A Raconteur of Rackensack
Standing on the Shoulders of Giants:
This week marked my 32 year of teaching. Straight out of the University of Arkansas in 1988, I began a career as an educator. I only spent 2 years of that time, not teaching, although I was a park ranger, attending graduate school, and helping the public connect to history. I have enjoyed the benefit of many wonderful teachers who took the time to invest in me as a student. The lessons they taught me, the patience they showed me, and the love and care they provided me, has shaped my own teaching throughout my career.
Mrs. Harper in the 5th grade at Echols Elementary stands out as one who very early recognized that I had "a thing" for history. My parents knew this too, and encouraged me by indulging my interest in reading, taking me to the library, buying me books, and helping me to visit battlefields and historic sites on family trips. Nancy Baker, Earl Holliman, and Bruce Vick inspired me in the social studies classes of Kimmons Jr. High, but coaches Hatchet, Releford, Matlock, and Mason also taught me important lessons that still serve me today. My 8th grade Math teacher, LaRhonda Humphrey taught me and two close friends how to drive her 1975 Monte Carlo in the neighborhoods around our houses, after school. She would sit in the middle where she could get control if there was a problem. How many of you had a classroom teacher do something like that. Those were the days! She also came to dinner at my house, then when my sister had her later, came again as her guest. Mr. Scheaffer and Jones stand out in my memory at Northside, but having Wayne Bledsoe as student council sponsor for 3 years helped me gain an appreciation for historic preservation. Student Council Christmas parties in his historic home in Belle Grove District inspired me, little did I know where that would lead. I also had other teachers at Northside who, while not in the history department made an impact on me. Earl Zechiedrich suffered through my poor math skills in both Chemistry and Phyics but helped me learn and grow as a person. He still has that affect today. I never took a French class, and understand little of the language, but Madeline Marquette had to put up with my locker located on the hall outside her room for three years. she is truly my favorite teacher I never had and a friend to this day. Jim Moody and Mrs Stanberry tried to help me with my english and grammar, I wonder if they thought I might have become a published author someday... Coaches Toothaker, Branch, and Young helped an average athlete understand hard work, sacrifice, and what it means to be a part of a team regardless of playing time and limelight.
At Westark, George McAlister, Pat Porter and Dan Breitenburg (who later became a colleague) all made me want to teach history. At UA-Fayetteville, Dr. Elliot West was among the many inspiring professors I had, along with Anthropology and Archeology faculty, Jerry Rose, George Sabo, Mike Hoffman, and Marvin Kay.
Shortly after taking a full time position with the National Park Service, Billy Higgins, a professor of history at Westark was working on a book about a Free Man of color who was a soldier in the First Fort Smith. His book, A Stanger and Sojourner, published by UA Press has won awards documenting early African American experiences in the territorial and early statehood days of Arkansas. I am so proud to have been included as a small source for this important book. Billy encouraged me to teach as an adjunct when I finished my masters at the University of Oklahoma. He also asked for assistance in writing projects along the way. This included a few pieces for the Fort Smith Journal, published by the Fort Smith Historical Society. When the call came in 2004 to become full time faculty at UAFS, after my father, Bill Black (Park Superintendent and one of my favorite bosses) it was Billy Higgins whose opinion and advice I sought. He and I toasted a gill cup of Cherry Bounce my first day as a college instructor. (Cherry Bounce was identified in the suttler's account book of the first Fort Smith.) The drink was made from ripe cherries, sugar, and cheap bourbon, aged in a crock for at least 3 months. We also toasted a gill cup of Cherry Bounce on his last day. Billy later nominated me a board position with the Arkansas Historical Association, a great honor for me, and one I continue in until this day. Billy and I were both honored by AHA in 2019, he with a Lifetime Achievement Award, and me with the Tom Dillard Advocacy of Arkansas History Award. What an honor to share the stage with my mentor and friend.
Mark Christ, another giant in Arkansas History presented the awards while serving as President of AHA. The Fall Semester of 2022 has started without one of the most gifted professors, mentor of students and faculty alike, an advocate for all, who among all these others listed here, made a significant impact, many times over, on this average student/athlete who has greatly over achieved by standing on the shoulders of giants. To say I am grateful for the influence of my parents and all these educators who helped me to be still doing this after 32 years, would be insufficient.
Thank you all for helping me to soar and live my dreams and goals every day. If I can have a fraction of the impact these folks had on me, with my own students, it will be worth their investment.