Interview Summaries

Bell, Ruth, Little Rock resident in her 80s, discusses upbringing and influences in a northern Illinois farming community, education at Northwestern University, marriage to an Arkansas native, relocation, and family life in the state. Description of more than 50 years of volunteerism with the Little Rock League of Women Voters includes early years of the organization, ERA lobbying, longtime monitoring of educational and environmental issues, and the Little Rock Planning Commission.

Photo by Jo Blatti
Cayce, Joannie, second-generation head of family-based Cayce Charities in Thornton, Arkansas, discusses a nonprofit established by her mother, serving southern Arkansas, drawing on a regional-national support base. Describes founder JoAnn Cayce’s support of the operation through an antiques business for many years, transmission of family values, evolution from “personal delivery” to more systematized food bank and clothing warehouse operations, now involving third-generation family members. Also discusses educational and economic conditions in the area that contribute to continuing poverty.

Chavarria, Lupita, [aka Maria Stancil], community volunteer based in Little Rock, Arkansas, describes early life and family background in Chihuahua [city and province], Mexico, work with an agricultural implement company, and marriage to an “Anglo,” which brought her to Arkansas. She discusses her work as publisher of Enlace Latino [Latin Liaison] in Little Rock, organization of monthly community health clinics in central Arkansas, an annual event with the Guatemalan consulate, inspiration through work with her mother in a Chihuahua soup kitchen [Jesuit influence], and community activities in Cloverdale Middle School. Chavarria also discusses her college education in Mexico, current graduate work in marketing and business administration, mission to women and youth, and a fiction-writing project about contemporary Latino family situations.

Devone, Bernadette, community organizer based in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, discusses her work with a statewide social justice group and her background on the East Coast, including mentorship by Virginia legislator Dr. Mary Christian and early experiences with New Jersey and Maryland projects. Describes work with southern Arkansas communities, the importance of economics, the process of being invited in, the challenge of getting people to see that things can change, and how community members can work together.

Dillard, Mary, Malvern, Arkansas–based consultant in her 60s discusses family and upbringing in the Malvern-Benton, Arkansas, area; education in Arkansas and Colorado and early marriage; career in nonprofits [due in part to lack of jobs for women in her first love, wildlife biology, in the 1960s], and volunteer work with Arkansas Advocates for Children & Families, AARP, and other organizations. Description of political consulting work includes discussion of 2014 Saline County liquor campaign. Also discusses second marriage and activities with Sexual Assault Coalition Arkansas and with Arkansas Community Foundation. [Two-part interview]

Doyle, Lee Lee, retired reproductive physiologist, age 79, based in Little Rock, Arkansas, describes family and early life in a rural California town, influence of her paternal grandmother, her Catholic background, and her education at Dominican College, Stanford University, and Tulane. She tells of her shift from animal to human research with intrauterine devices and her work at UAMS, initially “bench research,” later administration and medical education. Personal history with volunteer commitments, including California summer camp and Planned Parenthood in the 1950s and ’60s. She tells of Arkansas commitments: Anytown [National Conference of Christians and Jews], continuing roles with Planned Parenthood regionally and nationally, Women’s Foundation of Arkansas, UAMS Women’s Faculty Caucus, and Stonewall. Notes support of late husband for her activities.

Elston, Jo Evelyn, Little Rock, Arkansas, public schools administrator/counselor, age 75, describes family and early life in Chicago, Illinois, and Parkin, Arkansas, including experience of segregation in the region and schools, undergraduate and graduate education at University of Arkansas–Pine Bluff and University of Arkansas-Fayetteville. Discusses role of teachers as mentors in public schools, her volunteer work with Youth and Family Services, Friends of the Arts (University of Arkansas at Little Rock], Arkansas Symphony, importance of church [Catholic], and the need to develop/encourage family and community resources.

Freeman, June, arts advocate, age 85, describes family and early life in Newark, New Jersey, and college education, with a focus on psychology, at the University of Chicago. Discusses meeting husband, moving to his home state of Arkansas, and involvement with community organizations in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. Talks about writing an arts column for the Pine Bluff newspaper, assisting with community health and arts centers, working at the Arkansas Arts Center in Little Rock, and later starting a lecture series on architecture and other activities.

Photo by Jo Blatti
Haller, Nancy, retired physician in Jasper, Arkansas, discusses her family background in Fort Smith, Arkansas, education at UA in Fayetteville and UAMS in Little Rock, and her marriage to a fellow medical student. Describes establishing joint husband/wife practice in Jasper [1974] through National Health Service Corps, subsequent work with both spouses commuting to Mountain Home and Russellville emergency rooms, which was a plus for family life with children. She tells of her subsequent involvement with Jasper/Newton County community service through ambulance service, the Resource Council, affordable housing, battered women’s shelter, children’s shelter, eco-tourism, and a later theater project.

Hampton, Sybil Jordan, retired foundation executive and active community volunteer based Little Rock, Arkansas, age 65, describes early life in Little Rock, influence of family members, church background, many mentors, experience integrating Central High School, and her education at Earlham College, University of Chicago, and Columbia University. Outlines career in educational administration and foundation work nationally and in Arkansas. Contrasts experiences as a black person and woman, discusses equity issues broadly, personally, and strategically related to her own intentional journey toward philanthropy. [Two-part interview]

Photo by Jo Blatti
Harsh, Mary, community volunteer and philanthropist, age 93, describes her upbringing and family life in Magnolia, Arkansas, education at UA in Fayetteville, World War II, marriage, volunteer activities as a young woman in the community, later teaching in an all-black school in Magnolia in the 1960s, work with Arkansas Community Foundation on historic preservation in Magnolia, and extensive travels.

Hawkins, Ruth, director of the Heritage Sites program at Arkansas State University (ASU) in Jonesboro, describes early life in St. Louis County, Missouri, on her family’s farm. She discusses her education at Christian College in Columbia, Missouri, and later her doctorate at Ole Miss. Discusses 1969 marriage and early work in journalism and public relations in Virginia and her 1978 move to northeastern Arkansas through her husband’s farm interests. Describes early projects with ASU—affirmative action policy, public relations, human resources, special assistance to the president (Ray Thornton), and development—and how these led to historic projects. Outlines criteria for ASU involvement in historic sites in the Arkansas Delta. Also discusses interpretive issues and financial challenges of long-term support for historic sites. Credits mentors and family with support for her activities. Offers reflections concerning women in the workplace based on her experience.

Horn, Robyn, Little Rock, Arkansas–based artist and philanthropist in her 60s, describes family background in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and the centrality of art, teenage music, and her education at Hendrix College. Identifies individuals influential in her career as a sculptor working in wood and stone. Describes self as a visual learner, family commitment to arts education through Windgate Foundation, art collecting activities with husband John Horn, and the relation of collection to her art-making. Notes that she does not feel that she has been discriminated against as a woman in the arts, and she wishes to be known for quality of work, not gender. Also discusses her values in creating and collecting art, her family commitment to disbursing foundation assets actively, thoughtfully. Relates the story of her courtship and marriage. Reflects on the expansion of women’s opportunities during her lifetime.

Photo by Rachel Worthen
Lacey, Marian, retired educator and administrator based in Little Rock, describes her upbringing on a family-owned farm in Dermott, Arkansas; education in segregated schools on the Baxter/Drew County line and at University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB). Notes cooperative use of equipment among area farmers, black and white, as well as front-porch interactions among families. Discusses college courtship in the 1960s, civil rights awareness among friends, and the “other side of the tracks” as she was growing up in the community. Describes graduate work in sociology at the University of Indiana and later graduate studies in education at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville (UA), including doctorate, her path to teaching at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR), and challenges of balancing family and career. Outlines professional positions with Dunbar Junior High School, Horace Mann, Central High School, Little Rock School District central administration, and the teaching award established in her honor within the Little Rock school district. Also discusses her sense of accomplishment working with difficult-to-reach students, situations faced as a female administrator, overweight as a discriminatory issue, and volunteer activities with many organizations including the Central Arkansas Library System, Just Communities, World Services for the Blind, and Bethel AME Church.

Photo by Rita Henry
Lile, Pat, retired director of Arkansas Community Foundation (ARCF), describes early life in Hope, Arkansas; education at Hendrix College; marriage to lawyer John Lile; and longtime family residence and volunteer activities in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. Lile discusses entrée into integrated community work and friendships through children’s schooling, the importance of Junior League and League of Women Voters for her and other individuals, her role in civic leadership programs in the 1980s, participation in developing Advocates for Arkansas Families & Children, shift to regional and statewide community development, and path to Little Rock via the 1990s Commission on Arkansas’s Future. Discusses women’s support networks in Little Rock in the 1990s, path to directorship of the Arkansas Community Foundation, formation of Women’s Foundation of Arkansas, and its relation to ARCF. Notes centrality of religion [initially Methodist, now Presbyterian] in her life and work.

McFarlin, Shirley, a volunteer for the League of Women Voters for more than fifty years, now in her 80s and based in Little Rock, Arkansas. Discusses upbringing in northwest Arkansas and at the Rohwer internment camp, education at Little Rock Junior College, courtship and marriage to a mining engineer, and return to central Arkansas via Reynolds Aluminum. Describes work in the 1950s and ’60s in Pulaski County and state leagues on “clean” elections, poll tax, consensus process within the league, personal volunteerism for David Pryor’s campaigns for Senate and governorship in the 1970s, and subsequent staff work with Pryor. Describes league ERA campaign of the mid-1970s, changes in the league, women’s roles over time, and her family’s participation in Little Rock Unitarian Universalist Church. She returns to the subject of legislative lobbying for the league and the textbooks issue, others who followed her in the lobbying role, and local league chapters statewide, now in decline.

Photo by Rita Henry
McHenry, Cora Duffy, retired educator and administrator based in Little Rock, describes her upbringing in an Augusta, Arkansas, sharecropping family; Chicago summer jobs to pay tuition at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB); participation in a nonviolent student demonstration at Southern University in Baton Rouge; first teaching job at Lincoln High School in Camden, Arkansas; and courtship with husband there. Discusses the Arkansas Teachers Association (ATA, African American ) and the Arkansas Education Association (AEA, white) and the accomplishments and issues she encountered as a volunteer and then as a professional staff member of the merged AEA organization in 1970 (she was director 1985–1999, first woman and African American to hold the position). Also discusses specifics of her experiences as a French teacher and Francophone, and reflects on self-presentation as a black woman with a “natural” hair-do. Describes work as the education aide to Governor (and later Senator) Dale Bumpers and discusses others on the staff. Refers to 1970s work on women’s issues in Arkansas, under-utilization of women in the state, AEA work in training women for leadership, participation in the Institute for Politics at the University of Central Arkansas (UCA), and work with the Democratic Party. Notes the prevalence of working women in the African American community, her approaches to the balance between work and family, experiences with the public school system that required family intervention, and post-retirement work with Shorter College. Describes volunteer commitments to the Women’s Foundation of Arkansas, Peace Links, Just Communities, early anti-violence work with AEA (statewide model program), and the current Bethel AME Church program.

Photo by Jo Blatti
Meadows, Viola, retired home economist and preservation activist discusses her teaching career in Lawrence County and elsewhere, life abroad with husband’s agricultural development career, and volunteer work with the Clover Bend restoration. Interview contains considerable information about education at UA in Fayetteville, social life and education in the area in the 1930s and ’40s, including memories of living at Clover Bend at the time of the colony’s formation, also Meadows’s post-WWII teaching in Japan and India prior to marriage, and her acquaintanceship with the African American teacher at Hoxie immediately prior to the integration of schools there.

Schexnayder, Charlotte, retired newspaper editor and legislator, still active in Dumas, Arkansas, community affairs at age 88, describes family and early life in Desha County, Arkansas, including education at Arkansas Agricultural and Mechanical College and Louisiana State University. Discusses role models, marriage, early newspaper work at the McGehee Times and later the Dumas Clarion. Identifies mentors throughout career, discusses appointment to Arkansas Pardons and Parole Board [1974], volunteer work with newspaper organizations, and experiences in the Arkansas legislature, 1985–1997, including increasing participation of/reception of women in public roles. Describes work in the civil rights era, balance between newspaper work/other public roles, and how she managed family responsibilities.

Sloan, Kitty, semi-retired journalist, community historian, and volunteer based in Paragould, Arkansas, describes family upbringing in a prosperous Jonesboro family, influence of community-minded parents, and education in parochial and public schools. Reflects on memories of integration in the middle and high schools, as well as the influence of the Vietnam War on her college education. Discusses experiences as an intern and reporter for the Paragould Daily Press, status of women in journalism in the mid-1970s, family/social expectations for women in her experience. She offers wide-ranging comments about her own life and her mother’s as a widow. Describes courtship with husband, including her decision to keep her last name upon marriage. Discusses participation in the Horizons project for the Arkansas Press Women (1970s). Outlines activities with the Trail of Tears Association and other historical organizations. Notes several elements of family history, including multi-generational Catholic/Protestant “mixed marriages,” current research into North Carolina roots, and her maternal Prescott, Arkansas, connection. Discusses care-giving for mother and other older relatives as an important experience. Outlines the origins and goals of funds established in honor of the Sloan parents at Arkansas State University and the Arkansas Community Foundation. Describes the effects of a childhood hearing loss, efforts to overcome.

Photo by Jo Blatti
Solorzano, Margarita, nonprofit executive based in Springdale, Arkansas, discusses work with Hispanic Women’s Organization of Arkansas to support recent migrants and outreach in northwestern Arkansas. Describes her family background in Jaral del Progreso, Mexico, path to Arkansas via California, and non-traditional roles of women in her family. Other topics discussed include commitment to education, activities on regional-state boards, immigrant voice in Arkansas politics, and personal experiences working with instances of anti-immigrant prejudice.

Snow, Nan, retired journalist, civil servant, and feminist still active in community and historical affairs at age 78, describes family and early life moving around Oklahoma, Washington State, and later settlement in Harrison, Arkansas, surrounded by relatives. Discusses education at Arkansas State Teachers College, now University of Central Arkansas, in Conway and meeting husband there. Describes work experiences in Washington D.C. government offices, Arkansas-based journalism and public relations, involvement with federal and state policy and programs directed toward women’s training and leadership in Texas and Arkansas, and participation in the second wave of the women’s movement in the 1970s forward. Describes consulting partnership with Dorothy Stuck and the biography of Fayetteville editor-publisher Roberta Fulbright that the two co-authored.

Steuri, Grace, community volunteer based in Little Rock, Arkansas, age 74, discusses childhood and family in Kansas, early interest in the arts and fashion, and the origin of her charitable vintage clothing show “Fashionating History.” Describes meeting husband; their frequent moves for his work, including to Arkansas in 1989; and adopting their son David.

Tompkins, Ethel, semi-retired librarian and community historian based in Hoxie/Walnut Ridge, Arkansas, describes early years on a sharecropping farm in Jackson County, her father’s switch to railroad work in Hoxie, later experiences as a member of the peaceful Hoxie 21 school integration event in Lawrence County in 1955, and adult participation in commemoration of Hoxie integration. Discusses initial college education at Shorter College in Little Rock, subsequent U.S. Navy experience, completion of education on the GI Bill, and longtime work in the computer science area, mostly on the West Coast. Discusses family influences and faith, with perspectives on women in military and technical life throughout. Reflects on the work life and practical issues of returning to a small community after more cosmopolitan experiences in the U.S. and elsewhere. Describes activities with the Lawrence County Historical Society, also the African American Gravestone Project.

Photo by Brandon Markin
Tuck, Annabelle, retired Arkansas Supreme Court justice based in Little Rock, describes family history in the Heber Springs/Greers Ferry area of Arkansas and the formative influence of her father’s work in Latin America, Africa, and Washington D.C. Discusses early legal career (1970s), status of women in the field, career at Wright, Jennings & Lindsey law firm in Little Rock, ethical and collegial culture of that firm, courtroom tactics, and her path to the judiciary, including the process of running successfully for statewide office (she was the first woman on the Supreme Court to do so), balance between work and family life, and participation in a women’s support system within the legal profession. Also describes changes in the legal system during her career: move to “paper-driven” deposition practices, changing role of technology, and the differences between litigation/lawyer’s work and a judge’s job. Discusses importance of professional service, such as being part of the Bar Association, within the legal profession. Also discusses more recent volunteerism with the UALR Bowen School of Law and the Access to Justice Commission, among other commitments.

Photo by Jo Blatti
West, Catherine, community volunteer and philanthropist based in Marianna, Arkansas, age 85, describes family and early life in Memphis, Tennessee, including the family hardware business and father Edmund Orgill’s political career. Also discusses education at local private schools and Hollins College, first marriage, widowhood, and the study and lifelong practice of landscape design, often on a volunteer basis. Additional topics include second marriage, the family’s participation in Marianna public schools through elementary years, and her interest in historic preservation in downtown Marianna. Also describes social and technological changes she has experienced, as well as fundraising approaches.

West-Scantlebury, Sherece, foundation executive, discusses work for the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation in Arkansas, such as real-life manifestations of public policy issues such as structural racism and disinvestment, as well as examples of pilot programs in Jonesboro, Blytheville, Augusta, and elsewhere in Arkansas. Identifies shifts and limitations of philanthropy as a profession and discusses her own commitments to the field. Describes personal experiences growing up and how that influenced ideas about marriage and family. [Note: an earlier interview in the FPP series provides additional information about her youth in New York and Maryland, education, and early career prior to Arkansas work.]

Willet, Sister Elaine, Olivetan Benedictine Sister from Holy Angels Covent in Jonesboro, discusses growing up on a family farm in northeastern Arkansas and the call to religious life. She describes the education received through the order and her initial career posts teaching and nursing in Arkansas and Louisiana, which included medical and social situations, such as integration of wards due to natural disasters (then retaining those practices in the interest of hospital efficiency and patient well-being). Willet also recalls experiences later in her career as a missionary in Mexico, as a minister to migrants in northern Arkansas, and as a teacher of Spanish to hospital staff at St. Bernards, Jonesboro. [Two-part interview]

Photo by Jo Blatti
Worthen, Diana Gonzales, director, Project RISE, UA in Fayetteville, describes family roots in California and Texas, history in U.S. and Mexico, bi-cultural upbringing in Texas, non-traditional gender roles, education at the University of Houston, in Dallas, and at UA in Fayetteville. Discusses immersion in ESL programs in Rogers, Arkansas, in 1996 as a biology teacher and development of additional resources within schools and community such as a library program, founding roles with Hispanic Women’s Organization of Arkansas and OneCommunity, and professional development programs for teachers. Also reflects on campaigns for the Arkansas legislature in 2006 and 2012, policy work with nonprofits, and support of family in all her activities. Credits husband with strong partnership in particular.

Youngdahl, Pat, retired psychologist and social activist discusses her years in higher education, development of family, and her professional and civic work. Describes how her childhood in Missouri and then her higher education shaped her views of social issues and the progression of her involvement in leadership positions in politics and advocacy organizations for women and children, including the Child Study Center at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Women’s Political Caucus, Governor’s Commission on Alternative Education, and WAND (Women’s Action for New Directions). Discusses participation in the Democratic Party of Arkansas, campaigning for the Clintons, and changes noticed in politics—both good and bad.