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.