BY LEANN DILBECK –
For many people who are embarking upon retirement, they are looking forward to a slower pace of life, the anticipated golden years of life where days are full of rest and relaxation… but not Mary Dixon, who is looking forward to having the time to devote herself to passions closest to her heart. She embodies President John F. Kennedy’s ideology that “For of those to whom much is given, much is required,” inspired by Luke 12:48.
Mary is a native Arkansan, spending her youth in Magnet Cove. After graduation, she attended Ouachita Baptist University, with aspirations of being an elementary guidance counselor. While still a college student, Mary worked for an Arkadelphia attorney. “He came in one day and said ‘have you ever thought about joining the Army?’ I said, ‘Well, not really.’ He said, ‘Come to UALR campus tomorrow… we’re going to sign you up!’” Mary explained that she was 22-23 years old at the time and that it was a two-year commitment. “I thought, ‘I can do anything for two years!’” The rest, as they say, is history. Mary served her country in the U.S. Army for 33 years, as a member of JAG and assisting in the Inspector General’s office. It was during that time that they sent her for court reporter training at a Naval justice school in Rhode Island.
After leaving the Army, Mary would ultimately land in Mena in 1991 to serve as 18th West Judicial Circuit Court and Polk County Circuit Court’s official Court Reporter, ultimately serving the State of Arkansas for an additional 27 years before retiring at the end of 2017. During her tenure, she served three judges: Judge Gayle Ford, Judge Jake Looney, and Judge Jerry Ryan.
She said that one of the highlights of her career was watching the progress of the graduates from the drug court program in overcoming their addictions and making life-changing decisions because of the support and incentive the program provides.
Mary is, by far, not your typical retiree, with multiple passions, she now has more time to fully devote herself to.
Mary is the owner of 11 thoroughbreds, one Arabian, and four Welsh ponies. She hopes to be able to offer English riding lessons, and hunter jumping lessons by this spring. She also plans to use one to two of the horses for therapy. People with cognitive, psycho-motor and behavioral disabilities have shown positive results when equestrian or equine therapy is taught correctly by certified equine therapists. Just like other therapies such as physical, occupational and speech-language therapy, people with disabilities are being helped or assisted by certified therapists to cope with their disability. However, equine therapy combines all three in such a way that the patients or students do not feel that they are actually under therapy.
This passion parallels her service as president of the PCDC Board of Directors. “If you ever feel like things aren’t just going your way… go spend a day at PCDC,” she said glowingly, “Those kids will just make your life so joyful! They just love their lives. There is so much to be learned from them.” She celebrates each of their accomplishments and their integration as productive citizens, living and giving back to their local community. Mary said efforts are underway to create a men’s home, much like AVANTS, the women’s home.
Mary is also very active in her church, First Presbyterian, and said she is looking forward to spending more time with members of the congregation. She’s also starting a new Bible study class that she plans to teach, “That’s going to be a good discipline for me,” she explained.
Mary is also the founder of the Ouachita Strings. She said she first picked up a violin in 1980 through a program provided by the Ross Foundation. The Foundation provides the instruments and the student is only responsible for the cost of the lesson. A concept she duplicated when relocating to Mena in 1991. The program now boasts 43 students, of which, many are quite accomplished, winning superior ratings in state-wide competitions. They are members of the Arkansas Federated Music Club and the local group is known as the Mena Mountain Music Musicale. The group plays a plethora of styles from classical, to folk and Celtic. They hold four recitals per year and play at multiple social events and weddings as well.
Mary’s passion for the arts is deep and said she plans to volunteer at the Mena Art Gallery and Ouachita Little Theatre as well, and not necessarily as an artist or actor, she joked, but in a supporting role. She said, “My only talent at the theatre is making popcorn! But, I love to make popcorn… and maybe I can do programs, too.”
She holds a deep appreciation for all that Mena has to offer, “There’s so much to do in this town! Especially, for such a small town… there’s something that you can be going and doing, literally every night here!”
Mary has received lots of encouragement from her many Arkadelphia friends to move back there but she has no plans of leaving, “This is my home. My music is here. My horses are here. And, I’m just so proud of Mena… and all of the people who live here. This is where I want to live out my days.”