Clinton Center volunteers working to keep it running

Posted: February 4, 2018 at 2:10 a.m.

Clinton School of Public Service volunteers (left to right) Don Castleberry, Bob Gee, Jeanne McDaniel, Ann Hedges and Brenda McKeever are some of the hundreds of helpers who keep the school and the Clinton Presidential Center operating.

Brenda McKeever first met Bill Clinton when her children took ballet lessons with his daughter, Chelsea. Don Castleberry's parents were neighbors of the Clintons. Jeanne McDaniel helped with his presidential campaign.

The trio along with two other longtime volunteers -- Bob Gee and Ann Hedges -- recently sat down to explain why they volunteer at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service. When you factor in the Clinton Presidential Center, it takes more than 200 volunteers to make the facilities hum.

Ann Kamps, manager of volunteer and visitor services at the William J. Clinton Foundation, said the number of volunteers fluctuates between 225 and 240. In 2017, she recorded 47,000 volunteer hours.

"We always love to get new volunteers," Kamps says. "We are always looking for volunteers and always looking for volunteers who want to work any areas that we have, including the Clinton School."

The five volunteers -- who agreed to share their stories -- have different reasons for giving up their time. But all agreed on one thing: They supported Clinton's presidency.

"I was proud of the fact that my home state had a president and politically I supported that, but probably more important was I am a big supporter of Arkansas," says Castleberry, who has been a volunteer since before the library opened in 2004.

An oil geologist, Castleberry spent more than 40 years outside the Natural State, working all over the United States and many foreign countries. His career also included many years with the National Park Service.

"I was always proud of my Arkansas heritage, and I thought the library was a great asset to my hometown and my home state," he says.

McKeever, a retired deputy with the Pulaski County sheriff's office, said that when she first started volunteering, Clinton remembered her face but couldn't recall her name. She ended up telling him who she was and how they knew each other.

"I wanted to volunteer because I knew him and I liked him. He has a very good personality and he remembers you and would hold a conversation, just like me," McKeever says. "I am a people person."

Gee -- and most Clinton volunteers -- work one day a week. His day is Friday. He spends time helping Clinton School students with whatever they may need, including finding a doctor or a mechanic.

"The value of the volunteer force here is that we really try to encourage the students and help the students any way we can, and I think we get a very large return on our investment of time from seeing what students have accomplished, keeping up with them when they leave here and create families and grow their families and, occasionally, we get to see them when they come back," Gee says.

The Clinton School is the first school in the nation to offer a Master of Public Service degree. The two-year graduate program is designed as a "real-world" curriculum. It is housed on the grounds of the Clinton Presidential Center and Park.

Hedges says she started volunteering the day before the Clinton Library opened. Her first job was keeping track of volunteer hours. She was eventually replaced by a computer. She works at the Clinton School and volunteers during evening lectures.

"The thing I love about volunteering here is my husband and I like to travel a lot so we may be gone for three months and then I may work five days a week over here or I may work for eight hours a day," Hedges says. "The beauty of volunteering at the Clinton School for the public lecture series is the flexibility of the schedule."

Her husband is Roger Hedges, who retired in 2013 as business editor at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

The Clinton School hosts free public programs, guest lectures and community conversations featuring internationally prominent leaders who speak about timely topics.

Hedges says that when she leaves a lecture in the evening, she sees a vibrant River Market District filled with visitors.

"This whole River Market area became what it is now because of the location of the Clinton Presidential Center, as far as I am concerned," Hedges says. "The amazing transformation of the downtown area is just a part of what we are so proud of as volunteers."

McDaniel says her husband died when her children were young and she went to work at the Arkansas Legislature to support them. When she retired, she learned the Clinton center was recruiting people to work at the main library. She spends one day a week at the Clinton School.

"It has been really interesting to meet all of the speakers and see all of the people who are from all over the world," McDaniel says.

When Castleberry retired, he was recruited to join a group that was working on adding Little Rock Central High School to the National Park System. The group included Little Rock City Manager Bruce Moore. When Castleberry learned the Clinton Center was looking for volunteers, he interviewed for a spot with Moore's then-wife Lena Moore. She asked him for a reference.

"Being new in town, I couldn't think of a good name at first, then I said, 'Well, how about your husband?' With a wry smile, she allowed that would do," Castleberry says.

Castleberry plays guitar with a band called the Pickoids, adding their genre of music "defies description." Castleberry has invited several Clinton students to sit in with the band, including Greg Holyfield, whose father, Wayland Holyfield, wrote the official state song, "Arkansas (You Run Deep in Me)."

"Those are experiences we couldn't get any other way," he says.

"It's an exciting place," Gee adds. "When you are here for a while, you start to get the fever, you get the Clinton School fever, and you want to keep coming back."

More information about volunteering can be found at clintonpresidentialcenter.org or by calling (501) 748-0419.

Having supported Bill Clinton’s presidency, Clinton School of Public Service volunteers (left to right) Don Castleberry, Bob Gee, Jeanne McDaniel, Ann...

High Profile on 02/04/2018