.

In our conversation, swift on the heels of describing some of HAA’s challenges, Dr. Rahn follows with what has been encouraging to him.

“I think we’ve progressed well with no new funding,” he says. “I think it has been an effective, inclusive process. I think we’ve done a good job of raising awareness of the importance of the issue … and that we need to take control of our own health and our own future – at the family level, at the community level, at the employer level.”

Looking to the future of Healthy Active Arkansas, Dr. Rahn cautions against taking an all-or-nothing approach.

“We don’t want to get stuck saying ‘if we can’t do everything, then we can’t do anything.’”

Another challenge will be determining measures of success that will effectively determine whether our efforts are making a difference.

“This is a generational thing,” he says. “Change occurs across generations. So what will be our measures of success that will provide encouragement to stay the course?”

He also points out the importance of the collaborative nature of Healthy Active Arkansas.

“It’s important for each party or participant to not become something that it isn’t, but to bring its strengths to the table and to be working in collaboration and partnership with other individuals and organizations that have complementary strengths.”

I ask him about health literacy. As someone involved in the marketing aspect of Healthy Active Arkansas, health literacy comes up often as a key issue in the battle against not just obesity, but diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and a host of other health-related issues.

Dr. Rahn points out that health literacy is not about whether people understand technical words about health care, it’s whether they understand important concepts, getting to the “why” of health care and moving to a level of understand beyond just the “what.”

As we move toward that future, preparing to take on those challenges, it will be a little harder without Dr. Rahn involved. Healthy Active Arkansas is losing one of its original champions. Two of his colleagues on the Healthy Active Arkansas board gave their thoughts on the outgoing chancellor.

“Dan provided critical leadership in both articulating and committing both his institution and encouraging others across the state to join together to address this environmental threat to our future health, productivity and economic well-being,” Thompson said.

Dr. Nate Smith, state health officer and director of the Arkansas Department of Health, had this to say:

“Under Chancellor Rahn’s leadership, UAMS has been an invaluable ally in the statewide efforts to reduce obesity and chronic disease. Our progress in obesity prevention and reduction wouldn’t have been possible without Dr. Rahn’s support as chancellor of the state’s only academic health center. Arkansas is a healthier state because of UAMS’ commitment to public health, and Dr. Rahn has been at the center of that commitment for the past eight years.”

Many people know Dr. Rahn better than I do. I can’t share personal stories of fun memories or tell you what it was like to work with him day in and day out. But I’ve watched him lead from a close distance. He hasn’t always led by being in front of a group, but he’s always led.

From my vantage point, Dr. Rahn has been the type of leader Arkansas needed at the exact moment he was here. He leaves Healthy Active Arkansas in good hands, but he will be missed.


A touch of the Unexpected in Fort Smith

Unexpected. Far more than just a catchy name, the word “unexpected” truly captures the spirit of the yearly art celebration in Fort Smith, the Unexpected Mural Festival.

Curated by art network JustKids, the Unexpected is an initiative to bring international artists and creative artwork to downtown Fort Smith, Ark., perhaps not the first venue that would come to mind as the focal point for world-class art. Yet that is part of what makes it the perfect backdrop. Walking through a downtown that has been a lynchpin in Arkansas history and industry and seeing walls and alleyways adorned with bright colors and stunning tableaus serves as a bridge to the present. The murals and installed artworks are also enhanced by the history surrounding them. There is a symbiosis between old and new that helps one appreciate them both through the contrast.

Mural by DFace

That is not to say, however, that the murals and other art don’t have a Fort Smith flavor. Much of the art ties into Fort Smith’s frontier past and its proximity to Oklahoma featuring Western and Native American themes. New Zealand artist ASKEW, for instance, met with a modern Cherokee chief in Oklahoma while conceptualizing his mural. Inspired by the meeting, ASKEW created a mural incorporating the faces of four Cherokee women close to the chief: his mother, wife, daughter and sister.

Mural by ASKEW

The nod to the history and culture of Fort Smith in so many murals was itself unexpected. Artists are given free range to create the murals, without the need for approval or input from the organizers or the business owners on whose walls they are working. This leap of faith has been rewarded year after year with thoughtful and stunning works of art. This running success is a testament to careful selection of world-class artists whose chosen medium happens to be mural work.

Mural by UAFS students

Something else one might not expect as part of a mural festival are the variety of installed elements accompanying the art. From standalone sculptures of local fauna made from metal scraps, to incorporated neon lights, several pieces of art go beyond flat walls and bring the viewer inside of the work. At the Unexpected headquarters in the historic New Theater, artist Doze Green has installed his work “The Divine Sparks Project.” The work pulls visitors into a darkened space, through an entryway lit by dime blue lights that make the stark white figures painted on the walls jump out. Past the entrance, the space opens up into the theater proper with custom neon figures lighting up the walls and a pair of blue giants towering on either side of the proscenium. Standing on the darkened stage, flanked by colossal abstract figures and looking out a ring of glowing outlines on the far wall, you lose yourself for a moment.

Divine Sparks Project 1

Divine Sparks Project 2

Divine Sparks Project 3

Another piece that invites interaction is by Amsterdam artists Circus Family. “TRIPH” is an installed work that features glowing geometric shapes and ambient sounds that react to viewer interaction. In the absence of spectators, the lights are dull and the sounds nearly non-existent. When approached, however, the shapes light up and pulse with different colors, and sounds fill the space. The work is a fantastic blend of art and technology that takes the viewer out of passive role.

Mural by UAFS student

Carved mural by Vhils

There are so many great artworks to discus, from work that was chiseled into plaster, a mural on a print shop storage building appropriately featuring Guttenberg, to abstract pieces that speak for themselves, but words do them only so much justice. You really can’t know what it’s like until you’ve seen it for yourself. Even though the festival is over, the art remains an integral part of Fort Smith. I encourage you to make the trip and take a stroll downtown. Soak in the history, shop the shops and expect the Unexpected.


Up, up and away

I work with a superhero.

Not the kind you see this time of year on the big screen. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy and tend to geek out over comic book movies as much as anyone, but this story isn’t full of explosions, high-speed chases and daring rescues.

But it does involve super powers: quiet strength, fierce determination and perseverance that is as humbling as it is inspiring.

LaTonya Cockrell doesn’t quit. She just doesn’t. She started college back in 1993 at what was then Petit Jean Technical College (today the University of Arkansas Community College at Morrilton, or UACCM). Her educational journey took her from Morrilton to Pulaski Technical College and then to the University of Central Arkansas. But as is the story for many of us, life’s unforeseen circumstances got in the way of her finishing her degree during that first go-round.

The easy thing would be to give up. No one would have faulted her for saying, “college just isn’t for me.” But that’s not how LaTonya approaches life. More than 20 years after she first enrolled at UACCM, LaTonya went back to school through the University of Arkansas System’s eVersity to obtain her Associate of Science in information technology.

LaTonya is good at her job. She joined the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute’s Conference Food Service department in 2012 as a front-of-house server. Her infectious smile and laugh make it easy to work with her and make our customers feel welcomed. And even though she enjoys her job and co-workers, she felt the time was right to continue her education.

“I decided to go back due to financial reasons,” she says. “If I go back and finish my degree, I can do better not only for my children, but for myself.”

One of the things holding her back in her journey was the financial strain of paying for college classes while supporting her family. LaTonya then heard about eVersity through a co-worker and it seemed to be the perfect fit.

“I looked into other online classes and the cost was not in my budget, and I have no time to attend classes on campus,” she says. “After hearing that eVersity was just $165 a credit hour, I knew it would fit my life and my budget.”

The process, she says, has been fulfilling. She has finished 10 classes during her time enrolled, each class lasting 6 weeks. All of her credits from the other institutions transferred easily, which helped give her a jump-start in the program. Through her advisors, instructors, even financial aid workers, LaTonya has found a strong support system of people who want to help her reach her goals. Though easier than she first thought, like any good superhero story there have been obstacles to overcome.

“It was scary, transitioning back to being a student,” she says. “Online classes and the Blackboard were completely new to me. Time management has been a real struggle, too, having to stay up later when the kids are asleep. But everyone has been there to help me.”

One aspect of the help she’s gotten has been an opportunity here at work. LaTonya approached management about ways she might be able to get some on-the-job training in IT, and our executive director, Dr. Marta Loyd, along with our IT manager, Chris O’Cain, found a way to offer LaTonya an internal internship with our IT department. For a few hours a week, she is able to shadow our IT people and assist with their work.

“In school, you learn all the concepts, but you don’t get that hands-on experience,” O’Cain says. “With this internship, LaTonya will get to learn how things work in the real world.”

The importance of that hands-on training isn’t lost on LaTonya.

“When I found out that they were creating the internship, I was excited and wanted to cry,” LaTonya says. “I was overwhelmed that the Institute was willing to help me further my education and career in a way that is unrelated to my position here.”

The next step in LaTonya’s journey is to complete her Bachelor of Science in information technology, which she is working on. She’s proud of her success, and she’s willing to share her story with anyone who needs a bit of encouragement to pursue or finish a degree.

“You need a degree to make it and take care of yourself and your family,” she says matter-of-factly. “You want them to see you succeed; it will mean so much.”

It has meant a lot to me to work alongside this superhero, and I can’t wait to see what successes are in store for her.