BY LOGAN MCCOURTNEY –
As communities join together for long-standing traditions and new festivities, few recognize the amount of work “behind the scenes” and attention to detail that assures its success. Many times, these people are paid but more often than not in small rural communities, such as in Polk County, they are volunteers that are driven to give back to their community and to showcase it to others. Such is the case with Terri Neugent who devotes many hours to serving the residents of Mena as both an alderman on the Mena City Council and on the Mena Advertising and Promotion (A&P) Commission.
Terri, recently the recipient of the Arkansas Festival & Events Association’s [AFEA] Volunteer of the Year award, has always loved the feeling of giving back to the community. “In whatever way possible, I want to be a part of helping Mena move forward,” says Terri excitedly. In both areas that Terri serves, City Council and the Advertising & Promotion Commission, attention to detail is beneficial. Before moving to Mena, Terri lived in Fort Smith, where she graduated from Northside High School and later went to work in the banking world. She started as the branch secretary, managing new accounts among other things, and then due to her hard work and attention to detail, Terri was promoted to the main bank to assist the Vice President of Lending. Terri took some time away from the banking world to stay at home with her kids, but upon arriving back in the banking scene, she found herself back in the familiar world of commercial lending. All of her banking experience, 25 plus years in all, has really grown her heart for seeing projects through and has prepared her for the public service she now finds herself in.
Terri isn’t the only one in her family who is in the role of public service. Her husband, Jim, currently serves on Polk County’s Quorum Court. “I am really proud of the work we are both able to do in the community. Jim has served on the Quorum Court since 1989 except for two years,” says Terri. Originally, City Council wasn’t on her radar, it wasn’t something she had ever considered. Terri explains, “My husband and others were encouraging me to run for city alderman, they were so supportive so I stepped up the plate.” Upon her election, she was quickly appointed as the Chair of the Fire and Law Enforcement Committee and then shortly after, Terri was appointed to the Advertising and Promotion Commission. Terri currently serves as the Vice Chair of the Advertising and Promotion Commission, a position she is grateful to serve. “In this position, I have the wonderful opportunity of helping people outside of Mena come and experience all the wonderful things that Mena has to offer,” says Terri.
Details often sound like labor, but for Terri, she loves digging into the details. City Council serves as the legislative branch of the community, a responsibility that she takes seriously. “Our job is to be as thorough as possible. This means that I do my homework, I am reading and staying up to date on the laws. I want to take my job seriously because people put me there.” Terri has served in a plethora of roles in the Promotion Commission, sitting on several of the committees. Some of the events that she has helped with include the 4th of July fireworks, the Christmas Festival and light show, but most notably, the Lum and Abner Festival. Her help with each of these events is part of what earned the attention of people around the state and the recognition needed to win the AFEA Volunteer ALFiE Award. “I have really loved being a part of planning each of these events. I enjoy all the aspects of what we are doing,” says Terri.
Terri enjoys all the events that the City plans, but she especially enjoys the Lum and Abner Festival. Not only is the festival great for families and people in the community to enjoy, but it helps stimulate the local economy with visitors. “When we are able to plan and market what is happening in Mena, we are able to bring a lot of people here. That helps local businesses and the local economy,” explains Terri. Not only does she enjoy the ‘details’ and ‘business’ of putting together the festival, she loves the people involved. “I’ve always tried to make a point of getting to know our vendors that come in. Many of them have come each year and have said that it is their favorite festival. Talking with them feels like talking with family,” says Terri with a smile.
Terri and Jim, now both retired from banking careers, both share a great love for Mena, excitement that is evidenced through her service to the community in City Council and as Mena Advertising and Promotion Commissioner. “We have a great community and a lot to offer to tourists. It is my desire and plan to help move Mena forward as the great community that it is,” says Terri excitedly. Her passion for the community and surrounding area is evident, “Each week Jim and I drive up the mountain just to enjoy the beautiful area we live in. We love everything about Mena, especially the people around us that we are fortunate to know.”