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Ashley News Observer- Features


Haley Creek Boys still pickin' after almost 40 years
Classical music in New York City may mean Bach and Beethoven; but in Arkansas, classical music is gospel and blue grass.

The sound of guitars, mandolins, fiddles and a stand-up bass is the music of the south – particularly Arkansas.

In Ashley County, particularly in the Promise Land community, the Haley Creek Boys have long been spreading the word and playing the music that best represents classical southern culture – bluegrass and gospel.

The group came together in 1975 and will celebrate its 40th anniversary in just a few months.

Over the years, membership has changed and there have even been a few girls mixed in with the Boys; but the current 11-member singing group keeps alive the music and spirit that the original membership sought to represent.
The oldest member of the band is one of the original members, 83-year-old Ed Watt (mandolin, vocals).

The youngest is 37-year-old Jared Brooks (lead guitar, vocals). Despite being the youngest, Brooks knows the band’s legacy because he joined it as a youngster – 12-years-old.



(Full story in the Ashley News Observer)




Former Crossett resident collects first Super Bowl ring
What began as an internship for Lane Gammel has led to a job as director of communications for the National Football League’s Seattle Seahawks – and a Super Bowl ring.

Gammel, a 1993 graduate of Crossett High School, was in town last week to visit family and friends, with two top prizes in tow – the championship ring and his new daughter, almost four months old.

“It has been a big year,” he said. “We won the Super Bowl February 2 and we had our first daughter March 20.”

Gammel said he graduated Crossett High School with no thoughts at all of being in his present field.

He attended and played football at the University of Louisiana at Monroe, then known as Northeastern Louisiana, and considered following in the footsteps of his father, local pharmacist Billy Gammel.

“I went to pharmacy school since my brothers didn’t and I thought I might go into the same field that my dad had,” Gammel said. “But then I just realized I wanted to do something in sports. I had stopped playing (football) after two years at Northeast Louisiana but I still wanted to be in sports. I thought maybe I wanted to be an athletic director. Then I found out that our athletic director at the time had majored in public relations.”

Gammel said he had considered “public relations” to be a media job, not something that an athletic director would pursue.

“I didn’t want to be in the newspaper business, but when I saw our AD had been in public relations it gave me something to think about,” he said, “so I changed my major after I realized that I could have a public relations degree and still work in sports.”

Gammel initially went to Seattle in 1997 as an intern with the Seahawks.



(Full story in the Ashley News Observer)




Parks, tourism bring resources, jobs to Arkansas
Richard Davies gestures as he addresses Crossett Rotarians June 26 at First Methodist Church. (Tom White/News Observer)
Arkansas’ state parks and tourism industry not only provide recreation for state and outside residents, but they pump a considerable amount of money into the state’s economy, according to Richard Davies, executive director of the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism.

Davies discussed the important role played by tourism and the state’s parks to Crossett Rotary Club members June 26 at the First Methodist Church of Crossett.

Davies argued that the first national park in the U.S. is not Yosemite, as is widely reported and in the history books, but actually Hot Springs.

“(President) Andrew Jackson set aside Hot Springs as a federal reservation, 60 years before Yosemite,” he said. “He just didn’t call it a national park, he called it a federal reservation.”

Davies said the number of parks in Arkansas grew considerably after the 1921 national conference of state parks, with Petit Jean officially designated as the first state park.

Problems grew over the years, however, as the number of state parks multiplied, but not the resources to care for them, according to Davies.

He said the 1996 conservation amendment “has helped us take care of things that had been broken since the 1940s.”

Davies said Arkansas’ 52 state parks offer a variety of features for local residents and tourists to enjoy, from the Ozark Folk Center to the Crater of Diamonds.

As for the latter, he said the discovery of five diamonds each over one carat in one year boosted revenue at that facility by $1 million.

Tourism in Arkansas, Davies said, “means money and it means jobs,” adding that the tourism industry generated $5.9 billion last year.

He said the state’s 23 million visitors have helped to create 100,000 tourism-related jobs and produced $425 million in taxes.

And that has also served to benefit Ashley County, Davies said, as the county had 119,000 visitors last year, serving to help create 314 jobs in tourism-related fields.

Davies said 85 percent of Arkansas’ tourists come from what he called “the egg,” an area that extends from Illinois and Indiana to Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana.

“We’re the big pretty hole in the doughnut,” he said.

Davies added that the top reason given by tourists for visiting Arkansas is the state’s beauty.

“The number one reason is they think we’re pretty,” he said. “They think we’re a pretty state. And, for us, the Natural State isn’t just a name.”



(Full story in the Ashley News Observer)




CMS preparing to answer ‘Rachel’s Challenge’
“I won’t be labeled as average.” -- Rachel Scott

Rachel Joy Scott was a high school junior who, in her own polite way, seemed to be on a mission.

She was a middle child – the third of five – of Darrell Scott and Beth Nimmo. Her father was a former Lutheran minister in Lakewood, Colo. before he and Beth divorced, after which he became a sales manager.

Beth and the children moved to Littleton, Colo. and remarried, although she and Darrell maintained joint custody of the children.

Rachel had an interest in the arts and was an actress and aspiring writer, having played the lead in a student-written play her junior year. Away from school, she was a youth leader at Orchard Road Christian Center Church.

She also kept several diaries, many dealing with her faith in God and how she planned to change the world for the better, if only through small acts of kindness.

In an essay for school, Rachel wrote, “I have this theory that if one person can go out of their way to show compassion then it will start a chain reaction of the same.”

April 20, 1999 began like any other school day for Rachel at Columbine High School in Columbine, Colo., just west of Littleton.

She was having lunch with a friend, Richard Castaldo, outside the school library when two Columbine seniors, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, walked to where Rachel and her friend were sitting.

Rachel was initially shot in the leg, according to reports, when one of the gunmen picked her up by the hair and asked if she still believed in God.
“You know I do” was the reply, before she was shot in the head at point-blank range.

Rachel was the first of 12 students, along with a teacher and the two shooters, who died at Columbine that day in 1999, one of the deadliest high school shootings in U.S. history.

After the massacre, Columbine completely demolished its library, located above the cafeteria, since it was the site where most of the deaths took place. The site was then turned into a memorial ceiling and atrium; a new, larger library was built on the hill where the shooting began and dedicated to the memory of the victims.

Rachel’s story became the basis for five books and a nationwide outreach program, Rachel’s Challenge, designed to prevent teen violence. Program speakers include Rachel’s father and two brothers, while her mother have also authored books and is spokesperson for Rachel Joy Scott Ministries, which preserves her legacy.

Rachel’s parents, in the book Rachel’s Tears: the Spiritual Journey of Columbine Martyr Rachel Scott, claimed that their daughter was targeted by the killers and died as a martyr for her Christian faith.

Her funeral on April 24 was attended by more than 2,000 people and drew a larger viewing audience for CNN than the funeral for Princess Diana.

Rachel was posthumously awarded the 2001 National Kindness Award for Student of the Year by the Acts of Kindness Association. In 2006, the National Education Association of New York awarded Darrell Scott and Rachel’s Challenge the Friend of Education Award.

Crossett Middle School has decided to answer Rachel’s Challenge, in order to make the school – and the community – a better place.

CMS principal Lou Gregorio said implementing Rachel’s Challenge is taking a proactive, rather than reactive, approach.

“I believe it impacts our students in teaching them kindness to others and preventing bullying,” he said. “Bullying is an issue at all schools and we’re trying to be proactive about it.”

Gregorio said two assemblies during the school day Thursday will offer a presentation about Rachel’s Challenge and activities for students.

A leadership team, comprised of students in each grade, will meet that afternoon, he said, and a program for the public will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the CMS cafeteria.

“We’d like to make this something that the whole community can get involved in,” Gregorio said.

The principal said he has seen Rachel’s Challenge in action at other schools, adding that he took a group of staff members to a state conference earlier this year where a presentation of the program took place.

Gregorio added that, several years ago, he met administrators and a counselor from Columbine at a conference, where they discussed measures that had been taken at Columbine after the incident.

He said he’d like Crossett to be another community that will take Rachel’s Challenge, and make the schools and the community a better one for all its residents.

“Her dream is what she wrote out before she died,” Gregorio said. “And her dream has come true – it has come true all over the country and we want to see it come true here.”

“I am sure that my codes of life may be very different from yours, but how do you know that trust, compassion and beauty will not make this world a better place to be in and this life a better one to live? My codes may seem like a fantasy that can never be reached, but test them for yourself, and see the kind of effect they have in the lives of people around you. You just may start a chain reaction.” – Rachel Scott





RDA program helps woman build new home
Louise Couser took a look at her new completed home Monday afternoon. Pictured, from left, are contractor Tommy Bailey, Couser and USDA Rural Development area specialist LouAnne Richardson. (Tom White/News Observer)
Louise Couser is about to enjoy the benefits of living in a new home – for the first time in almost 40 years.

The North Carolina Street resident will be able to move into her new residence soon, accomplished through a loan program offered by the USDA’s Rural Development Authority.

RDA area specialist LouAnne Richardson said the 502 loan program is available to residents of all ages, adding that Department of Housing and Urban Development income guidelines apply.

“The payments are based on income,” Richardson said. “Mrs. Couser had applied to get a loan to repair her home but we had some contractors look at it and they said it was basically about to fall in.

“Under the income and credit guidelines we have, she was able to qualify for a small home and I’m very happy we were able to help her get it.”

Richardson said the program allows residents the opportunity to secure a loan for the construction of a new home or to purchase and set up a new mobile home.

“We make loans to people who probably wouldn’t be able to get them otherwise,” she said. “The majority of our loans go to first-time home buyers.”

Richardson added “we’re one of the few left who can finance a home loan and the closing costs.”

She said the RDA also offers a 504 loan and grant program for existing homes to finance repairs, “to remove health and safety hazards,” although she added that “the loan program offers a bit more leeway for cosmetic things. We do a lot of 504 loans and grants.”

Richardson said a meeting for residents to learn more about the programs will be held at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 12 at the Crossett Public Library.

Richardson said Couser’s new home was the first for the program in the Crossett area in at least six years, “but we’re hoping we can do a lot more.”

Tommy Bailey of Mystic Creek Construction in El Dorado, was the contractor for the Couser home, and was busy sweeping the carport Monday afternoon before her arrival.

“She’s a really great lady,” he said. “I’m happy all this worked out and we were able to build this place for her.”

Couser said she has lived on that lot since 1947, adding that a fire in the early 1960s destroyed the initial residence on the site.


(Full story in the Ashley News Observer)





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