BY MICHAEL REISIG –
John C. Davis was born and raised in Mena, coming into this world and this town in 1942. He attended schools here and graduated from high school in 1960. His father owned Mena Ice Plant and Davis began his working career there.
“As a kid I worked on the loading dock and delivered ice as well,” he recalled. “I delivered it to the old fashioned ice boxes at age 15. At 17, I went to work in a grocery store for 50 cents an hour – from 7 a.m. to 8:15 a.m., then I went off to school. I’d go back to work at 6 p.m. Later I also had a paper route, with my brother. We would pick up our papers from the 7:15 a.m. mail/passenger train and deliver throughout Mena. After that, when I was older, I had an ice route, delivering from Mena, to Rich Mountain, and into Oklahoma. I remember I delivered ice to the beer joints that didn’t even have electricity. There was one I remember, called The Bear Patch, that had a large live bear chained to a pole in a small fence-off area, and patrons that got drunk enough could wrestle the bear, if they wanted to.”
Davis got married in 1960, to Nita Cunningham, better known as Mickey, and they’ve been married for 53 years. They raised two daughters, although one passed away in 2007.
“I’ve seen people in this area go from wooden ice boxes to refrigerators,” he recalled. “I’ve seen people backed up two blocks to get ice from us in the summertime. Later, Dad had a candy and tobacco wholesale business, then he got a franchise for the original Frito Lay Company. I eventually became a distributor for Frito Lay in Oklahoma, at 20 years old. At 21, I went to work for Frito Lay itself and stayed with them for nearly 40 years, retiring in 2002.
“I’ve seen Highway 71 go from a rutty, two-lane road to a four-lane highway,” he continued. “I can remember seeing them put up the first stoplight in Mena, and now there’s half a dozen. There used to be a dozen small grocery stores in Mena, and now there’s just a couple big ones. I raised two daughters and watched them grow up in this community. I’ve lived through love and tragedy and had two heart attacks, and lost my left leg to a blood clot, but I’m still here and still going strong.”
Today, still going strong, Davis works for the Mena Depot, welcoming visitors and relating the history of his town. Through it all, he’s never lost his sense of perspective or his sense of humor, and he still carries a positive attitude about life. He enjoys making people laugh and he likes telling stories about “how it used to be” around here, which is why he’s so perfect for his job at The Depot.
“Working here reminds me of the old days in Mena, and I enjoy passing the history of Mena on to the folks that visit here,” he said. “I lived here most of my life and raised a family here and I’ve got four grandkids. I’m still enjoying life and I intend to continue. It’s not over yet.”