BENTON — Seven women previously honored with Ouachita Baptist University’s prestigious “Stepping Up for Ouachita” award, were presented with glass slippers. El Dorado’s Mary Pat Cook Anthony was presented with a purple glass boot during the annual ceremony Thursday.
She has been serving as a member of OBU’s board of trustees since 2013.
Sixty-five El Dorado residents – along with numerous OBU officials and alumni and friends throughout the state – attended the luncheon held at the Benton Events Center to raise funds to provide scholarships for women to attend OBU.
“Mary Pat is a fantastic model of an OBU Christian,” said Susie Everett, chair of the 2017 luncheon and the recipient of the 2014 “Stepping Up for Ouachita” award. Ouachita Baptist is located in Arkadelphia.
Describing the 2017 award winner as “positive and passionate,” Dr. Ben Sells, president of OBU, congratulated Anthony on being selected for the award and noted her years of teaching in El Dorado schools and her service to her church, First Baptist of El Dorado.
“We say thanks to Mary Pat for ‘Stepping Up for OBU’,” he said.
Mary Pat Anthony was honored by Ouachita Baptist University during an awards ceremony Thursday in Benton. During her speech, the 26-year educator told the crowd, including over 65 El Dorado residents, that education and music are her passions.
Anthony has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education with an emphasis in early childhood education and a master’s degree in elementary education with an emphasis in reading – both from OBU. She was a first grade teacher at Southside Elementary School in El Dorado for 16 years; served as the director of education from 2002-2011 at South Arkansas Community College and taught her last year in the fourth grade at Hugh Goodwin Academy for the Arts in El Dorado.
Christine Street, right, introduced Mary Pat Cook Anthony of El Dorado, as the 2017 ‘Stepping Up for Ouachita’ honoree during a ceremony Thursday in Benton. Street and Cook have been friends since they were students at El Dorado High School.
“Mary Pat and I have been friends for a long time, beginning with the choral program at El Dorado High School. Our friendship included our love of music, performing and … Barry Manilow songs,” Christine Street said as she introduced the 2017 honoree and paused for effect before disclosing their love of Manilow songs.
Claiming kudos for being the person who persuaded Anthony to attend OBU, Street said they were members of the Tiger Tunes Hosts and Hostesses and “sang lengthy Barry Manilow” concerts.
Current members of Tiger Tunes sang, “The Longest Time” during the awards ceremony, as photos of Anthony and other members of the group performing during her college years were displayed on large screens in the Benton Events Center.
“We usually present a glass slipper to the ‘Stepping Up for Ouachita’ honoree, but this year, we are presenting a glass boot,” Street said before Anthony approached the podium.
“Betty Cook (Anthony’s mother who died in 2008) would have loved this,” Anthony said, explaining that her passions in life have been education, music, family and friends. Her parents “valued education” and she and her sister, Faune, and brother, Robert, were the only three of the first cousins in the family to attend college.
“I think everyone should have to teach school for at least two weeks before they get their driver’s license,” Anthony laughed as she addressed the crowd, telling them that “teachers have a hard job.” She said when people asked if she preferred teaching elementary or college students, she smiled and said, “There is not much difference between college and first grade.”
Throughout her years of teaching, “music was my therapy,” Anthony said, noting that she has performed at her church, with the South Arkansas Symphony Orchestra and for numerous plays and presentations at the South Arkansas Arts Center. She has also served as a wedding and funeral soloist, director and producer of the Sing for the Cure and has performed with numerous groups, including the Young at Heart band, Sounds of Gold and Fifth and Broadway. She has also served as music director for Arkansas Girls’ State and has performed with the Celebration Choir and Hand Bell Choir at her church.
Five years ago, at the age of 50, Anthony got married for the first time – to Aubra Anthony of El Dorado.
“God led me to Aubra,” she told the crowd, noting that their courtship and marriage is like a “fairy tale.”
“I sang for his wedding (to his first wife, Carol, who died several years ago after a long battle with cancer) and his father’s funeral. I taught three of his four children in the first grade and I did the music for Carol’s funeral,” Anthony said.
“I married my mother,” Anthony laughed, adding, “God prepared me for Aubra (president of Anthony Forest Products) by growing up with Betty Cook,” she said. “Both love the arts, a party, socializing and collecting.”
“Because of Aubra, I could retire” (from teaching) and pursue additional interests, like serving on the board at OBU. “I know Aubra is the reason I’m here,” she said, relating that Aubra told her, “My job is to make you the best Mary Pat you can be.”
“You married a Baptist nun,” she laughed as she addressed her husband and added, “This OBU nun left the convent” when she met Aubra.
Fifty-three percent of students who attend OBU are female, Anthony told the crowd and last year, the school boasted a 70 percent graduation rate. “OBU is an opportunity for women to grow spiritually, emotionally and educationally,” she said, noting that friendships cultivated during her college years at OBU have created “a network of friends.”
Throughout her lifetime, Anthony has served in numerous teaching positions as a fitness instructor, swimming instructor and lifeguard and as a Spanish tutor. She studied voice under Mary Worthen in El Dorado and has served as nursery and Mother’s Day Out director at First Baptist.
She is co-founder of HOPE Landing, a member of the HealthWorks Fitness Center Advisory Committee, was named Teacher of the Year for El Dorado Public Schools in 1993-94 and has been nominated for an El Dorado Education Foundation Teacher Excellence award. Anthony has received awards from reading associations and in 2009, she was awarded the Outstanding Arkansas Friend of Head Start and the Outstanding Faculty Member at SouthArk.
This article has been edited to correct an error that appeared in the first paragraph.