BY JACLYN ROSE –
Simplicity, volunteerism and community are all at the heart of Russ and Liz Hoffman. When they begin discussing their passion: to bring together friends and family, to work together and create a better Polk County, their faces absolutely light up. This couple spent a combined 48 hours ringing the bell for the Salvation Army outside, over what has been one of the harshest winters in several decades. They claim it was the best Christmas they have had since they were children and hope to raise awareness of the blessing and joy volunteerism can bring other members of their community.
Born and raised in Mena, Liz is a graduate of Acorn High School. She went on to get an Associate of Arts and an LPN certification from RMCC, and later a Bachelor in Nursing from West Texas A&M University. After working in the Senior Behavior Health Unit at Mena Regional Health Systems, Liz has now left the nursing field. “I worked with great people and I really enjoyed it, but it was time… I am now working on writing a book.” Liz also has dreams of opening a respite care service for people who care for ill loved ones in their home, and need a break.
Russ moved to Mena from the Saint Louis area in 1972. “The town I was in was near the murder capital and every day we were let out of school around lunch time for race riots. The move to Arkansas was like Dorothy and Oz but in reverse. It was a wonderful change.” After graduating from Acorn in 1977 Russ joined the Navy and traveled the world before retiring and moving back home to Mena in 2002.
The couple, who knew each other in high school, ran into each other locally one day and started spending time together, they married on Valentine’s Day in 2004, 10 years ago. Russ used the GI Bill to go to Railroad College and worked in Amarillo, TX, where the couple, and four of their six children that they have between the two of them, relocated for several years. A railroad conductor, Russ loves driving a train, but with ailing family members that needed their help they eventually moved back to Polk County. “Between us we have six children, ages: 28, 27, 26, 25, 21 and 17. It was good to give them a little exposure to a larger city but we are glad to be back home.”
“I am living my dream. I am back home and I am married to the most wonderful man in the universe, which makes me the luckiest woman alive,” Liz said with a smile.
In the process of looking for something they could really get involved in, Russ walked into the Salvation Army and told them he wanted to volunteer, and the couple set to work. “We enjoyed working with the Salvation Army so much, we met so many neat people and became reacquainted with many old friends, teachers and classmates we had not seen in years,” said Russ. “Volunteerism really brings a community together, with all the technology these days it’s easy to get separated from people, this really helped me feel reconnected to people and to my community. It was such a wonderful and unique experience. We cannot wait to do it again next year,” added Liz. “It really gave me a sense of belonging, to run into old friends and old family members and old teachers. This was our Christmas gift to each other and it was one of the very best,” added Russ.
“This is home. I love this area. I love that I can sit on the porch and look at the stars and I love that Mena is sort of behind the times. It’s so simple. I love it here,” explained Liz.