2016 will be remembered for the loss of some of the most prominent members of the Northwest Arkansas business community, who distinguished themselves in our region and beyond.
Dale Bumpers, 90, Jan. 1 – A self-described small-town lawyer from Charleston, Ark., he was the state’s 38th governor, from 1971 to 1975, and served in the U.S. Senate from 1975 until his retirement in 1999. He was often mentioned as a potential presidential candidate and considered running in 1976, 1984 and 1988 — each time deciding not to do so.
During his 24 years in the U.S. Senate, Bumpers helped secure more than $80 million in funds for agriculture, a commitment that led to the naming of the Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences in his honor on the University of Arkansas campus in Fayetteville.
Donald “Buddy” Wray, 78, Jan. 18 – A legendary figure with Tyson Foods died at Washington Regional Medical Center in Fayetteville. He joined Tyson Foods in 1961 as a field representative and was its president and chief operating officer when he retired in 2000. He later served as executive vice president and special assistant to CEO Donnie Smith from 2009-2014, giving him a career that spanned more than 50 years.
Tilden “Chip” Wright III, 73, Feb. 27 – Wright earned a law degree from the University of Arkansas in 1971 and joined what is today known as Davis, Clark, Butt, Carithers & Taylor PLC in Fayetteville. He became a named partner in the firm in 1976 and remained so until he retired in 2006, at which point his name was dropped from the company name.
Otto Jech, 86, March 6 – One of the longest-tenured employees of Springdale poultry company George’s Inc. died of a heart attack in Springdale. In 1951, he was hired by the company to oversee a chicken farm for company founder C.L. George. He was named executive vice president of George’s in 1980, a title he held until his death.
Joseph Stanford “Sandy” Boone, 93, March 31 – A former Springdale businessman and real estate developer, Boone owned and operated a string of businesses over multiple decades and built several commercial mainstays in the city, including San Jose Manor and Shiloh Square on the north side of Emma Avenue in the 1970s. He was a founding board member of Springdale Memorial Hospital and served on the Rodeo of the Ozarks board for four decades.
Tom Coughlin, 66, April 1 – Former vice-chairman of Wal-Mart Stores who was recruited to work for the retailer in 1978 by Sam Walton. He began as vice president in security and loss prevention and also went on to serve in several positions at Walmart U.S., including executive vice president, chief operating officer, and president and CEO. He also served as president and CEO of Sam’s Club Inc. He retired in 2005 and later served on Walmart’s board of directors.
Ray Thornton, 87, April 13 – One of Arkansas’ longest serving public officials, Thornton served as Arkansas Attorney General (1971-1973), Congressman (1973-1979, 1991-1997) and Supreme Court Justice (1997-2005), as well as president of Arkansas State University (1980-1984) and the University of Arkansas (1984-1990). He also was the first chairman of the Arkansas Lottery Commission.
Scott Hembree, 55, April 23 – The CEO of Bentonville firm Global Dental Technologies Inc. died in Rogers from complications due to diabetes. Hembree was the son of the late H.L. Hembree III, a prominent Fort Smith business leader who was chairman and CEO of Arkansas Best Corp. (now ArcBest Corp.) from 1973 to 1988. He previously held executive positions with Hembree-owned companies Trans-American Tire and Trans-States Lines Inc. in Fort Smith, and Sugar Hill Farms Inc. in the Logan County town of Paris. Hembree also served on several community boards including the Fort Smith Regional Airport Commission and the statewide nonprofit Arkansas Community Foundation, of which he was a former chairman.
John Lisle, 77, April 27 – A noted trial attorney, he practiced law for nearly 40 years and founded Springdale law office Lisle Rutledge in 1990. He served as attorney for the city of Springdale from 1967 to 1971 and later worked for larger law firms in Little Rock before returning to NWA to open his own practice. In addition to his law career, Lisle was also an elected state senator from NWA, representing District 13 in the 73rd General Assembly (1981) and District 2 in the 74th General Assembly (1983).
Joseph Edward Bryan “Jeb” Mills, 55, April 28 – The Arvest Bank Group executive died after a short battle with cancer. Mills was executive vice president and sales manager for Arvest Bank subsidiary Arvest Wealth Management (previously known as Arvest Asset Management) for 28 years before transitioning to a business development role for Arvest Bank. He also served on the board of directors for The First Tee of Northwest Arkansas, The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and Fayetteville Country Club.
Marcel L. (Moose) Van Poucke, 82, June 30 – Van Poucke served the city of Siloam Springs as mayor for 21 years from 1979 to 1980 and again from 1989 to 2008. He was serving on the XNA Airport Commission as vice chairman at the time of his death.
John Richard Meade, 89, July 20 – A former president and board chairman of the Bank of Gravett, he worked at the bank for 54 years until retiring in 2004. He remained on the board until 2014. He was a past president of the Gravette Chamber of Commerce and also served on several boards, including the Gravette School District and Gravette Medical Center.
Don Soderquist, 82, July 21 – Regarded as an expert in business leadership who spent more than two decades at Wal-Mart Stores, Soderquist died at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., from complications of heart surgery. He joined Walmart in 1980 as executive vice president and was appointed to chief operating officer in 1988, where he served until retiring in 2000.
Soderquist, inducted into the Arkansas Business Hall of Fame in 2010, also served on the board of trustees at John Brown University in Siloam Springs from 1982 until 2009 and was the board’s chairman from 1991 until 2002. The strength of the school today — JBU is consistently rated among best colleges in the South — is often attributed by school supporters to his leadership, and JBU formally showed Soderquist its appreciation on three different occasions: in 1993, with an honorary doctorate; in 2005, by naming the new business building, the Soderquist Business Center; and in 2014, by dedicating the Donald G. Soderquist College of Business.
In 1998, Soderquist partnered with JBU president Lee Balzer to found Soderquist Leadership, a development center focused on Soderquist’s favorite topics — business ethics and leadership.
Rex Grimsley, 70, Aug. 31 – Grimsley, a lifelong resident of Vaughn, just west of Bentonville, died in an airplane crash at Bentonville Municipal Airport. A longtime cattle broker, Grimsley owned several successful businesses, including F&G Feed Store, where he was partners first with Bob Fuqua and later with George Huber and Brookside Seed Co. and Bentonville Lube ‘N Go, where he was also partners with Huber. He was a shareholder and director at Grand Savings Bank, the Jay, Okla.-based lender that has six branch locations in Benton County.
Amy “Pat” Walker, 97, Sept. 2 – Walker was regarded as one of the state’s most generous philanthropists. Walker and her late husband, Willard, were the co-founders of the nonprofit Willard & Pat Walker Charitable Foundation, which contributes generously to medical centers, colleges and universities, public schools, libraries, park and recreation facilities, performing arts centers and museums, churches and religious institutions and social service organizations. Willard was the first manager of Sam Walton’s five-and-dime store in Fayetteville, and the couple’s early investments in Wal-Mart Stores resulted in an extraordinary amount of wealth. Walker’s philanthropic efforts throughout the state were recognized several times over, including being inducted into the 2016 Arkansas Women’s Hall of Fame. She was also recognized with distinguished service awards from the Walton Arts Center, Razorback Foundation and University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.
Maurice Jennings, 68, Oct. 10 – A noted architect, Jennings died at Washington Regional Hospice in Fayetteville because of cancer. Jennings, a protégé of famed architect E. Fay Jones, was a partner with his son at the Fayetteville firm Maurice Jennings + Walter Jennings Architects PLLC. He worked on several notable projects in the region during his career, including Thorncrown Chapel (Eureka Springs), the Mildred B. Cooper Memorial Chapel (Bella Vista) and Hunt Chapel (Rogers).
Patricia Brown, 59, Nov. 18 – Patricia Brown, a co-owner of Talk Business & Politics and the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal, died following a long battle with cancer. Brown was born in Fort Smith. She lived in Memphis for 24 years where she worked in the nonprofit arena. In Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee, Brown became synonymous with the Make-A-Wish Foundation. In her 12 years there, more than 2,000 wishes were granted to children. The chapter granted two wishes in 1986, but at her 2004 departure, the organization was on track to grant 275 wishes and meet a $2.8 million budget. She joined The City Wire (now Talk Business & Politics as of October 2015) in 2010 as an account executive but soon became the chief operating officer. There were less than a handful of employees for the small regional media company in 2010. Today, there are more than 20 employees in a media company that provides statewide business and politics news.