story by Kim Souza
Walter Turnbow has spent more than 50 years dedicated to making Northwest Arkansas a better place to live. His signature is on every glass of tap water consumed in Benton and Washington counties as he was a founding director and pioneer in the formation of the Beaver Water District.
His stature in the region and state was noted in congratulatory letters from former President Bill Clinton and Gov. Mike Beebe during a 90th birthday celebration for Turnbow held in Springdale on Friday(May 23).
“I came to Arkansas in 1945 to go to college, because my sister lived here at the time,” Turnbow told The City Wire. “I ran out of money with a semester to go and Joe Steele of Steele Canning Company gave me a job. I worked there until we sold the company and I spent the next three decades in banking with First State Bank of Springdale, when it sold the last time to Bank of America, I retired.”
He has watched the city grow from 3,000 to 74,000 people over the past seven decades and said the best is yet to come for Springdale.
City and business leaders across the region lined up to thank Turnbow for his contributions, noting that he might have retired from a paying job years ago, but he continues to be a spark plug and mover and shaker with little patience for waiting.
Perry Webb, CEO of the Springdale Chamber of Commerce, said he was told when he came to Springdale to quickly find out who not to make mad.
“For me that was Walter. We met my second day on the job,” Webb said.
He said Turnbow made no secrets about how to get things down. It didn’t bother him to call you to that little building behind his house — more commonly known as the woodshed.
“We also know his drink of choice is 12-year-old Glenlivit Scotch. There is a bottle with his name on it at the chamber office,” Webb joked.
Mayor Doug Sprouse make it clear that Turnbow had not ever taken him to the woodshed and that he had also not shared Turnbow’s favorite drink.
“I have known Walter and Clara for years and I will say he was much easier to please with the upholstery work I did for him before I became mayor than he has been in recent years. Maybe I was better at upholstery,” Sprouse joked.
Former Springdale mayor Jerry Van Hoose said Turnbow had no patience for anyone who couldn’t be on time, especially to scheduled meetings.
“It didn’t bother him to call them out saying if they had been on time they would know what was going on,” Van Hoose said.
Alan Fortenberry, CEO of Beaver Water District, said Turnbow has been his mentor for many years.
“Most people in this region have no idea what a fresh water source like Beaver Lake means in terms of economic opportunities on top of quality of life. Walter understood that and worked tirelessly to make sure this region’s fresh water needs would be here for future generations,” Forenberry said.
Forenberry said he had a made a trip or two to Turnbow’s woodshed.
Turnbow has also been director of the Care Foundation, which honored him with a $493,000 grant to construct a new plaza and park along Spring Creek in downtown Springdale. The new plaza will be completed later this year.
Sprouse said Turnbow wanted to know every week when someone was going to start work on the trail head in downtown Springdale.
“He has been a constant force in this city for decades. When he became involved in the Downtown Springdale Alliance, this organization that had floundered for years sprung to new life. Today we are so happy to honor Walter Turnbow for his dedication to the city he calls home,” Sprouse said as he proclaimed Friday as Walter Turnbow Day in Springdale.
The influence of Turnbow was evident as young business leaders like Carl George, co-CEO of George’s Inc., said he has worked closely with Turnbow in the mission to revitalize downtown. More senior leaders like Buddy Wray and Archie Schaffer III, each retired from Tyson Foods, are also active in the downtown projects and credit Turnbow for his vision and persistence to getting the job done.
“I am just overwhelmed. They told me to get dressed and be ready early. It started at the Schmieding Center at 8:30 this morning and then we went to Turnbow Elementary and now this celebration at the city offices. It’s a big day. I am so glad to see this downtown plaza and trail project finally begin. I plan to see it finished,” Turnbow said.