Bob Burns, the founding president of NorthWest Arkansas Community College when it opened in 1990 in Bentonville, has died. He was 82. According to his obituary, Burns was living in Sherwood (Pulaski County) and died Monday (Sept. 12). The obituary gave no cause of death.
Graveside services are scheduled for Friday (Sept. 16) at 11 a.m. in Tilton (Cross County).
Click here for the full obituary.
“We are saddened to hear of the recent passing of Bobby Coy Burns, who was the founding president of NWACC,” the college said in an announcement to faculty and staff Wednesday. “His hard work provided a strong foundation for the college’s growth and continued service to the Northwest Arkansas community. Our sincerest condolences to his family and friends.”
On Aug. 15, 1989, when voters in the Bentonville and Rogers school districts approved a 3-mill ad valorem tax, NWACC was created.
Burns was selected on Dec. 5, 1989, by the college’s board of trustees. His investiture ceremony was held in 1990 at the Bella Vista Community Church on Feb. 5, his 50th birthday. A special guest at the ceremony was then-Gov. Bill Clinton.
Before coming to Northwest Arkansas, Burns was retired. He had previously been president of East Arkansas Community College in Forrest City.
The two-year college opened its doors to roughly 1,200 students in August 1990. They attended classes at rented and borrowed facilities in Benton and Washington counties. According to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas, the college gained a permanent home in Bentonville in 1995 with the construction of its main building, initially known as the Central Education Facility. It was later named Burns Hall.
When Burns retired in 2002, enrollment had grown to approximately 4,100 students. The two-year college reported 7,839 students this fall, making it the largest two-year college in Arkansas.
“Dr. Burns was a tireless worker with a clear vision of what he wanted for this community. In most ways, he succeeded magnificently,” Jim Hall said. Hall was one of the original NWACC trustees who hired Burns. He retired in July 2021 after a long resume of service to the college.
Burns was a native Arkansan and earned three degrees from East Texas State University, including a Ph.D.