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2017: Year in Review


It’s always been our tradition for the first issue of the New Year to republish the Top 10 stories of the year in a special “Year in Review” edition as determined by the editor. After we launched, we decided we could select the Top 10 stories based on the highest numbers the story had been viewed and sadly, we found that they were always “negative” stories involving criminals, fatalities, vehicle accidents, etc. When asked, readers always respond that they prefer positive stories but our basic human instinct seems to always navigate the other way, regardless of our best intentions.

2017 was no different, and for us, we found ourselves covering tragedies unlike any tragedies we had ever covered, when we were forced to report on the county’s first quadruple homicide. The Top 4 most viewed stories stemmed from developments from that story as this community grappled with one discovery after another for five long days before ultimately having to come to terms with one of the most horrific crimes the county had ever seen.

In a case that rocked the entire community to its core though, the true character of its people emerged. Support poured in for the law enforcement… complete strangers to the victims gathered in mass at a prayer vigil, all seeking some sense of peace and answers of how something so heinous could happen in our small, close knit community.

The same occurred following the devastating tornado of 2009. Everyone seemed to forget political or religious affiliations and neighbors helped neighbors clean up and eventually rebuild. It could be argued that certain parts of our quaint town are now better than they were prior to that devastating evening in April. Who would have thought that first night that we would eventually have close to 300 volunteers, including 911 survivors and New York City firefighters, pour into our small rural corner of the Ouachitas, rebuilding houses, a 4H Community Center, and allow Mena to be part of stitching the National 911 Flag that now hangs in the 911 Memorial Museum? It wasn’t without a price.

Yes, journalism is reporting both the good and bad, but a ‘Year in Review’ can focus on what defines us as a community in its darkest days.

In 2017, our local law enforcement worked diligently fighting the same meth and opioid epidemic that embraces us as a nation. And, it’s not just in prosecuting those cases, it’s in enabling second chances for those who demonstrate the determination and obedience to earn it through the drug court program. It’s about making presentations at local schools, hosting ‘Drug Take Back’ events, and dedicated deputies and prosecutors who protect and serve a community in which they are proud to call home and are personally invested.

This same law enforcement quickly responded following the church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Tex. by offering a class for local church groups on increasing security as we watched our neighbors in Texas cope with an unthinkable crime.

They also had the daunting task in 2017, like other years, of delivering heartbreaking news to next of kin following motorcycle and vehicle crashes, suicides, overdoses, and on and on.

Polk County is blessed with very active veterans organizations, who work tirelessly each year honoring our veterans, raising money for scholarships, caring for those in nursing homes, promoting patriotism among the youth, and placing flags, just to name a few. In 2017, Mena was selected as a site for the “The Wall that Heals,” a replica of the Vietnam War Memorial. It provided an overwhelming visual, for many who may not have otherwise had the opportunity, of the tremendous cost of human life in war.

Our community has seen its share of changes in the financial industry that by year-end, resulted in Arvest purchasing Bear State Bank (formerly First National Bank).

County traditions with festivals, parades, and fireworks were all celebrated together, and newer ones continued to grow. Mena’s reviving downtown and growing tourism industry continue to reap the benefits of group efforts such as the Arkansas Regional Coalition of the Ouachitas (ARCO).

The interior of Mena’s City Hall was willfully being updated and remodeled before the ceiling collapsed and forced the City to expand it’s renovation efforts but upon completion, a historical building will not only be preserved but will give a progressive and updated impression to first time visitors.

The medical community saw its share of changes and additions. An additional walk-in care clinic, First Care Family Health and Walk-In Clinic, now located in the former VA Clinic on Hwy 71 next to Arvest, has opened and gives residents another resource for their healthcare. A brand new VA Clinic opened on Morrow Avenue and Healthy Connections, Inc. expanded to now include pharmaceutical services.

The educational systems of Polk County are evolving as well. Two of Mena’s three public school systems broke ground on multi-million capital improvements. Louise Durham Elementary is currently undergoing an $8 million, 16,000 s.f. expansion and renovation. The Ouachita River School District broke ground on the Acorn Campus on a nearly $2 million 10,000 s.f. cafetorium. No millage increases were requested, and the district is able to pay cash for the project with no financing, thanks in part to state facilities partnership funds. And to further help students, the Harvest of Hope Radiothon, hosted by Pulse Multi-Media and the Mena Lioness/Lions organization, over $18,000 was raised to help supplement meals for food insecure children of our county.  Rich Mountain Community

College was adopted into the University of Arkansas system and after decades of giving residents opportunities to improve themselves and their standard of living, the institution that has become an integral cornerstone of our county further increased those opportunities and now bears the name University of Arkansas – Rich Mountain.

History was also made when a Polk County family, the Luke and Deedee Alston Family of Holly Springs Homestead, was named for the first time in the award’s 70 years, as Arkansas Farm Family of the Year.

Polk County is certainly a faith-based community. Yes, we have our share of troubles, but for literally every need I’m aware that we have, there is a local church or ministry working to meet the need, not just in the face of the tragedy, but 365 days a year. From 9th Street Ministries, to Fresh Start Pregnancy Resource Center, to the annual Tootsie Roll Drive or The Crossing’s Service Weekend, efforts such as these are made throughout the year to serve the vulnerable and suffering, from youth to elderly.

The landscape of Mena and its surrounding communities continues to change and evolve with new and emerging businesses and the closures of others. What defines a community are the core values of the people that call it home, and regardless of whether it is in good times or bad, the commonalities and connection we all share as life-long residents or new transplants is working together genuinely trying to make it a better place now and for future generations who will also call Polk County home.

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