BY LEANN DILBECK –
Long-time education advocate, Bill Abernathy, was recently honored by the Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators (AAEA) for his over 60 years of distinguished service to education in Arkansas.
Abernathy, who served as the Executive Director for the Arkansas Rural Education Association (AREA), from 2010-2017 announced his retirement this year. This is actually Abernathy’s third retirement… as he joked, “I’m retiring… again.”
In Abernathy’s impressive 60-year career in Arkansas education, he hit certain peaks that then launched him to yet another phase of serving in the education system but this time, he says it’s final, as he is looking forward to spending more time with his wife of 63 years, Mary Jo.
Abernathy’s career in Arkansas education began as a coach in his hometown of Oden while he pursued earning his Masters degree in education.
From Oden, the Abernathys went to Conway, where he was the junior high school principal for four years, then on to Greenbrier as superintendent. They then returned to Conway, where Abernathy became the assistant superintendent, and from there, to Mena in 1972, where Bill became superintendent of Mena Public Schools.
“I was 37 years old then, and I stayed here for 14 years, until I accepted the position of president at Rich Mountain Community College (now UA – Rich Mountain),” he explained. “I served in that capacity for 13 years. During all this time I saw the educational system from the bottom to the top, giving me a broad understanding of how it all worked. Also during all that time, I had watched my father-in–law, Ode Maddox, as he served in the state legislature, in the house. He was a strong man and he always concentrated on helping education. He had become my inspiration over the years, and I wanted to serve the people the way he had. So, when I retired from education, I decided to go into politics.
“Ode Maddox was always big on helping the people of his area – the people that he served,” Abernathy continued. “I ran for and was elected to the Arkansas House of Representatives in 2004 and discovered I had reached another plateau of service – my boundaries of service had just become broader (due to term limits).”
“Over the years, education has always been my focus – my area of expertise and responsibility,” he continued. “By my second term I was appointed as Vice-Chair of the Education Committee, and Chairman of the Adequacy sub-committee of Higher Education. My background experience as a superintendent of schools and a college president made me almost a hybrid, giving me a broad understanding of education. Education and economic development go hand-in-hand. When you can give people an opportunity to acquire skills so that they can provide for their families and better serve our society, this is worthy of anyone’s efforts, and I am honored to have given my service to this endeavor. It has been a rewarding experience and it has been an opportunity to leave this area better than I found it.”
Abernathy is grateful for the opportunity to be an education advocate, “I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to help worthy people who did not know how to make the system work for them – to navigate the system – empowering them and to leading them to independence,” Abernathy added. “It has been my greatest pleasure!”