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