Second half of 2017 headlines in the Hope Star saw 'miscommunications,' truck backlash, contracts, raises, closures, as well as headline concerts, beauty queens, festival revival and 'Hope in Action'

In part two of a two-part series, the Hope Star takes a look back across 2017 with today’s January 3 edition featuring the highlights and lowlights from July to December. Current updates to some of the past headlines are included as appropriate. Most original Hope Star reports and photos in the second half of 2017 were produced by editor Rick Kennedy. The Hope Star again appreciates its readers and the large number of reader-contributed stories and photos received and published over the course of the year.

Week of July 5:
• The new director of the Hope Public Schools bands is eager to fashion the instrumental music program into a more community-minded model. “Learning the instrument is important, but being good citizens and building a band family comes first,” Julie Gladden notes.
• An estimated crowd of 50 braved 90-plus temperatures on July 6 to honor a piece of Hope history as the Northside Pool was honored with historical marker. The keynote speech was given by Dr. Roscoe Smith, who’s name adorns the marker from his days as the first recreation director of City Park.
• The July 4 holiday period, which for many in Hope included a four-day span from July 1 to July 4, with many businesses and professional offices also closed Monday, saw the usual cookouts and family celebrations, private parties, and another big turnout for the 10th Annual First United Methodist Church “Spirt of Hope” Fireworks show on Tuesday night as well as elsewhere in the county, where Blevins also had its annual Fireworks show.

Week of July 12:
• The complicated national marriage of healthcare and economics is now a local concern as Boston-based Steward Health Care System is buying out IASIS Healthcare, who owns Wadley Regional Medical Center in Hope as well as Wadley Regional Medical Center of Texarkana and Glenwood Regional Medical Center in West Monroe, Louisiana.
• Ribbon cutting ceremonies and celebration of the opening of the Dr. Henry C. Yerger School Museum were attended by some 200 dignitaries and guests of the Yerger Reunion Committee of the Yerger Alumni Association, and the Yerger Museum Committee on Friday, July 7.
• The Hope-Hempstead County Chamber of Commerce is excited to announce the selection of Beckie Moore as the new Executive Director.  Moore’s first day with the Chamber of Commerce will be Monday, August 7.

Week of July 19:
• • Christmas came early to the City of Hope and Farmer’s Market Manager Jodi Coffee as SWEPCO playing the role of SANTA delivered a grant of $35,000 towards what will likely be a downtown pavilion area.
• The Hope City Board of Directors designated 15 dilapidated residential properties for condemnation on Tuesday night, although three of the properties had representatives at the meeting who claimed they were going to begin rehabilitation work.
• Grammy and Academy of Country Music Award-winner Joe Diffie will perform at the 41st Annual Hope Watermelon Festival on Saturday, August 12, at 8:30 p.m.


Week of July 26:
• In a press release issued this week, Hope Water & Light said it will be disabling its outsourcing payment method this weekend, on Sunday, July 30 in order to prepare for a major change in payment options.  HWL contracted with NISC (National Information Solution Cooperative) in June 2016.
• The Hempstead County Republican Party heard from two of the state’s rising political stars during its monthly GOP dinner last Thursday in Hope. State Senator Trent Garner from El Dorado and District 68 State Representative Trevor Drown of Dover, who primarily serves Pope and Van Buren Counties, both delivered speeches.
• The opening act for Clint Black’s August 4 appearance in Hempstead Hall will be a well-known familiar face as 1995 Spring Hill High school graduate Jason Helms will take the stage. For Helms, who was appeared with such stars as Merle Haggard and Lee Ann Womack, it will be another day at the office.

Week of August 2:
• The Central Arkansas Development Council (CADC) announced this week that it is now serving the counties formerly served by now closed SWADC for the 2017 Summer LIHEAP Program. These counties include Hempstead and Nevada. The former agency serving these communities, the Southwest Arkansas Development Council (SWADC) closed operations after becoming financially insolvent   
• Wadley Regional Medical Center in Hope recognized both its employees and itself in a Tuesday afternoon ceremony, mostly attended by hospital employees, which marked five years since Wadley’s takeover of the then-struggling hospital. Employees, many of whom have been with Wadley over the period, were also honored.
• In a scene worth of the legendary History Channel series of the mid-200s, Monsterquest, a 275-pound wild hog seen eating on a calf in rural Hempstead County was shot and killed, but the owner of the farm says the problems are just bringing for rural residents, and he claims local authorities have been slow and inactive in addressing the issue.
• The Hope City Board heard about police accreditation, Hope Water & Light changes, office copy machines, and went into a 28-minute closed session to discuss a performance review of City Manager Catherine Cook, even though the city had already entered a two-year guaranteed pact with Cook last October..

Week of August 9:
• Hempstead County Judge Haskell Morse found himself sitting in the middle of an employee grievance hearing as the Hempstead Quorum Court, acting as arbitrators, mostly overturned an disciplinary action at a Monday night hearing.
• Another capacity crowd estimated over 1,300 saw Clint paint southwest Arkansas his own style of “Black” during a concert at Hempstead Hall. The country superstar, who emerged in the 1990s, not only entertained with his songs, but presented an unexpected dapper and deadpan brand of showmanship that entranced the crowd for 90 minutes of a robust show.
• Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson will enter the watermelon eating mayhem on Saturday, August 12 when he makes another visit to the Hope Watermelon Festival. Hutchinson had last been a participant in 2014.

Week of August 16:
• Throwing out guitar pics by the dozen, Joe Diffie’s style of music and performance kind of reminded one of everyone’s favorite “fun and crazy Uncle Joe” who would visit every once in while for beer and a Saturday afternoon of Hog football and barbecue.
Such was the easy-going presence of Diffie as he took the stage at Hempstead Hall for Saturday night’s Watermelon Festival finale.
• After kicking off last Thursday, the 41st annual Hope Watermelon Festival continued through Friday and Saturday with the usual abundance of good food, fun games and entertainment. Although a short rain and thunderstorm occurred midday Friday, the rain held off much of Saturday as Governor Asa Hutchinson arrived with several hundreds of others.
• In a speech before a packed house at Hope City Hall that was a bit defiant, a bit apologetic, and a bit reflective, Tena Pilkinton Carter stood before the Hope City Board on Tuesday night saying she was not pleased with how the City of Hope handled the Dox Building situation.
• As last Tuesday’s Hope City Board meeting was ending, Mayor Steve Montgomery announced the board was going into a closed Executive Session to consider a Performance Review of City Manager Catherine Cook, but coming out of that private session, which lasted 45 minutes, Montgomery said that a special City Board meeting would be called for next Tuesday, August 22, for another Executive Session to again discuss Cook’s review.

Week of August 23:
• Wedged between the Hope Watermelon Festival, Back to School, Football season, and the Labor Day weekend, the 32nd Annual Hempstead County Fair is scheduled to start on Tuesday, August 29, and it will run right up into the Labor Day holiday weekend, Saturday, September 2 with the Miss Hempstead Pageant.
• As with much of the country, Hope got its own taste of “Eclipse Mania” as scores of folks took to the outdoors at the noon hour Monday looking to catch a glimpse of the “Once in a Lifetime” celestial event.
• As expected, the Hope City Board of Directors engaged a third consecutive Executive Session on Tuesday night, which eventually resulted in a contract renewal for City Manager Catherine Cook by a vote of 6-to-1 with Mark Ross being the lone dissenting vote.
• As the new style bills from Hope Water & Light, the city-owned utility, have hit residential mailboxes, they have also hit residential pocketbooks with unexpected duplicate fees and high charges as city residents made known to the Hope City Board of Directors on Tuesday night.

Week of August 30:
• The Hempstead County Quorum Court got a unexpected jolt — and controversy - at their August meeting last Thursday when officials with Farmer’s Bank presented the Justices with an agreement that was vastly altered from what they were expecting; a week later, the fallout still being felt and new questions being raised, including whether the Justices needed to go back to square one or if parties within the county knew about the altered deal two weeks before the Justices saw it Thursday night.
• With a plethora of check-ins expected Tuesday evening, the 32nd Annual Hempstead County Fair is now underway with a first round of judging happening this afternoon at Hope’s Fair Park and Fairgrounds.
• Fallout continued this week on the County Farmers courthouse deal as new information was confirmed that some principals within Hempstead County saw the new proposal from Farmers two weeks ahead of when the Justices were surprised by the presentation last week. And one Justice, Cherry Stewart, has requested a special-called meeting, hoping to salvage the situation and save the deal.
• As Hope Water & Light residents throughout Hope are seeing the results of three years of progressive increases in their electric, water, and garbage costs reflected in their bills this month, the average HWL employee earns more than double the median county household does in Hempstead County.

Week of Sept. 6:
• In the finale of the 2017 Hempstead County Fair, the 2017 Miss Hempstead County Pageant saw Anna Foster join a long line of Spring Hill girls to capture the coveted title over the holiday weekend. Foster, already having reigned the past year as Junior Miss, was well prepared, well dressed, and was ready to slip into the new title like a glass slipper.
• The proposed Hempstead County Farmers Bank courthouse deal can still be worked out, and at least one Justice, Ed Darling, said Hempstead County could afford to purchase the building outright, if need be.
• The City of Hope’s annual audit, performed for the first time by Little Rock firm William C. Miller, CPA, was given a favorable review as told to the Hope City Board at its Tuesday night meeting.
• Hope Water & Light’s much touted “SmartHub” payment gateway became operational earlier this week, and based on early testing at the Hope Star on Wednesday, it appears to be functioning as advertised.

Week of Sept. 13:
• Under the eyes of the statewide media, the Blevins School Board received and accepted the resignation of superintendent Billy Lee after a 46-minute executive session as part of a contentious week in the district. Lee’s resignation, although not effective until June 2018, comes in the aftermath of a parent’s accusation on television and social media that Lee pulled on gun on her.
• Dubbed as “Trade Days” with the sometimes alternating moniker of “Trade Day,” by which ever name it goes by, the brainchild of downtown Hope business owner Bob Erwin celebrates its one-year anniversary later this month as the event is scheduled to convene again on Saturday, Sept. 23.
• On Thursday afternoon, the Hope Tourism Commission approved in principle a replacement for the locally iconic signage “Hope: A Slice of the Good Life” that stood on the side of Lynn Heckman’s Hope Outdoor Power & Equipment building at 217 E 3rd. which faces the northbound lane of Hwy. 67.
• Bailey Adalyn Yocom, daughter of Jody and Bren Yocom from Spring Hill, was crowned 2017 Miss Columbia County Fair Queen on Monday, September 11. She is a 2016 honor graduate from Spring Hill and is currently a sophomore at Southern Arkansas University.

Week of Sept. 20:
• For the past 17 years, Hope’s KTSS TV Channel 52 has served the Hope area broadcasting local football games, church services, and community-interest interview segments, and it reigned uniquely as one of the only remaining family-owned television stations in Arkansas. It was announced Tuesday by the Bobo family, however, that the venerable local station has closed its doors for good.
• A capacity crowd in the Ozan suite of Hempstead Hall for the Southwest Arkansas Rural Business Development Conference on Friday heard that regional partnerships and resources were the key to rural business development.
• The service to the Hope Public Schools by the second-longest tenured member of the HPS Board was recalled here Thursday at the passing of Denver L. “Denny” Dickinson, 74, of Guernsey. Dickinson passed away Wednesday morning in Texarkana.
• Whether measuring by 50 years or 30 years, either benchmark is impressive for a local family business that endures in an ever-evolving industry like the auto tire and repair, but from 1967 to 2017, Spring Hill’s Ronnie Kidd has done exactly that.
On Wednesday, the Kidd family held a special Business After Hours with the Hope Chamber of Commerce to commemorate the anniversary with a custom made “Goodyear Tire Cake,” shaped and designed just like one of Kidd’s products.

Week of Sept. 27:
• As established by the Hope City Board of Directors earlier this month, the new incarnation of the Hope Beautification Committee held its first meeting on Monday night to set its organization and missions in a one-hour session in downtown Hope.
• The second year kick-off of Downtown Trade Days saw ‘growing pains’ as the event saw a lighter turnout in both vendors and traffic last Saturday. Last year, the first Downtown Trade Days saw 32 vendors and resellers; on Saturday morning, that number was exactly half — 16 — and shopper traffic was also much lighter, estimated at about half by those who recalled the original event in 2016.
• The 73rd annual Southwest Arkansas District Fair and Livestock Show is happening now and runs through Saturday; Monday saw a miniature town spring up in Hope’s Fair Park as carnival workers set up rides, games and concession stands in preparation for the week’s activities.

Week of October 4:
• A dispute over the County Judge’s use of the County Judge’s  truck caused ripples Thursday night at the Hempstead Quorum Court meeting and resulted in the Justices requesting a Legislative Audit of the County Judge’s office, and later, a stunning apology from Haskell Morse by Monday morning.
• The City of Hope’s Beautification Committee with 10 persons met for its second session, after an initial meeting last week, while under the jurisdiction of Hempstead County, the official Bicentennial Steering Committee was discussing its mission statement and action plan as presented by Chairman Richard Reed before a group of 42 persons.
• The Hope City Board approved use of the city’s Fair Park Community Center for the Senior Citizens Center at its Tuesday night meeting. For the seniors and the Area Agency on Aging, the help means that seniors can be served fresh lunches Monday through Thursday, generally starting at 11:30 a.m. most days.
• Over 800 students and advisors from throughout Southwestern Arkansas converged again on the UA-Hope campus at Hempstead Hall Wednesday for the Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) Fall Leadership Conference, one of two such events every year.

Week of October 11:
• Making a swing through southwest Arkansas on Tuesday evening, new Arkansas State Democratic Chairman Michael John Gray said the key was “reconnection not retreat” as he visited Hempstead and Miller counties.
• An estimated crowd of over 600 filtered through Hempstead Hall last Friday for the annual Hempstead Health Unit Flu Clinic.  Hempstead Health Unit Administrator Debbie Howard said that they had prepared approximately 780 units of vaccine.
• It was two years ago in October when Hempstead Hall was lined with the artistry and tapestry of over 200 hand-made display quilts in every color and pattern imaginable, and this Friday, the Hope Quilters Guild will return with 300 or more quilters for another two-day biannual show and convention with “Winter Wonderland” as the year’s theme.
• In a special session at the Hope Chamber of Commerce office Wednesday afternoon, the the official Bicentennial Steering Committee proposed as joint operating agreement with the Chamber of Commerce, which is now pending the next meeting of the Chamber’s board of directors next week.

Week of October 18:
• In a nearly two-hour session — proceeded itself Monday by another hour of executive sessions — the Hope School Board’s most consequential decision came near the end as the Board vote 4-2 to appoint Kathryn Dickinson, the wife of the late board member Denny Dickinson, to fill her husband’s vacant seat.
• The big stage in Little Rock for the Miss Arkansas State Fair pageant will have an ironic twist after the three southwest district finalists were determined in preliminaries on Monday. Spring Hill’s Bailey Yocom, who is the reigning Miss Columbia County, will see Miss Southwest District Fair, Reagan Grubbs, across from her on Saturday.
• In a 5-to-1 vote Tuesday night, the Hope City Board of Directors approved another property tax millage increase for the citizens and businesses inside Hope for the third consecutive year, this time raising the rate from 4.2 mills to the state-maximum of 5 mills for 2018.
• Hempstead Hall will host a special kind of Halloween dress-up party tonight as the Hempstead Relay of Life team presents its third annual “Celebrity Waiter” dinner with this year’s theme celebrating “Totally 80s.”

Week of October 25:
• “Believe it or not, Arkansas has the 12th largest highway system in the county, but we rank 42nd in highway revenue per mile,” William Chatham, District Construction Engineer of the Arkansas Department of Transportation, said during a luncheon speech to the Hope Lions Club.
• There was Sheena Easton’s Morning Train blaring from the speakers, followed by “a little ditty 'bout Jack & Diane” by John Cougar Mellencamp. Bright neon colors with various characters from Beetlejuice, Baywatch, and Miami Vice were seen serving dinner and drinks, not to mention the dozens upon dozens of selfies taken with the costumed guys and gals throughout Hempstead Hall on Friday night.
• On Thursday morning, Hempstead Hall simultaneously hosted its ninth and tenth events of the week; only these weren’t the headliner concerts, magic shows, or musical outings. The Arkansas Dept. of Labor held its annual Regional Employee Safety seminar with some 120 persons from across the area, while Rainbow of Challenges had a smaller training session with 40 persons in an adjacent suite; both happening at the same time.

Week of November 1:
• At the peak of a chilly Saturday evening, an estimated 500 persons ignored the cold and jammed Main Street and Division, with many adults and children in costume as Halloween-themed events finally seemed to create the kind of excitement and engagement that downtown Hope has been looking for during most of 2017.
• As it turns out, Halloween was also celebrated on Halloween Tuesday as local businesses and schools enjoyed dressing up, and at the University of Arkansas at Hope, dozens of students and staff costumed up for fun and competition.
• Both Johnson’s Warehouse Showroom and Boonies Restaurant publicly announced closings the past seven days, with Boonies, a well-known local catfish and steakhouse, serving its last customers last Friday.

Week of November 8:
• As efforts continue to revitalize and renovate the downtown area in Hope, one segment of the effort will been very visible to the public eye as 52 street lights and lamp posts are getting makeovers.
• The Hearts & Hands Christian bookstore and gifts had a lot to celebrate Tuesday morning as a Chamber of Commerce ribbon cutting was held. The bookstore had just recently opened, originally at the Johnson Shopping Center off N. Hervey, but within almost record time, has relocated into newly refurbished space at 201 Main Street in downtown Hope.
• Just as the last meeting of the Hempstead County Quorum Court never happened October 26, Tuesday’s scheduled meeting of the Hope City Board met the same fate as four City Directors were no shows and failed to gain a quorum to conduct business. Local historian and veteran political observer Mark Keith called the back-to-back misses in local government “unprecedented.”

Week of November 15:
• While there has been much local buzz about Hempstead County’s bicentennial in 2018, the Hope Rotary Club also happens to be celebrating 100 years, and with the concurrent celebrations, the Hope Rotary Club announced Tuesday afternoon that former Arkansas Governor and Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee will return home for a Rotary Centennial Banquet.
• As random Thursday nights in November go, tomorrow night, Thursday, November 16, is proving to be action packed with a Hempstead Hall concert, a Quorum Court meeting, a Downtown Network meeting, and the monthly Hempstead GOP dinner all happening within hours of each other.
• At the end of October, the word coming out of Hope in Action through a statement from the Hope Coalition sounded pretty grim, but now, midway through November, Hope in Action’s director Mae Dulaney was happy to update Thursday, saying “We are in great shape. The outpouring from the community has been outstanding. We are now in good shape, and can make it through to the new year.”

Week of November 22:
• As they’ve done for the past three years — and again without challenge or question — the Hempstead County Quorum Court unanimously approved $500 “Christmas Bonuses” to its full-time employees as money issues dominated last Thursday night’s November meeting.
• An estimated crowd of 800 heard a powerful and rousing performance from Contemporary Christian artist David Phelps at Hempstead Hall in Hope last Thursday night. Opening the show on the piano, Phelps immediately brought energy and passion to his very first song, and he continued strong renditions from his catalog.
• With Wadley Medical Center’s lobby colored in royal blue and white, the Boston-based Steward Health Care System ownership was formally introduced locally as Dr. Mike Callum, Executive Vice President of the Physician Services, visited Hope in a whirlwind trip to several of Steward’s newly acquired properties on Monday.

Week of November 29:
• Rain or shine, the Hope/Hempstead County Chamber of Commerce Annual Christmas Parade will be happening on Monday, December 4 at 6:00 p.m., Chamber Director Beckie Moore confirmed Tuesday morning.
• While most in Hope know of hometown boys, William Jefferson Clinton and Mike Huckabee, who have made good, going on to national acclaim in public service, they will soon be joined by a hometown girl. Doris L. Pryor, the daughter of Linda Clark and the granddaughter of Doris Brown, has been selected for appointment as a United States Magistrate Judge.
• As the Hope Star prepared for press Thursday, the Hope Lions Club was busy turning Fair Park Coliseum into a giant auction hall in preparation for its three-night annual Christmas Auction. Kicking off Thursday evening, the affair will also extend into tonight, Friday, as well as Saturday until all items are sold.

Week of December 6:
• The festive, but fickle aura of the 2017 Christmas Parade took its shape Monday in the moments before the motorcade was scheduled to start.  Early forecasts had appeared to indicate that the rain drops were going to hold off just long enough, but then minutes before the start, a rain fall came, driving streets crowds to cover in cars and under buildings.
• The Hope Lions Christmas auction got off to a quick start Thursday night with an estimated crowd of 180 on hand opening night and continued on track Friday and Saturday nights, resulting in what was called “A record year,” by Lions Club spokesperson Mark Ross.
• In a marathon session lasting almost three full hours, the City of Hope Board of Directors reviewed the proposed city operating budget of $10.7 million for 2018 with a $1,000 across-the-board employee raises on Tuesday night.

Week of December 13:
• The City of Hope has proposed budgeted revenue of $10.7 million for the upcoming 2018 year, which reflects a 8.9 percent increase over its budgeted revenues from 2017. But its General Fund budgeted expenses, which showed $9.7 million budgeted for 2017, also jumped to $10.7 million budgeted for 2018.
• As it did last year, Unity Baptist Church in Hope held its Christmas program, but this year with two nights of performances, Saturday and Sunday, which saw packed houses. On Sunday, another estimated crowd of 500 attended the annual multimedia 90-minute extravaganza, which again celebrated the traditional Christmas story using video segments, narration and live musical performances by the Unity Baptist Church Sanctuary Choir and the Joy Trio.
• After months of work — a weekend of moving — the new First National Bank of Tom Bean building will open Monday morning for business just in time for the holidays as evidenced, in part, by a 16-foot Christmas tree going up in the new lobby on Thursday afternoon.

Week of December 20:
• The City of Hope celebrated its own on Friday with an all-employee holiday luncheon at Hempstead Hall, where most of the 102 city employees enjoyed a lunch as well as December paychecks.
• According to one rural resident in the region, area hunters and game enthusiasts should beware as deer season and consumption are in full swing these days as he claims “diesel corn” is being placed out for hog bait, but is being eaten by deer populations as well. Mitch Husky of the sprawling Cale community outside of Rosston, bordering Hempstead County, says people are placing “diesel corn” feed, basically a corn feed spiked with diesel fuel, out in hunting areas, such as those near his home, and he is concerned that tainted feed is being consumed not only by hogs, but live deer as well.
• The ubiquitous Hope Water & Light, the city-owned utility company, was the central subject of three consequential matters over the course of two public meetings in two days this week, first with citizen complaints and allegations before the Hope City Board on Tuesday night, then 2018 rate increases and $500 Christmas bonuses at its own meeting on Wednesday morning.

Week of December 27:
• The Hope-Hempstead County Chamber of Commerce is excited to announce that Mr. Thomas F. “Mack” McLarty, III will return to Hope as keynote speaker for their upcoming annual meeting & banquet on Monday, March 12, 2018.
• As the National Opioid Crisis has been a staple of network newscasts and White House press briefings, the problem is also hitting closer to Hope as Hope Police Chief JR Wilson reported to the Hope City Board at their last meeting in December.
• After the Hope Star had gone to press for holidays, the Hope Police issued an unusual public safety advisory at 2:26 p.m. Friday, December 29.
• The advisory said “The Hope Police Department is requesting the public’s vigilance and assistance in identifying a suspect in a series of recent offenses that include robbery, burglary and assaults over the past few weeks. All offenses have occurred east of N. Hazel Street within a couple of blocks of East Third Street and west of Bonner Street. We are asking all residents to take particular caution in and around these areas and call 911 if anyone suspicious is noticed. Suspect is a black male approximately 6 foot tall, slender, typically wears dark clothing and something over his face. Age is unknown. The suspect has stolen approximately $1000 over a few week period. Anyone with any possible information should contact Detective Green at 870-722-2563 or email egreen@hopearkansas.net. If an emergency or suspicious activity exists call 911.”