Arkansas Agriculture Hall of Fame to welcome 6 new members

The Arkansas Agriculture Hall of Fame increases its ranks by six members today with inductees instrumental in timber, water conservation, cattle, aviation, community service and crop yields.

Their inductions, set for 11:30 a.m. at the Embassy Suites hotel in Little Rock, will increase the hall's membership to 175 since its first class in 1987. Three of today's inductees are deceased.

The six inductees "reflect the broad and dramatic impact of agriculture across Arkansas," said Butch Calhoun of Des Arc, chairman of the hall's selection committee. Two of the six are 99 years old and plan to give their induction speeches, according to the Arkansas Farm Bureau, which helps manage the hall.

The inductees are:


The Arkadelphia native's legacy, though rooted in timber, thrives in philanthropy. There is hardly a segment of life in southwest Arkansas left untouched by Jane Ross, who died in 1999 at 78.

Heirs to a timber fortune, she and her mother, Esther, started the Ross Foundation in 1966 with an endowment of 18,000 acres of timberland in Clark and Nevada counties. More than 50,000 acres in six counties are now managed to benefit a variety of interests in conservation, community development and education.

"We manage it like a mini national forest," Ross Whipple, the foundation's chairman since Ross' death, said in a 2017 interview with the Democrat-Gazette.

"[W]hen other companies were cutting timber ... and getting out," the Ross family was "concerned with everything from plant communities to wildlife to water quality," Whipple said. "Each time we're faced with a decision, we try to reflect back on what they might have done."

Fresh out of college, Ross envisioned being a photographer and set up such a shop in Arkadelphia. Priorities changed with her father's death, and Ross went into timber management with a focus on sustainability.

"She not only wanted to share in the financial returns that the forest provided, but also was always eager to allow visitors to enjoy the unique natural diversity, habitat, history and scenic beauty of the Ross Foundation timberlands," Mark Carnes, the foundation's director of operations, wrote in a nomination letter for Ross.


A native of Lonoke, the late Albert E. "Gene" Sullivan spent his entire career with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Soil Conservation Service, now called the Natural Resources Conservation Service, leading federal efforts in four states. He retired as Arkansas state Conservationist in 1990 before starting a consulting business. He died in 2017 at age 81.

His son, Mike Sullivan, is now state Conservationist, likely the nation's only such father-son combination, Mike Sullivan said.

"I think he'd most be proud of his work in water resources, addressing the critical ground-water problems we've faced in Arkansas," Mike Sullivan said. For too long, land-water policies in Arkansas focused on draining lands and reducing flooding, he said.

Scientists long predicted that eastern Arkansas' Alluvial aquifer, which is used for farm irrigation, would dry up and that south Arkansas' Sparta aquifer would become too contaminated to provide safe drinking water. Many of those fears have been assuaged.

"We'd gotten to where we were over-using our water resources, and my father recognized that and got really good at bringing people together to solve the problem," Mike Sullivan said.

After four years as state Conservationist, Gene Sullivan began work as a consultant and as executive director of the Grand Prairie Irrigation Project and the Bayou Meto Water Management District. "They've not been completed yet," Mike Sullivan said, "but he helped get things moving."


Leo Sutterfield of Mountain View died in 2017 at age 71, leaving a legacy throughout Stone County from his work as a teacher, a cattleman, a banker and a community leader.

Sutterfield served on the board of the Arkansas Farm Bureau for about 15 years, was chairman of the Arkansas Beef Council for nine years and was a member of the national Cattlemen's Beef Board. He also was a president of First Service Bank in Mountain View.

Dan Stewart, who served with Sutterfield on the Stone County Farm Bureau board, cited in a nomination letter Sutterfield's "extensive record of public service, specifically his dedication to supporting and advocating for the interests of agriculture and farming families."

Sutterfield's community involvement started early, not long after attaining degrees from Arkansas State University and the University of Central Arkansas, when he returned to Stone County to teach math at schools in Mountain View and Fifty Six. He joined a partnership in a Mountain View hardware store, started his own accounting service, and was financial director at the then-new Ozark Folk Center.

Stewart said Sutterfield was instrumental in bringing municipal water to rural Stone County and in supporting rural fire departments.

Sutterfield was among the Mountain View residents who successfully met the challenge decades ago by the late Bessie Moore, a leader in the development of the Ozark Folk Center, to raise $100,000 in matching funds for a new library.


Trained as a pilot by the U.S. Air Force, George Tidwell got his first views of Arkansas from the air, just a few feet above ground, while spraying cotton fields in south Arkansas as a "crop duster" not long after his discharge from the service.

A native of Florida, Tidwell, 82, established Tidwell Flying Service in Lonoke in 1964. He later served on the state Plant Board for 27 years, including 15 years as its chairman.

Tidwell's focus on safety and technology helped change the image of "crop dusters," Ford Baldwin, a retired weed scientist and 2018 Arkansas Agriculture Hall of Fame inductee, wrote in an unsuccessful effort a few years ago to have Tidwell inducted.

Baldwin and others praised Tidwell for his service on the Plant Board. "He was hard-nosed, opinionated but willing to listen to others, honest and fair," Baldwin wrote. "He studied every issue, did his homework and sought expert help."

Arkansas' rice industry -- the largest in the nation -- likely wouldn't be what it is today without Tidwell's leadership on a series of controversies, Baldwin said. Tidwell also helped lead the state's fairly recent eradication of the boll weevil from Arkansas cotton crops, Baldwin said.

The induction effort on Tidwell's behalf continued this year.

Tidwell also runs a hay and beef cattle operation in Lonoke County.


The arc of Thomas Franklin Vaughns' history in Arkansas is long, starting with his birth in 1920 on a Crittenden County farm established in the late 1800s by his great-grandfather who had fled to Arkansas after the Ku Klux Klan burned his home and leathercraft business in Mississippi, Vaughns wrote in a brief essay.

During World War II, Vaughns was trained as an aircraft mechanic in Tuskegee, Ala., a member of the Tuskegee Airmen, the first blacks allowed in the Army Air Corps. Vaughns, 99, who now lives in White Hall, also served in the Korean War.

In the mid-1950s, the decorated war veteran was back home in Crittenden County, where he established a pilot program for farmers struggling to sell their vegetables. "Beginning with 30 acres of vegetables in 1955, this enterprise grew and resulted in two million pounds of produce annually and the employment of 1,400 people six years later," Clifton Collier, a family friend, wrote in his nomination letter for Vaughns this year.

Vaughns did similar work in Pine Bluff, Abraham Carpenter Jr. wrote in a nomination letter for Vaughns 18 years ago. "I remember as a young lad about 10 years old, my mother was talking to Mr. Vaughns about how the stores would not buy our produce," Carpenter, a famed Jefferson County vegetable grower, wrote. Vaughns then started a farmers market in Pine Bluff, Carpenter said.

Carpenter wrote that he once asked Vaughns how to be recognized for good deeds. "You cannot make yourself great," Vaughns responded. "What you do for others determine[s] what and who you become in this life and the life thereafter."


The boll weevil nearly destroyed the Arkansas cotton industry in the early 20th century; low yields and high costs in the 197os threatened it further. Farmers give Gene Woodall much of the credit for reviving it in the 1980s.

Woodall, 99, of Little Rock was the first coordinator of the state's Cotton Research Verification Program, developed by the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture in 1980 to help producers increase yields, cut their expenses and, in general, to be more efficient across their operations. A handful of cotton farmers enrolled in the program in its first year, with each farmer working a field using Woodall's directions and managing other fields as they usually would.

Woodall ran the program for five years, until his retirement in 1984, and saw better yields and lower production costs each season for the farmers involved. The program also uncovered the need for better practices in weed control, irrigation and use of nitrogen. Similar verification programs have been implemented for all major Arkansas row crops.

"His career encompassed one of the most interesting periods in Arkansas cotton history," David Wildy of Manila, who nominated Woodall this year, wrote. "This included the early development of chemical weed control, insecticides, the mechanical cotton picker, the infestation of the boll weevil and the early use of irrigation practices."

Woodall, to many farmers, is "Mr. Cotton."

Business on 03/06/2020