BY JACLYN ROSE –
Ken Marks joined the Army as a Medic in December of 1976 and was stationed in Germany where he met his wife, Anna, in 1980. “We were married six months after we met,” Anna explained. “We would’ve married sooner but I was in a nuclear unit during the Cold War so the clearance took some time,” added Ken.
After Ken’s time in the Army was complete the couple settled in Ken’s home state of California, where he went to work for the California Department of Corrections. “I was a youth correctional counselor in a level three prison. There were lost of murders and drug users, ages 18-25,” explained Ken.
The Marks’ have three boys: Ken, Jr., a Marine who served two tours and is now in Bio Medical Engineering; Jonathan, who has obtained his degree in Economics and moved back to California for an internship with the city of Riverside; and Matthew, a RMCC graduate who works for the Police Department. “To me being a mom was everything, watching a part of you grow up and seeing their personalities develop is so wonderful. There was nothing bad about it, I enjoyed every minute, they are my world,” said Anna. “I like watching them now as grown-ups. They are young men who are productive and making good choices. All the hard work we did when they were kids has paid off,” added Ken.
After Ken, Jr. completed his training for the Marines in North Carolina, his father drove back across the country with him to California. He told his mother when they got home that she would love Arkansas, it was very green like Germany. With Ken’s retirement in the near future the Marks family visited Fort Smith and though they enjoyed it, they knew they wanted something more rural. “Two years later on spring break we came to Mena and met with Sharon Liles at United Country Real Estate and found a house I fell in love with,” explained Anna. “We ended up here on accident but we love the small town. It is so friendly,” added Ken. “Soon after we moved here the tornado hit and it was devastating but such an eye opener. In California there are people who have so much but wouldn’t help at all, here there are people hardly making it but would give their last five dollars to help someone, it was so good for my sons to see,” said Anna. “The small town attitude and community is so great. Everyone rallies together for a cause, people step up to the plate,” Ken added.
After moving to Arkansas the couple wanted to do something to give back and got involved with CASA, which stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates. These are very important members of the foster care system. As volunteers they work to be a voice for the children, from the beginning of their placement, until they are dismissed by the judge. They meet with teachers, foster parents, birth parents and most importantly, the children themselves. They also make recommendations to the judge on each case.
“It is a lot of work but so rewarding to know we can make a difference to a child going through such a hard time. We want them to know that we are there for them and as one child put it when asked who we were, ‘those are my friends,’” explained Anna. “After 29 years in a prison it’s easy to become very callus, seeing the other side of this, when at the end of the case we have a perfect scenario and parents are clean and kids are back with family, and to know it worked! It’s very rewarding,” Ken added. “We all have a tendency to judge and we cannot judge someone under the influence of drugs. When they are clean they are remarkable parents and good people but they went the wrong way. The children are always the victim, so we do hold the parent’s feet to the fire,” Anna explained. “I see it differently and want to hold the parents accountable because they made the choices that put them and their children in this position. I want them to understand they are not the victim so they can do the work and gain the satisfaction from making the change,” added Ken. “She’s the love, I’m the club. Because we are different we are a good team.”
As well as their extraordinary work with CASA, Anna also helps serve at the Vegetarian Soup Kitchen at the Seventh Day Adventist Church and Ken hopes to get involved by assisting with the loading and unloading of the food delivery for that great cause.