Society News

                                                                                                                                                                                    June 26, 2020
Heritage Center mortgage paid off!

Donation from Wanda Roe provides a great step into Society's future

     Members of the Society who were able to attend the June 23, 2020 monthly meeting— the first in-person meeting scheduled after the coronavirus pandemic quarantine— were surprised and broke into applause when the announcement was made that long-time member Wanda Roe was making a donation of $50,000 to the Society, for the purpose of retiring the mortgage on our Heritage Center at 808 S. Baker Street in Mountain Home.


     A native of Baxter County who turned 100 last October, Wanda Finley Roe has been a member and supporter of the Society for a number of years. Born to Melvin and Luna Finley in 1920, Wanda has fond memories of growing up in Lone Rock and Norfork, and she loves to recount her experiences. Though many years have passed and she now lives in Pea Ridge, her memories of growing up in the city of Norfork are still sharp.


     William Melvin Finley, her father, was a Vaudeville performer as a young man, as musician, clown, puppeteer and magician. His travels brought him to Norfork, where he met Luna Cockrum, the daughter of A. T. “Shelt” Cockrum and Mollie Mary Gaither. Luna’s father operated a general store in Norfork. Melvin and Luna married in 1914, and for a while they worked the Vaudeville circuit together. In time, however, Melvin Finley took an interest in motion pictures, and he established the Lyric Theater in Norfork, operating it from 1927 until 1957.


     Wanda Roe and her younger brother, Melvin Jr., grew up in Norfork, and she remembers her parent’s involvement in the production of “Souls Aflame,” a Civil War drama, which in 1927 was the first feature film produced in Arkansas. Wanda’s parents provided music for the film, and at 7 years of age Wanda, along with a number of Norfork residents, had a part as an extra in the crowd scenes of the movie. The famous Wolf house provided the setting for some scenes in the film.


     As a teenage student in Norfork Wanda learned piano from her cousin Maxine, and at the urging of her teacher she began to teach other young students. “I have always been an educator in some measure,” she says. After high school she went to college for two years in Springfield, Missouri. After two years she had earned three years worth of credits. She always had art ability and her major was art and drama. Of her studies and major she says, “I loved it.”


     Wanda met Roy Roe, who was also an educator, and they married on Christmas Day, 1940. When her husband Roy was the superintendent of schools at Foreman, Arkansas, he urged her to take the test for teacher certification in music, which she passed and began teaching in Foreman. Required by the state to test for further certification every three years she took the test for certification in art, and took some refresher courses to hone her skills, and then introduced the art program at Foreman. When the Roes moved to Pea Ridge she was also able to start the art program in the high school

there. Through the years a number of her students have excelled and won recognition in the arts in various ways, and Wanda herself has been a professional artist with a number of honors and awards, “and I’ve sold some of the paintings,” she adds. Her abilities, achievements and experiences led Governor Beebe to appoint her to the Arkansas Humanities Council during his administration. Though she has never been trained in literary skills, Wanda also likes to write poetry, and has achieved some recognition in that field as well.


     As an educator and artist Wanda has been able to travel. “In my travels I have seen a lot of the world, Wanda says, but I’ve decided that I’m a mountain girl, and there’s no place any prettier than Arkansas.” Of Arkansas small town life she says, “You are lucky to be raised in this area and in a town this size. Bigger places may have more options but they don’t do as good a job in the basics of life… little places, [the basics] that’s all we have and we concentrate on that.” She has loved to travel and mentions visiting Athens, stating that the countryside around the Greek capital reminded her of the hills of Arkansas. She continues, “If I had to choose a place to live I don’t think I would not choose Arkansas… Is there any place more beautiful than our Buffalo river and the waterfalls, and the place you and I know best?”


     Our first direct connection with Wanda came in 2014, when she called to mention she had a picture to donate which had been drawn by a grandson of Major Jacob Wolf (the picture is on display in the Heritage Center). She presented the picture when she visited the Heritage Center with her good friend from younger days, Jorayne Hackler.


     Since then she has continued to support the Society’s mission in several ways. She made two donations of granite “Foundation Stone” plaques, engraved in memory of her family. She’s a faithful reader of our quarterly, Baxter County History, and in 2018, when she read in the quarterly that we needed to take out a loan to pay for a new roof on our property at 511 S. Main (the old Baxter Bulletin offices and shop), she called and said she wanted to pay for the roof, and sent a donation of $10,000.


     Knowing that Wanda had a lot of Baxter County history to share, last July we arranged to visit her at her home in Pea Ridge, and recorded nearly an hour and a half of delightful video of her life story, which is in production for a DVD issue. After that experience, this writer can only say how much he wishes everyone could have the opportunity to interact with this joyful and vibrant lover of Arkansas and its history.


   Then later last year, Wanda read about how Steve Johnson had undertaken a “Memory Month” sponsorship for the Society, donating funds for our October mortgage payments each year in memory of his father Earle Johnson.


     She responded by sending a letter in December with a check for the mortgage payment for that month, saying she“liked that Mr. Johnson’s idea”,  and  wanted  to  start 

providing for the December payment in memory of her marriage to Roy Roe, which had lasted for “51 and a half  years until he passed away.” She sent that mortgage payment check and another for $30 for her 2020 Society membership. Since she had turned 100 she wrote, “I don’t know how long I can do it but I’ll do it as long as I can.”


     Then in April she called to say that she was had been thinking about it and thought perhaps, after taking care of some business affairs, she might be able to pre-pay her Memory Month for about 10 years in a lump sum. We thanked her for her generous idea and expected her to notify the Society when she was ready.


     It was Monday, June 22 when, along with her attorney Terry Dean who had been helping her with her business affairs, Wanda called, and after a bit of informal speaker-phone conversation she stated, “I want to pay your mortgage.” Needless to say we were astounded and elated, and tried to be profuse in our thanks before the call ended and we hung up. And our expressions of gratitude will continue— including remembering the anniversary of Roy and Wanda Roe each year from now on.


     True to her word, the check for Wanda’s donation of $50,000 arrived in our post office box on Friday, June 26, and the retirement of our mortgage on the Heritage Center is in process as this account is being written.


     We can sense that Wanda Finley Roe’s love for Arkansas and beloved memories of her roots in Baxter County have led to her generous support of our mission. She is a prime example of the truth that a person doesn’t have to live in Baxter County to be a member of our Society and to help it carry out it’s mission of “Preserving the Past for the Present.” We assure Wanda of our deep and lasting gratitude for her generosity, as we build on her support to continue to serve that mission well into the future.


     Thank you, Wanda Finley Roe!