Andrews is a conservationist and a leading voice for environmental protection in Arkansas. She has spent decades lobbying at the State Capitol as an “Advocate for Clean Water, Clean Air, Clean Energy and Recycling.” She’s helped save the Buffalo River, and her efforts in Little Rock led to the preservation of land that would pave the way for the River Trail. In 2018, the Ozark Society gave her the prestigious Compton Award recognizing her outstanding service.
Born in Oklahoma, she developed an interest in land and water as a farmer’s daughter. She went into the medical field and began her career at Central State Hospital in Norman, Okla., as supervisor of the blood bank. She moved to New York to work for St. Elizabeth’s Hospital Clinical Laboratory. Then, she paused her career to study French in Paris at the Alliance Francaise and travel Europe. She also spent time as laboratory supervisor in Honduras. During her travels, she witness environmental disasters up close, and her concern for the environment and conservation deepened.
She settled in Arkansas in 1970 and spent the rest of her career at the McClellan VA Hospital in the laboratory and as ambulatory care supervisor and education coordinator. Her conservation efforts in Arkansas began with advocacy work that helped save the Buffalo River from dams and and would initiate the Buffalo National River designation in 1972. She served on the Arkansas Trails Council in the early 1970s, and she was appointed by two governors to the Arkansas Scenic Rivers Commission where she served for 10 years. She also joined the Ozark Society where she served as president for six years.
In 1991, she and her partner Dave Gruenewald and two others served as plaintiffs in federal court in a lawsuit to oppose a bridge across Jimerson Creek in Little Rock. In doing so, she opposed the City of Little Rock, the Corps of Engineers and its district engineer. This action is credited with preserving the landscape and paving the way for construction of the Big Dam Bridge and Two Rivers Bridge and the nationally recognized River Trail. She’s also worked with nonprofit agencies, government and churches to ensure Arkansas is a land of clean water and air. She has led many excursions on the Buffalo River and is a role model to women and children, teaching them survival skills and self-sufficiency.
Chartered in Little Rock in 1937, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority’s Beta Pi Omega Chapter is the oldest graduate chapter in the state of Arkansas and is committed to providing assistance to families, students and organizations in the community. The chapter’s 265 members spearhead service projects, health fairs, workshops, education programs, voter drives, cleanups and fundraisers and donate their time and money to improving life for future generations.
Beta Pi Omega’s members are trailblazers in the fields of education, math, the arts, public service, and business. From their positions in the community, they advocate for positive change in families, neighborhoods, schools and churches.
The chapter sponsored the chartering of Gamma Alpha Chapter on the campus of Philander Smith College, the first undergraduate chapter in the state, as well as sponsored the chartering of Epsilon Phi Chapter on the campus of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, the first African-American sorority/fraternity on the college campus.
The chapter has been recognized on international, regional and local levels for its programs and has forged partnerships with the Little Rock School District, the cities of Little Rock and North Little Rock, the American Heart Association, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, and Lions Club International.
In the area of education, more than 500 high school seniors and college students have received scholarships or other assistance from Beta Pi Omega. The chapter has awarded scholarships each year since 1976. The Ivy Foundation, the chapter’s nonprofit arm, awarded more than $26,000 to students to pursue higher education in 2017 and continues to award scholarships each year. The chapter also hosts the “New Directions” summer workshop to teach students about careers, etiquette, finances and personal development to prepare them for the future. The chapter has collected and distributed more than 2,000 backpacks and school supplies to children in local school districts.
In 2019, the chapter partnered with 16 organizations to undertake service projects in honor of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. International Day of Service. With more than 250 volunteers, donations of books, school supplies, hygiene kits, pillowcases and eyeglasses were collected, packed and distributed to those in need.
Witherspoon is a director and founder of the firm Cross, Gunter, Witherspoon and Galchus. She’s a prominent labor and employment attorney and the first woman to serve as president of the Arkansas Bar Association. Under her leadership, her firm has garnered work-life balance awards and achieved majority female ownership. She’s also supported and founded organizations that serve women.
Witherspoon graduated from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in 1974 with her bachelor’s degree, and graduated with honors from the UALR School of Law in 1978. Her law practice in Arkansas has centered on representing private and public employers, and she’s regularly asked to conduct training for human resources professionals. She serves as the Arkansas delegate to the American Bar Association and is part of the prestigious Union Internationale des Advocats, which is an international society recognized before the United Nations. In 2013, she was appointed to the Commission on Uniform State Laws. She is a member of the American Bar Association and currently serves as chair of the Commission on Interest Lawyers’ Trust Accounts.
At CGWG, she’s been instrumental in furthering work-life balance practices and won acclaim locally and nationally from the American Psychological Association, the Society for Human Resources Management and the state of Arkansas. Her firm was honored in 2012, 2013 and 2014 with the When Work Works Award which recognizes companies that incorporate flexibility into workplace practices. The firm has been recognized for programs that foster employee well being and promote a family friendly workplace. Under her direction, CGWG became the only firm in the state, and possibly the region, with 50 percent ownership by female attorneys, a feat attributed to her devotion to mentoring, developing and promoting young female attorneys.
She provides legal services to low-income people through VOCALS — the Volunteer Organization Center for Arkansas Legal Services. She was an original founder of the Women’s Foundation of Arkansas and has served as past president. She is on the Little Rock Sister Cities Commission and the Board of Directors for the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra.
As a journalist, she became the first female president of the National Newspaper Association and would eventually serve as president of seven different state and national journalism organizations. She was also the first female president of the Dumas Chamber of Commerce. She served as a member of the Arkansas House of Representatives for 14 years,
She was born on Dec. 25, 1923, in Tillar, Ark., and at age 16, she enrolled in the University of Arkansas at Monticello, all while writing stories for The McGehee Times as a freelancer. She studied at Louisiana State University in 1942, majoring in sociology and journalism. Upon graduation in 1944, she became editor of The McGehee Times. She married Louisiana native Melvin Schexnayder in 1946 and they returned to graduate school at LSU. The couple worked for six years at The McGehee Times before purchasing the Dumas Clarion in 1954 and co-owned the newspaper for more than four decades.
From her position, she took stands on larger issues such as supporting the desegregation of Central High School in Little Rock and other economic and development issues in Dumas. In 1975, she was appointed by Gov. David Pryor to the Arkansas Board of Pardons and Parole and became the first woman to serve on the board.
In her journalism career, once she joined an organization, she was sure to be elected president. She became president of the Arkansas Press Women in 1955. She was the first woman elected to the Little Rock chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and became its first female president in 1973. In 1977, she was elected president of the National Federation of Press Women. In 1981, she became the first female president of the Arkansas Press Association. In 1989, she was elected treasurer of the National Newspaper Association, and by 1991, she was its first female president.
In 1984, she ran unopposed for the state House of Representatives. In a famous anecdote about Schexnayder, a fellow legislator suggested during her first week in the house that she’d be fine if she sat and listened. She told him, “You obviously don’t know me very well. I’m not a side-line sitter, and I always have plans.” She served in the House until 1999. She was the lead sponsor of several bills enhancing the Freedom of Information Act; lead sponsor of a bill creating the Arkansas Ethics Commission and a bill creating sales tax for a research center and endowed chair at UAMS in alcohol abuse prevention.
The Schexnayders sold the Clarion in 1998 and established Dumas Community Fund which evolved into Delta Community Foundation. Melvin Schexnayder died in 2007. Though removed from journalism, she remained involved in civic life. In 2012, she published her memoir, The Salty Old Editor: An Adventure in Ink.
Mrs. Schexnayder’s family includes three children and spouses, John and Deanna Schexnayder of Austin, TX, Sarah and Mark Steen of Frisco, Texas, and Dr. Steve and Dr. Becky Schexnayder of Little Rock; 9 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.
As an educator, public servant, political scientist, and writer, Diane Blair was a favorite professor at the University of Arkansas, and her book, Arkansas Politics and Government: Do the People Rule? now serves as a textbook in many universities.
Following her graduation from Cornell University, Blair worked for the President’s Committee on Government Contracts, conducted research for the Senate and served as a legislative assistant. She married Arkansan Hugh Kincaid with the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General Corps and moved to Fayetteville where she completed her master’s degree at the University of Arkansas in 1967. She was a part-time lecturer at the university, and in 1971, Gov. Dale Bumpers appointed her to chair the Governor’s Commission on the Status of Women.
In 1976, Gov. David Pryor selected her to chair a commission on public employee rights, and in 1979, she was assistant professor of political science at UA, where she taught courses in national government, state and local government, Arkansas politics and politics in literature. She was often voted a favorite teacher in student polls. Her marriage ended, but she married attorney James Burton Blair in 1979, and Gov. Bill Clinton performed the ceremony.
In 1980, Clinton appointed her to the commission for the Arkansas Educational Television Network where she served until 1993. She was chairperson from 1986 to 1987.
In 1982, she won the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences Master Teacher Award in politics. Always interested in women in politics, her first book, Silent Hattie Speaks: The Personal Journal of Senator Hattie Caraway, was based on the journals of the first woman to be elected U.S. Senator. Her second book, Arkansas Politics and Government: Do the People Rule?, was published in 1988. She was promoted to full professor at the University in 1990.
In 1992 and 1996, she served as an advisor on the Clinton-Gore presidential campaigns, and also chronicled the 1992 campaign as official historian. She was also selected to be a member of the Arkansas delegation to the Electoral College. She followed the campaign again in 1996, keeping journals and conducting interviews on the team’s perception of the campaign. Those papers were donated to the Special Collections at the UA Libraries. Clinton appointed Blair to the board of directors of the U.S. Corporation for Public Broadcasting where she served from 1993 to 2000. She became chair and the boardroom was later named in her honor.
Blair died in 2000 of lung cancer. Her husband bestowed an endowment to the Fayetteville Public Library in her honor and also endowed the Diane Blair Chair of Political Science at UA. The Diane D. Blair Center of Southern Politics and Society at the University of Arkansas was established with funds appropriated from Congress in 2000.
Photos Credit: Special Collections, University of Arkansas Library
As president and CEO of Heifer Project International, she led the organization’s global program and helped expand programs and projects that have provided food security to impoverished people in the U.S. and more than 50 countries around the world. Through Heifer, she has devoted her life to empowering women and enhancing the lives of their children. Prior to Heifer, she served as executive director of the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism for 10 years.
Luck attended Hendrix College and majored in education. She graduated with her bachelor’s degree from David Lipscomb College in Nashville, then went on to get her master’s degree from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.
She served as assistant director in the Governor’s Office of Volunteer Services. And in 1978, she became the first executive director of the Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families. In 1979, she became executive director of the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism as Gov. Bill Clinton’s first cabinet appointee. Under her direction, the economic impact of tourism in Arkansas doubled from $1 billion to $2 billion.
In 1989, she became Global Services Director of Heifer Project International, and by 1992, she was the president and CEO where she served until 2010. She expanded the nonprofit’s budget from $7 million to over $100 million. The new sustainable LEED award-winning headquarters and campus in Little Rock were designed and built under her leadership.
She was appointed by President Barack Obama to serve on the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Board for International Food and Agricultural Development, which advises USAID administrators on agricultural development priorities and issues as they relate to global famine and hunger. She served on many other councils and committees to further the dialogue on food and agriculture in the 21st century.
In 2010, she was awarded the World Food Prize, an international award recognizing individuals who have advanced human development by improving the quality, quantity or availability of food. She’s received Forbes magazine’s “Trailblazer Award” and was the recipient of several honorary doctorate degrees for her humanitarian service. In 1992, she was official delegate to the U.N.’s Conference on Environment and Development in Brazil and an official participant in the PVO/NGO Earth Summit — the only individual listed as a participant in both gatherings.
Born in Bentonville, Louise McPhetridge Thaden had a passion for aviation from a young age. She was raised on a family farm, but a plane ride with a barnstormer in her youth cemented her desire to fly.
She attended the University of Arkansas to pursue a degree in journalism and physical education but never graduated. She took a job in sales in Kansas and spent much time around the airplane factory. Later, she was given a job as an office manager in California where pilot’s lessons were included. She earned her pilot’s license in 1928. Not long after, she became the first and only pilot to simultaneously hold the women’s records for speed, altitude and solo endurance. She competed and won against Amelia Earhart and others in the first all-women’s transcontinental race, the National Women’s Air Derby in 1929.
She and Earhart formed the Ninety-Nines, an advocacy group for women pilots. In 1930, she opened a flight school for women at the Penn School of Aviation in Pittsburgh and raised scholarship money for its first 12 students.
With the help of Frances Marsalis, she set a refueling endurance record of 196 hours — more than eight days aloft — over Long Island, New York in 1932, which included 78 air-to-air refueling maneuvers where food, water, oil and fuel were passed down from another aircraft. This gained national attention, and she made a series of live radio broadcasts from the plane.
In 1936, she and her co-pilot became the first women to win the Bendix Transcontinental Air Race from New York to Los Angeles. Due to mechanical errors and weather, they didn’t know they’d won the race and were confused by the swarm of people around their aircraft. She beat Earhart and the fastest male pilot in America.
She won the Harmon Trophy in 1937, the highest honor given to a female pilot. She retired in 1938 to spend more time with her two children, Bill and Pat, and to write her memoir, High, Wide and Frightened. In 1951, the airport at Bentonville was renamed Louise M. Thaden Field in her honor. In 1976, Governor David Pryor declared Aug. 22 to be Louise M. Thaden Day. She was posthumously inducted into the International Aerospace Hall of Fame in 1999.
She blazed a trail for Arkansas women in publications, building the Arkansas Times and Arkansas Business Publishing Group into two of the state’s biggest independent multimedia firms. From her position in the publication industry, she has championed women in all fields, co-founding the Arkansas Women’s Foundation, which works to ensure economic security for Arkansas women and girls.
She graduated magna cum laude from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and began her publishing career in 1978, joining the Arkansas Writers Project as part of the ad sales department at the Arkansas Times. She was among the founders of Arkansas Business in 1984 and Southern magazine in 1986.
In 1984, she was honored in New York by the National Council of Women of the United States as a Young Achiever, one of six young women in the country achieving exceptional success at a young age. She was the first woman from Arkansas to receive this honor. In May 1985, she was featured in Good Housekeeping magazine’s 100th anniversary issue as one of the “100 Young Women of Promise” and the only woman from Arkansas to be included.
In 1995, she became CEO and principal owner of the newly formed Arkansas Business Publishing Group, which has been honored with more than 115 national and local awards for outstanding journalism, publication and website design, and excellence in publishing and web development.
From 1995 to 1999, she created a publication featuring the top 100 women in Arkansas and their accomplishments. In 1998, this publication led to co-founding the Arkansas Women’s Foundation with Pat Lile.
Her work in the community has included serving on the Board of Trustees for the Arkansas Arts Center, the Junior League of Little Rock Advisory Board, the Arkansas Executive Forum and the Community Advisory Board for the University of Arkansas Medical School. She has served on the Governor’s Task Force for Entrepreneurship in Education, as well as worked with the Single Parent Scholarship Fund, the Arkansas Community Service Awards, the United Negro College Fund, AETN, Youth Home, Arkansas Chamber Singers, Planned Parenthood and the Arkansas Women’s Political Action Committee.
In 2012, Gov. Mike Beebe presented her with the Distinguished Citizen Award. As of February 2019, she has retired from ABPG.