The Magnolia Conference of the Arkansas Historical Association at Southern Arkansas University, 2009

Article excerpt

A REMARKABLE NUMBER OF VISITORS TRAVELED TO MAGNOLIA, many for the first time, to attend the sixty-eighth annual conference of the Arkansas Historical Association, hosted by Southern Arkansas University (SAU) on April 23-25. "The Arkansas Environment" was an appropriate theme for a meeting occurring in a region heavily invested in the fortunes of the timber and petrochemical industries and at an institution with a mission to study natural resources. At the same time, those in attendance were reminded throughout the conference that this was the centennial year of the four "Farmers' Schools": Arkansas State University, Arkansas Tech University, Southern Arkansas University, and the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

Sherrel F. Johnson of El Dorado handled arrangements with her incomparable flair and precision. She worked closely with Cammie Hambrice, Executive Director, Magnolia-Columbia County Chamber of Commerce, who coordinated with accomplished skill and enthusiasm all local arrangements, including overseeing a bevy of community leader volunteers and event hosts, mailing information packets to all participants before the meeting, and marshaling event underwriters. The community's efforts left all impressed with Magnolia's warm hospitality. Susan Young brought to bear her indispensable experience as chair of the Annual Conference committee to insure continuity with AHA's tradition of superb meetings.

Generous grants from the Arkansas Humanities Council and the Department of Arkansas Heritage underwrote important meeting activities.

All of the meeting sessions and conference meals took place in the spacious and handsome Donald W. Reynolds Campus and Community Center on the SAU campus. The Reynolds Center staff adeptly responded to needs and challenges as they arose.

The large number of registrants anxious to get an early start to the meeting required the shifting of the Thursday evening reception and meal from the open-air Gantt farm to the Magnolia Country Club. Bob Gantt, the Magnolia Advertising & Promotion Commission, Magnolia Unlimited, and the Magnolia-Columbia County Chamber of Commerce sponsored, without cost to attendees, an unbeatable steak dinner grilled by the Milam Construction cooking team from El Dorado. The Milam group won the 2008 World Champion Steak Cook-Off Governor's Cup. Tireless volunteer community leaders provided both food service and information about Magnolia. Mayor Lane Jean welcomed the AHA with assurances that such good food was standard fare in the community, and international fiddle champion Mickey Davis, accompanied by Bobby Bird, played a rich blend of traditional and well-known music. Members of the Milam steak cookers mingled with diners, offering tips on how to prepare an unforgettable steak.

The sun was shining in south Arkansas as early risers were officially welcomed the next morning by Pres. David Rankin of Southern Arkansas University, who surveyed the history of the institution. Rex Nelson, whose public career has given him rare insight into latter-day Arkansas history, moderated the opening session on "Arkansas Forests." Don Bragg of the U.S. Forest Service introduced meeting-goers to G. P. George, who warned in the 1920s that the planting of pine trees on cutover land represented a menace to small farmers. Jami Forrester, completing her graduate work in history at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, revealed how the Three States Lumber Company veered early in the twentieth century from standard practices to transform cutover land into agricultural fields. Although illness sadly prevented John Ragsdale from presenting his overview of the Deltic Timber Corporation, C. Fred Williams of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock ably elucidated the company's history, spanning tree harvesting to planting a west Little Rock residential development.

Streaming out of the session, attendees were seduced by the hot Spudnuts available during a break hosted by Southern Arkansas University- Camden. …

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