The year was 1978 and President Jimmy Carter was engaged in the Camp David Peace Accords. Superman, Grease, and the horror flick, Halloween, entertained movie goers. Gas was 63-cents per gallon, and the average family income hovered around $17,000.
It was during this time that Dr. Ruth Hawkins took a job at Arkansas State University. It had only been a university for about a decade. Little did she know how much it would grow. Little did she know she’d stay for the next 41 years. At the end of the month, Hawkins, the executive director of the ASU Heritage Sites, will retire. She previously told Talk Business & Politics she intends to remain involved with the sites after she steps down from her longtime post.
ASU will host a retirement celebration in recognition of Hawkins on Friday, June 28.
The 4-5:30 p.m. event in the Cooper Alumni Center is open to the public. Brief remarks start at 5.
Hawkins has successfully filled several leadership roles during her 41-year career, from director of affirmative action, director of public relations and development, and vice president for institutional advancement, and she has been the executive director of A-State Heritage Sites, since 1999.
Under her guidance, several historical sites were developed in the region during the last 20 years.
Those sites include the Southern Tenant Farmers Museum in Tyronza, Lakeport Plantation in Lake Village, the Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum and Educational Center in Piggott, and the Historic Dyess Colony: Johnny Cash Boyhood Home in Dyess. About 75,000 people visit the sites each year, she added.
“We never intended for ASU to own property … The sites have two purposes. One, is to serve as an educational resource for students of all ages, and secondly to act as economic catalysts for the communities they serve,” she said.
A-State Heritage Sites has been instrumental in developing and promoting two National Scenic Byways that traverse the region, Crowley’s Ridge Parkway and the Arkansas segment of the 10-state Great River Road.
Recognized by numerous organizations for her career achievements, Hawkins’ honors include selection to both the Arkansas Women’s Hall of Fame and the Arkansas Tourism Hall of Fame, along with the Historic Preservation Alliance of Arkansas Lifetime Achievement Award.
Recently, the Arkansas Municipal League presented her with the John Woodruff “City Above Self” Award, which is given to a person who has provided lasting benefits to cities and towns of Arkansas, either collectively or individually, by being an outstanding example of dedication to their improvement. The league recognized her dedication to preserving heritage sites and promoting tourism.
Hawkins said she will miss working on the heritage sites when she retires later this year, but she’s proud of what she, her team and the university have been able to accomplish during the last two decades. There probably won’t be enough money available to buy any new sites in the near future, so the development of the educational tools and programs at the sites that already exist will be the primary focus.
She might not be in charge of the program, for much longer, but she will volunteer. “I’ll still be around,” she said.