First Financial Bank has donated $60,000 to help fund the construction of Heritage Plaza, a proposed beautification project at South Arkansas Community College.
The bank has been one of the college's top benefactors through the years. The relationship simply makes sense, according to FFB Steve Cameron, who also is a member of the SouthArk Board of Trustees.
"First Financial is headquartered here and a substantial part of our business is here. It follows that an educated and economically-sound population is critical to our success in the future," Cameron said. "SouthArk is vital to that goal and we are pleased to help our community college accomplish its mission."
To depict visually the impact that that the college has had on one of the area's largest employers, Cameron requested that all bank employees who have taken classes at SouthArk appear in the photograph of the check presentation.
As it turns out, that accounts for about half of all 165 FFB employees.
"While we had no idea of the exact number, we knew that it would be a significant percentage of our employees who have had classes at SouthArk," Cameron said. "While we have substantial internal training going on at all times for specific jobs, we benefit greatly from a more educated workforce. Whatever the type of class—information technology, English, math, etc.—they all contribute toward providing us a group of employees who are better-equipped to do their jobs in a more professional way."
SouthArk president, Dr. Barbara Jones, said "We are so grateful for the generous gift and ongoing support from First Financial Bank for Heritage Plaza. The plaza will provide a pleasant gathering and learning space for students, faculty, staff and community members. We are thrilled to learn that First Financial Bank is made up of so many SouthArk alumni, which demonstrates the significant impact the college has had in educating our region's workforce. "

Pictured left to right: Terry Norman, Dr. Barbara Jones, Ken Mann, Greg Withrow

Deltic Timber Donates to Heritage Plaza - Deltic Timber donated $15,000 recently to the South Arkansas Community College Foundation for the development of Heritage Plaza, a proposed beautificationproject for the school. Representing Deltic is chief financial officer Ken Mann, second from right. With him are, from left, Foundation President Terry Norman, college President Dr. Barbara Jones and Foundation Gifts Committee Chair Greg Withrow.

linda bates lab equipStudents in South Arkansas Community College's physical-science classes now have the use of computer technology in their laboratory thanks to an Innovation Mini-Grant awarded by the SouthArk Foundation.

Instructor Linda Bates proposed the grant, which paid for a digital probe and computersoftware for the purposes of investigating experimental phenomena. The award was for $850.

The Innovation awards seek to encourage program development for the purpose of improving student learning that falls outside of the college's operational budget.
Instructor Linda Bates, far right, last week guides Physical Science students, from right, Addison Preston, William Mason and Emma Banes, in utilizing the new laboratory equipment paid for by the Innovation Mini-Grant that Bates was awarded.

baumgardner josephJoseph Agbeko awarded the Tom Baumgarder Students' Choice Award. This award is given to the SouthArk Faculty person who is chosen by students as the most helpful.


“The El Dorado High School Class of 1952 toured the 1905 Junior College Building, the South Arkansas Community College Administration Building.  Dr. Barbara Jones, SouthArk President (bottom right) and Cynthia Reyna, Director of Institutional Advancement and Foundation, (bottom left), provided an update of current programs and events.

2011_AFD_winnersThe SouthArk Foundation held its employee annual fund drive in December 2011.  Team captain Casey martin led her team with the highest participation.  The winning team was given a chili lunch and special gifts.


Leaders at South Arkansas Community College in El Dorado were both overjoyed and astonished upon receiving the surprise announcement recently that a wealthy philanthropist—one with no apparent connections to the school—has provided the largest single charitable donation in the institution’s 20-year history.

Norris Cunningham Taylor Jr., who had been an accountant and attorney in Fort Smith before his death in October of last year, left nearly a quarter of a million dollars to SouthArk in his will. He has no known ties with the school or even with the area. It was just one of 40 such gifts, totaling more than $11 million, that Taylor bequeathed to institutions and organizations throughout Arkansas.

The donation will filter through the SouthArk Foundation. Its director, Cynthia Reyna, initially learned of the gift in early December but was not informed of the amount until later. Vice president Lisa Sagely of the Bank of Fayetteville called Reyna to disclose the $247,550 donation.

“I was incredulous, ecstatic and a little breathless (a little dramatic, but true),” Reyna said. “I was immediately very humbled and grateful that a person unknown to me and, from all accounts, unknown to our board leadership and college leaders, would have the faith in our college to give us a gift of any size, and particularly in the amount of almost a quarter million dollars. I was convinced that there was some connection that he had with us during his life, but the knowledge I have collected is that Mr. Taylor loved this state, its citizens and those agencies and organizations that make a strong impact on their communities. I have come to understand that this is a gift in the truest sense of the word.”

Taylor’s obituary indicated he died at age 84 and was “productive and prosperous.” He was raised in Trumann and was a graduate of the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. He had no children or spouse. A letter from Rick Watkins, the nephew of Taylor and his estate administrator, indicated that Taylor’s donation is “a token of the respect he had for your fine institution and its mission” and that it may be used in any way that the recipient sees fit. I suspect that unrestricted gifts from unfamiliar benefactors are somewhat rare but extraordinarily welcomed these days,” Watkins wrote.

SouthArk president Dr. Barbara Jones expressed appreciation, saying that the money will touch many lives in the future. “When learning of the bequest of Mr. Taylor, I was thrilled and excited but also humbled that he chose to leave SouthArk a planned gift in his will,” Jones said. “This generous gift leaves a legacy that will impact the college for years to come.”

Foundation Board President Terry Norman said that, while precisely why Taylor selected SouthArk might remain a mystery, it is an honor that he did. “Many other organizations or institutions could have been chosen by Mr. Taylor, but he saw fit to select SouthArk,” Norman said. “The funds from this donation will be used in the Foundation's ongoing mission to support the educational efforts of the college—certainly a worthy mission, and one that will benefit El Dorado and the surrounding area.”

The donation will support college initiatives and priorities, but decisions about exactly how the funds will be spent have not been made yet. “Use of the gift will be determined, with input by Dr. Jones, by the Gifts Committee and Executive Committee of the Foundation,” Reyna said.

It could be used to fulfill many different needs, Jones said. “It will help to bridge the gap in state funding, provide financial assistance to disadvantaged or talented students, maintain cutting-edge technology and support college programs and services,” Jones said. “Ultimately, the region will benefit by having a highly-trained and educated workforce and more engaged citizens.”

Reyna added that a donation like Taylor’s is called a “planned gift”—one that is written into a benefactor’s will. “Planned gifts are a new focus for us to seek from donors so that they can make a lasting impact on students, faculty and academic programs,” Reyna said.

SouthArk Board President Steve Cousins said that Taylor’s generosity is moving. "What an inspiring thing it is to give the gift of a quality educationto others,” he said. “At South Arkansas Community College we are grateful that we will have a chance to steward this investment in the future to help positively change people's lives."

The letter from Watkins said that Taylor did not seek “anonymity or publicity” in his giving. Reyna said that she takes this to mean that Taylor gave without thought to either. “Mr. Taylor was, by all accounts, a generous, thoughtful professional who planned his estate to benefit those who make the biggest life-affirming impact in their communities,” she said. “He was a staunch advocate of education. The information that I have received is that Mr. Taylor had strategically selected viable, deserving organizations in the state that do good works for and make an impact on their community’s well-being.” The official state-defined service area of SouthArk is Ashley, Chicot,Union and Bradley Counties. The college is noting its 20th anniversary this year with 20 different themed events.



EL DORADO—The Warren campus of South Arkansas Community College will receive a life-sized human simulator manikin thanks to an $8,900 grant from the Plum Creek Foundation.

Officials at SouthArk received the award on Friday (Jan. 20).

“Plum Creek’s funds will help equip the Warren classroom with current, high-tech resources that will foster learning,” said SouthArk nursing program director Keitha Davidson. “This will ensure that the Warren nursing students have many of the same opportunities as their counterparts on the El Dorado campus.”

Simulation manikins provide students with the tools necessary to reflect real-life situations. The addition of theVitalSim simulation manikin at the Warren campus will allow students to practice skills such as patient assessment, care and procedures such as catheterization, injections and a wide range of other typical nursing duties. This experience is designed to help students become capable and confident caregivers prior to entering the hospital environment.

“Plum Creek recognizes how essential it is to have the necessary equipment for advanced learning,” said Plum Creek wildlife biologist Richard Stich. “We are proud to play an important role in ensuring the highest quality of education to the Warren community.”

The Plum Creek Foundation supports non-profit organizations that improve the overall quality of life in the communities where Plum Creek operates. The Foundation board meets quarterly to review submitted grant applications. A grant application, as well as more information about Plum Creek’s community support, is available at

SouthArk has two campuses in El Dorado in addition to the Warren satellite campus. Its state-defined service area is made up of Union, Bradley, Ashley and Chicot Counties. More information about the college is available at and


Plum Creek resource forester tech Phillip Billings, far right, presents South Arkansas Community College nursing department director Keitha Davidson with a check in the amount of $8,900 for a human simulator manikin for the college’s Warren campus. Plum Creek wildlife biologist Richard Stich, far left, and SouthArk president Dr. Barbara Jones, second from left, look on in the nursing laboratory at the college’s Health Science Center in El Dorado. A simulator like the one that the Warren branch will receive is in the hospital bed. Billings works from the Farmerville, La., office. Stich’s office is in Crossett.


EL DORADO, Ark.—LaTosha Gatson, a general business administration major at South Arkansas Community College, has accepted the Mable and Emon Mahony Endowed Scholarship to attend the school.

She is a 2002 graduate of Spearsville High School and a member of Phi Theta Kappa at SouthArk.

The scholarship is funded through the SouthArk Foundation.