Van Buren, Arkansas tourism leader says women ‘should step out there’

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 175 views 

Maryl Koeth’s office is located inside the 100-year-old plus historic train station in downtown Van Buren. Koeth is a strikingly attractive, fashionably dressed, professional woman, and at first one might think she is totally out of place in such an old fashioned setting. However when given the opportunity to get to know Koeth it becomes clear she is perfectly at peace with the harmonious combination of the old and the new. She is a woman who embodies old fashioned values, yet living and excelling in a modern world. 

Koeth, (pronounced Keith) executive director of the Van Buren Advertising & Promotion Commission, moved to the area from Los Angeles.

“After I married, I knew I wanted to raise children in a small town. I knew I did not want to raise them in Los Angeles.”

They first moved to Fort Smith, but she even found that to be too large. She liked the thought of a small town where she would be surrounded by people who seemed like family, who were hard working with a spirit of community. That is what she found in Van Buren.

She originally worked for an insurance company after moving to Fort Smith. While working there she had their first child, a son. When she found out she was expecting their second son, she knew she needed to find a way to work and also stay home with the children because she could not find quality childcare. She began truck brokerage business doing trip leases, allowing her to work from home while also taking care of their children.

“This was just a perfect situation for me,” Koeth said. “It was a happy balance between business owner, wife and mother.”

She later owned another business which was a gift shop. They also did deliveries and the demand became too great.

“My experience as a business owner was a great learning experience and there are certainly pros and cons. Owning my own business was like having a newborn child. I devoted my heart and soul to make sure that the business grew and thrived.”

She went to work in 1990 when the Advertising and Promotions organization and the Chamber of Commerce were together in the train station, and she has been with them ever since that time. She has also been asked by her peers around the state to be a leader in various tourism and river development projects.

“I love my life and job. I get to work hard for a place I have adopted as my home town. It is very rewarding to try and make a difference. Not everyone gets to do that,” she said. “I enjoy the people I work with and the people of Van Buren are wonderful, caring, hard- working people. They are great people.”

Her office is located in the same building as the Visitor’s Center. According to Koeth there is a constant stream of volunteers in the spring and fall. When she first advertised for volunteers, the response was amazing. She said the volunteers love to interact with other people, and they love to talk about their home.

“I love economic development,” she said. “I am a numbers person. Financial reports and statistics are fun for me.”

This is a happy balance for someone who loves numbers and is also a people person.

“It is the best of both worlds. I get to work with cities and chambers of commerce from other regions throughout the state. I gain knowledge from other people that is very helpful to me. I have a very rewarding career and certainly have no plans to retire soon.”

She is very comfortable in her own skin and with who she is as she discloses she is in her sixties. Not many women are proud to say they are in their sixties, but Koeth wears it like a badge of honor. She has a wonderful support system; a group of girlfriends she has known for years. She said they are all involved in each other’s work lives and truly care about each other. There is great interaction within the group and they recharge and uplift each other, they keep each other grounded.

“Only a great group of friends can be sincerely honest with each other,” Koeth said. “Everyone needs someone to be openly honest with them and I realize what a wonderful blessing this group is. I realize all women do not have the gift of a wonderful support group and I feel sorry for them. What our group has is very rare. We trust each other completely and easily read each other. Age doesn’t matter in our group. In October, I lost my dad to cancer and each one of the women in our group was such a comfort and support system for me.”

Continuing, Koeth said: “I love my career, and I love being a mother. I have been single for 20 years now and I have a rewarding, fulfilling career, but what I never wanted to do was to compete with males on their level. I want to be able to give my knowledge and bring my experiences and don’t want my gender to take away from what I can give. Men and women have different interests. Women by nature are caregivers and teachers. We bring a very important aspect to the business world. I would like to see all women do a better job of instilling that fact to their sons and daughters. My desire is for women to be treated as equals without becoming more masculine. I believe women should be strong, be independent, but they should do it as a female, using the gifts we females have to offer. We are by nature nurturers, and the business world could use more nurturers as that brings more compassion and a gentler logic to the business world. This creates a happy blend. I truly look forward to the day when women can express opinions and knowledge with strength and be viewed as intelligent instead of being labeled by a derogatory name. Many women who state their opinions and share their knowledge undeservingly get saddled with an unkind title when a man who does the same thing at the table is seen as intelligent, assertive and strong.”

When asked how she balanced her life as a mother and as a businesswoman she said that when she came to work at the Van Buren Advertising and Promotion Agency, her oldest son was a teenager and her youngest two were in middle school.

“I had to juggle both aspects”, she said, “and I believe I did it quite well.”

She was involved in her children’s school, serving as PTA president.

“I was able to find the correct balance,” Koeth said. “Of course there were time conflicts, but my children were old enough to understand. I did not have to contend with a lot of guilt. I did at times feel conflicted. Teaching my children to effectively balance life is one of my successes as a parent.”

She happily watches now as her children do their own balancing and juggling act with their families with skills they learned at home. Her oldest son is 44, lives in Conway and has a job working in the technology industry. Her middle son is in the military, which is still very dominated by males; however he runs half marathons and his 13-year-old daughter has started running with him. Koeth’s daughter is a neonatal intensive care nurse, married after the age of 30 and according to Koeth, is very independent and self-assured.

“All my children have a healthy respect for people in the work force and do not judge their coworkers by gender,” she said.

She explained that she wants to leave a legacy for her daughter to celebrate the fact she is a woman.

“I want her to have success in her career, her family and among her friends. I wish for all women to celebrate being a woman who brings intellect, compassion and balance into whatever environment they find themselves.”

To all the women she advises: “Celebrate you are a woman and step out there!”