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Mena Arkansas News covering Polk County and the surrounding area

Homewood names Cottage in honor of Looney legacy

Jerry Wayne “Jake” Looney was born June 29, 1944, at Nunley in Polk County.  He was the youngest of five children by Lee Looney and Eunice Cooper Looney. His mother passed away in Jake’s infancy.  After her death, Lee Looney moved to California with the older children, leaving Jake to be raised with Lee’s sister Fairy Looney Medford and her husband Clarence. The Medford’s already had one child of their own, AllaB.  Jake was a welcome addition to their family, and AllaB immediately took Jake under her wing as her younger sibling.

Jake was barely walking when he rode horseback clinging behind AllaB (whom he always called “Sister”). When they weren’t riding at their farm near Big Fork, Jake toddled behind Sister every step she took, doing chores with her and learning the lessons of life.  Although Jake’s foster mother Fairy finished only elementary grade school herself, she soon began to work with him on writing the alphabet, reading, and instilling in him that he was beginning to prepare for college. Clarence taught Jake all the basics of running a small farm. No one else in the family had finished college except Jake’s biological sister, Vera Lee Looney. Jake studied hard and worked hard helping at home. There was just a hand pump with well water at the kitchen sink. Jake rode the school bus to Mena Junior High School and then dashed to the gymnasium for a quick shower before school every day.  Jake worked in the school cafeteria to “pay” for his school lunches. Jake proudly played football for the Mena High School Bearcats. The year of Jake’s 1962 Mena High School graduation, his schoolteachers checked on college scholarships and introduced him to Department Head of Agriculture Orville Childs at Southern State College in Magnolia (now Southern Arkansas University). Jake was awarded a two-year scholarship at Southern State. He arose daily at milk the college dairy farm.  After meeting his wife Era Furr there, they transferred after two years to the University of Arkansas Fayetteville to continue college and married in 1965, amounting to a total of 53 years marriage until Jake passed in 2018.

Jake told Era his ultimate ambition in life was to return to Polk County and have a 1000-acre cattle operation. Jake had a University of Arkansas scholarship in Animal Science.  Also he worked helping professors to conduct research, such as cutting holes in cow’s stomachs to observe their digestive processes in action. At the University poultry farm Jake worked collecting eggs which he could sometimes bring home free.  Jake had odd jobs cleaning out chicken houses for professors at their own farms.  After Jake received his University of Arkansas Bachelors of Science degree, he and Era moved to Columbia where they furthered their educations at University of Missouri.   Jake was awarded a research assistantship in Animal Nutrition to obtain his Master’s degree.  

While there Jake took an Agricultural Law course and told an incredulous Era that he would be enrolling at the University of Arkansas Fayetteville School of Law in 1967.   While studying Law, Jake worked formulating chicken feed at the feed mill operated by George’s Poultry Company in Springdale.  Era taught Home Economics at the Anderson County High School just over the Missouri line.    After one year studying Law, Jake took a break from academics.  The following year he taught Science at Springdale Junior High School, while Era obtained a Master’s degree at the University of Arkansas Home Economics Department.  

Then Jake and Era moved to teach two years in a high school near their home in Platte City, Missouri.  While teaching there, Jake took night Law courses to complete his degree at University of Missouri Kansas City School of Law.  Jake was offered an interim position teaching an Agricultural Law course back in Columbia at the University of Missouri Department of Agricultural Economic, while obtaining a Master’s degree in that department.  Era was enrolled in a University of Missouri Vocational Education Department doctoral program.

Next Jake and Era relocated back to Mena where Jake opened a law office and served as Deputy Prosecuting Attorney for two years in Polk and Little River Counties.   Era taught in the Mena Schools while doing a dissertation to complete her University of Missouri doctorate. Sister AllaB bought one-half of a Ouachita River ranch at Cherry Hill and Jake and Era the other half, beginning a ranching partnership.   In 1975 Jake and Era left Mena when the Agricultural Economics Department offered Jake a position teaching Agricultural Law and Economics at Virginia Tech, and the Vocational Education Department offered Era a teaching position as well. At Blacksburg, Virginia, their son Jason Looney was born in 1976.  After four years there, they moved to take teaching positions at Kansas State University in Manhattan.   

They stayed only a year because in 1980 Jake was offered his dream academic position at the University of Arkansas School of Law to direct the first national Masters of Law program in Agricultural Law.   Many lawyers enrolled from around the nation and overseas, and it is still in operation today.   Era taught in the University of Arkansas Home Economics Department.  In 1982 after only two years, Jake was asked to apply for an opening as Dean of the Law School.  He became the youngest ever Dean of Law at the University. While Dean for eight years, he continued to teach courses in Ag Law and Contracts.   After eight years he stepped down to return to teaching Law full-time and to obtain a Master’s degree in the History Department.   At this time he was awarded the title Distinguished Professor of Law.

After 20 years at Fayetteville, Jake retired from full-time teaching to relocate to Mena where Jake and Era had bought a home at Nunley with her widowed mother Eva Furr.  Upon returning to Mena, Jake practiced law as “of counsel” at the firm of Maddox & Maddox Attorneys at Law.  Also he taught courses part-time as a Visiting Professor at the University of Arkansas Little Rock School of Law.  Every summer, Jake also taught Bar Review courses to law graduates preparing to take the Arkansas Bar Exam for an Arkansas license to practice.  When an opening became available for the 18th West Judicial Circuit (Polk and Montgomery Counties), Jake was elected in 2002.   As he served as Judge, Jake wrote a thesis to complete his Master’s degree from the University of Arkansas Fayetteville History Department.  

Also he took part-time National Judicial Council continuing education graduate courses for Circuit Court Judges, head-quartered at the University of Nevada Reno campus.  By the time Jake finished his two terms – twelve years of service as Judge for Polk and Montgomery Counties – he had completed his Ph.D. in Judicial Studies.  In 2016 the University of Arkansas Press published a book based on Jake’s dissertation about the early history of the Arkansas Supreme Court and the justices’ biographies.   Jake also wrote six other books and hundreds of article and legal reviews during the course of his teaching career.  

Jake was ineligible to run for a third six-year term as Circuit Court Judge, because he would reach the age maximum of seventy, and had to take mandatory retirement.  However, he was appointed by then Governor Mike Beebe to fill the position of District Court Judge after Judge Jerry Ryan was elected to Jake’s former position.   After completing his interim two-year appointment, 

Jake took one final position as a Deputy Prosecuting Attorney from 2016-2018, returning full circle to his first job in the legal field.  Jake took pride in hard work, and he felt compelled to contribute his vast knowledge and experience in any way he could remain of service to his community until his health no longer allowed this.   

Over the decades since forming their ranch partnership, Sister AllaB and Jake had acquired additional properties, thus achieving his lifelong goal of right at 1,000 acres of cattle land.  Sister and Jake enjoyed working together on the combined properties.  Jake was diagnosed with cancer in 2017.  He continued to work and farm as long as he was physically able, but when Jake’s cancer was declared terminal in 2018, he went into a hospice program through Rich Mountain Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.   

There he received the best of care and was made comfortable in his final days.  Graciously, his wife Era was allowed to stay with him, then became a resident herself taking therapy after breaking her shoulder.   Sister AllaB had been admitted to RMN for therapy after breaking her hip.   We lost Jake at age 74 on October 22, 2018, when he went peacefully in his sleep.   A few days afterwards, Sister fell and cut her head.   She was admitted into intensive care at the Mena Regional Health System, where she never regained her senses and passed away less than a week after Jake, on October 27, 2018, at age 92.  We believe Jake is still at Sister’s heels, trying to keep up!

Jake would be greatly honored to have been selected by Green House Cottages of Homewood to have the Judge Looney House named for his contributions to the citizens of Polk and Montgomery Counties.  He felt most privileged to be able to serve the community where he was born and raised.   Era still lives at her home in Nunley. Their son Jason resides in Mena with his wife Cher Mae.

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