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OPINION | Hail and Farewell: Deaths Of Notables, Politicians In 2021

by Maylon Rice | January 12, 2022 at 5:25 a.m.

There will be about 10,000 more deaths in Arkansas in 2021 than the usual 38,000 or so deaths annually when the year-end statistics are tabulated, according to the Arkansas Department of Health.

Every year I have tried to remember those among us, who have passed on where there were politicians and notable citizens. So here is my list from 2021.

Charles W. Stewart III, 93, of Fayetteville, who was the state Representative from Washington County for 44 years, from being elected in 1954 and serving in 1955 until his retirement on Dec. 31, 1999. That is 22 two-year terms consecutively. There were seven challenges along the way, but every time and always stronger than before, Rep. Stewart won reelection. He was the co-owner of this family business, Ozark Steel, an attorney, an Eagle Scout, Fayetteville High and UA graduate (both in business and law) and a U.S. Navy Veteran. Stewart was President of the Washington County Historical Society (serving three years 1996-1999) and a life-long member of the Fayetteville Evening Lions Club. He helped to save both Old Main and Carnall Hall on the UA campus and bemoaned other historic structures that were not saved by the wrecker's ball and modernization.

Others who passed on in 2021 included:

William Nelson "Bill" Ackerman, 85, of Fayetteville, died June 15. He was a native of New Mexico, moving to Arkansas in 1992. An Eagle Scout, he was active in NW Arkansas Insurance sales. He was the chairman of the Washington County Election Commission and a member of the State Board of Elections. He loved to fish and has an Arkansas Game & Fish Public Boat Ramp for the handicapped named after him in the Mountain Home area.

Marvin Lee Couch, 86, of Prairie Grove, helped move and reassemble the Latta log barn, the Garrett Creek Church, and the Rhea's Mill stone chimney all structures to the Prairie Grove Battlefield Park where both were reassembled and stand today. He died June 1, 2021. He was Prairie Grove Fire Chief for years.

Jerry Allen Leach, 85, of the Dutch Mills community in Washington County, after a career with Shell Oil, he retired to Lincoln, where he helped form the Arkansas Country Doctor's Museum and was also on the board of directors at Historic Cane Hill.

Charlotte Lynn Piazza, 84, of Tontitown, a former 24-year employee of the Springdale Morning News and the longtime organizer and curator of the Tontitown Museum for more than three decades.

Gretchen Gearhart, 88, of Fayetteville, The former business manager for Arkansas Historical Association and assistant editor of AHQ. She helped the transition from galley proofs of cold type to full on computer make up and design for AHQ. She was the editor of the Flashback for the Washington County Historical Society and named as a Distinguished Citizen of Washington County.

Junita Boone Duncan, 99, a native of Springdale, was a veteran teacher moving to Fayetteville where she taught 3rd grade at Leverett Elementary for 30 years. She was a member of First Baptist Church of Fayetteville for 70 years and was also the church historian for many years.

Coach John McDonnell, 82, of Fayetteville, a native of Ireland, who died June 7. He was the winningest coach in NCAA history in the sports of cross country, indoor track and field and outdoor track and field. He coached for 37 years winning more than 80 different championships, five Triple Crowns (outdoor, indoor track and cross-Country title in the same year) He coached 657 All-Americans. McDonnell was trained as a TV cameraman and producer and came to Fayetteville as the Industrial Arts teacher at Greenland High School, prior to coming to the University of Arkansas.

Thelma Gladys Cole, 91, of Wedington Woods community, died June 5th. She and her late husband, Rev. Jay Cole, were politically active in conservative politics for decades.

Charles Sharlau, 94, of Fayetteville, an attorney with Arkansas Western Gas Co., who rose to President and CEO of the utility. A UA Board member and President of the Board of Trustees, an Arkansas Business Hall of Fame Member.

And with every such list there are many more who should be included but space limits me in this column.

Hail and Farewell!

-- Maylon Rice is a former journalist who worked for several northwest Arkansas publications. He can be reached via email at [email protected] The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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