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Ex-UA track coach, editorialist among notables lost in 2021

by Cynthia Howell, Noel Oman | January 1, 2022 at 12:00 a.m.

Arkansans said final goodbyes in 2021 to not only a legendary university track coach, two trucking magnates and a Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial writer but also to a concert groupie made famous in a rock 'n' roll song and a woman once known as the Argentine Firecracker.

More than 30,000 people die in Arkansas every year -- a number that jumped to 38,132 in 2020, which is the most recent year for which data is available. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette is highlighting a fraction of those who died in the past 12 months. The list of Arkansans featured here is subjective and does not in any way include everyone who made life better or interesting for their families, their communities, and their state and nation.

John McDonnell and Paul Greenberg were among the most notable who died this year.

McDonnell, 82, former University of Arkansas men's cross country, and track and field coach, died June 7.

His teams won a total of 40 NCAA championships between 1984 and 2006 in indoor track and field, cross country, and outdoor track and field.

McDonnell, a native of County Mayo, Ireland, who became a U.S. citizen in 1969, recruited distance runners from his homeland but also sought out athletes from other countries to become Arkansas Razorbacks.

University of Arkansas Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek last spring called McDonnell "a true Arkansas legend and simply the greatest collegiate coach in the history of intercollegiate athletics." Greenberg died April 6, at age 84. He had been awarded journalism's highest honor, the Pulitzer Prize.

Born in Shreveport and recipient of a bachelor's degree in journalism and a master's degree in history from the University of Missouri, Greenberg did some post-graduate work at Columbia University in New York before he landed in Pine Bluff. He worked for the Pine Bluff Commercial for most of 30 years.

He won the Pulitzer in 1969 for his Commercial editorials about civil rights.

"Most of the editorials dealt with the integration of Pine Bluff schools and society," Greenberg said in a 2007 interview. "It was pro-integration, pro-civil rights, anti-Wallace, against massive resistance, against the Southern Manifesto." Wallace was Alabama Gov. George Wallace, who was running for president in 1968.

Greenberg wrote the editorials, and Edmond Freeman, the Commercial's publisher, edited them. Freeman also died in 2021, on May 3, at age 94.

In 1992, Greenberg was hired by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette to be its editorial page editor, as well as an editorial writer and columnist. Greenberg stepped down as editorial page editor of the award-winning page at the end of July 2015, but continued to write columns and editorials for the paper.

"Paul Greenberg was just unparalleled and unique as far as editorial witters go," Walter E. Hussman Jr., publisher of the Democrat-Gazette and chairman of WEHCO Media, said at the time of Greenberg's death. "He was one of the finest, if not the finest in America. I've often told people the best part of my job is to review the editorials. I love to read beautiful writing, and he wrote beautifully."

Greenberg wrote that "there is some mysterious or magical force at work within writers. How else could someone making little marks on a computer screen aim to re-create in another mind the very same views and emotions as in his own?"

Following are some of the other lifelong or short-term Arkansans who died in 2021, listed in chronological order by date of death. Information about each was pulled from newspaper and/or funeral home obituaries and articles written about them.

Ed Bruce, 81, Jan. 8. A country music singer, songwriter and actor wrote "Mammas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys" and "You're the Best Break this Old Heart Ever Had." Bruce was born in Keiser in Mississippi County and was ultimately presented with the Arkansas Country Music Awards' Lifetime Achievement honor in 2018. In 2005, he was inducted into the Arkansas Entertainer Hall of Fame.

Allen P. Roberts, 81, of Camden, Jan. 15. In addition to representing the Camden Fairview School District, Roberts and his law firm worked from 2011-17 to extract the Pulaski County Special School District from state control for financial distress, achieve a multidistrict settlement in the Pulaski County school desegregation case that preserved nearly $70 million a year in special state desegregation aid through the 2017-18 school year, and carry out the detachment of what is now the Jacksonville/North Pulaski School District.

Stephen Owen Stephens, 90, Jan. 29. An employee of KTHV, Channel 11, in 1957, Stephens hosted a televised "dance party" show that pre-dated the national American Bandstand. Steve's Show with its "Steverenos" aired as often as six times a week until 1964. Stephens also was the station's chief weatherman from 1958 to 1965, becoming the nation's first in 1958 to use radar to spot Santa Claus flying into the state, according to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. Stephens later affiliated with Stephens Inc. as assistant to the board chairman and director of communications. In retirement, Stephens did voice work for commercials and hosted the "Biography Arkansas" segment for KUAR-FM radio.

"Arkansas Al" Lee Janssen, 85, Jan. 30. Known as "Arkansas Al," this lover of all things sports served as the color man beside Jim Elder for the broadcast of Arkansas Travelers baseball games and led the singing of "Take Me out to the Ballgame" in the seventh inning stretch at those games.

Charles Wesley Stewart III, 93, Feb. 1. A Northwest Arkansas lawyer and businessman, Stewart served 22 terms in the House of Representatives, starting from 1955 and under eight different governors.

Samuel Preston Bridges, 90, Feb. 5. For more than 45 years Bridges kept Saline County residents informed of the news, sports and community events over the airwaves of radio stations KGKO and KAKI.

Steve N. Wilson, 76, Feb. 21. As director of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission from 1979 to 2000 and a passionate conservationist, Wilson oversaw the development and expansion of wildlife management areas and landmarks. Modern-era hunting of bear, elk and alligators in this state are the result of his administration.

Joseph "Pat" Lynch, 70, Feb. 24. Lynch was a longtime Little Rock radio personality, newspaper columnist, champion of civil liberties and, later in life, activist in the orthodox Anglican church. As the 9 a.m.-to-noon host for 17 years of a radio talk show on KARN-AM 920, Lynch endeared himself to some Central Arkansas listeners, angered others, and informed all with his pointed commentary and his tough-question interviews of the state's politicians and policymakers. After marrying and becoming involved in church studies, Lynch told the Democrat-Gazette in 2010: "This doesn't mean I'm no longer a nasty rattlesnake. It just means I'm a nasty rattlesnake who's one of God's creatures." Shelby Wheeler "Terry" Turner, 74, Feb. 27. A founding member of the Robinson-Kell Chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research, Turner authored "Baseball in Little Rock," about the Arkansas Travelers minor league baseball team.

Van Tyson, 83, Feb. 27. Tyson was a 30-year faculty member at Arkansas Tech University and owner/publisher of The Atkins Chronicle (1959-60 and 1992-2020) and The Dover Times (1994-2018).

Randal "Paul" Smith, 76, March 9. As vice president and general manager of the Arkansas Democrat, Smith helped the newspaper in its 1991 David-versus-Goliath win against Gannett Co. Inc. and its Arkansas Gazette. He proceeded to guide the resulting Arkansas Democrat-Gazette until his 2013 retirement as president of WEHCO Newspaper Inc., a division of WEHCO Media Inc.

Eddie L. Boone, 84, March 18. Boone was a Stuttgart native and starting quarterback at Holman High School before attending Philander Smith College where his friend and teammate included Elijah Pitts, who was a member of five Green Bay Packers championship teams. Boone began his trailblazing basketball coaching career at Hughes in 1961. He was the first Black coach in the Arkansas Activities Association, the first in the state's overall state basketball championship, among other accomplishments. He reached his pinnacle of hardwood success at Little Rock Central High, where in his first year, he led the Tigers to a conference, state and overall championship, losing just once. He finished his career with a 1,207-334, which made him the winningest head basketball coach at the highest AAA classification.

Don Dyer, 87, of Conway, May 12. The Clarendon native played football, baseball and track at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia. He was a high school basketball coach before being named to coach the Henderson State basketball team in 1963. Under his tutelage, his Reddies teams went to the NAIA national tournament four times, won eight Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference titles, were the first AIC team to play for an NAIA national championship, finishing runner up in 1976. He enjoyed an equally successful career at the University of Central Arkansas from 1979-93. He finished with a collegiate record of 606-227. He is a member of the NAIA Hall of Fame and the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame.

Linda Ives, 71, died June 3. The mother of one of two teenagers whose bodies were found in 1987 on railroad tracks just outside of Little Rock, Ives' work to find the truth about the murders of the two boys led to lawsuits, private investigators, a book and television appearances.

Norman August Klappenbach, 89, of Kingsland, June 26. The Minnesota native began his lifelong career as an apprentice at 14 and was a baker in the Air Force, among other places, before he and his wife, Arkansas native Lee Klappenbach, moved what became the Klappenbach Bakery to Fordyce in 1975. The bakery developed first a statewide and then national following for its award-winning pastries before closing in 2011.

Robert Shaw, 79, July 15. Starting his career as a sports writer for the Arkansas Gazette, Shaw worked for The Associated Press for 42 years. He led news bureaus in Oklahoma, Indiana and Arkansas.

Harold M. Steelman, 87, July 24. The Pine Bluff native was a member of the 25 Little Pigs, the University of Arkansas Razorbacks football team that won the Southwest Conference championship in 1954. He became a high school football coach before joining the collegiate coaching ranks under Jimmy "Red" Parker at what is now known as the University of Arkansas at Monticello. He was head coach at Arkansas Tech in Russellville for six years. Steelman perhaps is best known as managing War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock for 12 years.

Mark Jones, 65, Aug. 11. A claw-hammer banjo player, storyteller and son of television's Hee Haw star Grandpa Jones, Mark Jones played at the Grand Ole Opry, was a fixture of the Ozark Folk Center and a regular with his "From the Vault" segment on Ozark Highlands Radio, a Saturday evening show on KUAR-FM 89.1.

Connie Hamzy, 66, Aug. 21. Hamzy, a self-proclaimed groupie of rock 'n' roll bands that visited Central Arkansas, was mentioned in Grand Funk Railroad's 1973 anthem, "We are an American Band: "Sweet, sweet Connie, doin' her act. She had the whole show and that's a natural fact." The song topped the Billboard chart for 17 weeks.

Rickie Lee Reynolds, 72, of Memphis, Sept. 5. A guitarist and founding member of the rock band Black Oak Arkansas, Reynolds and the band's lead singer, James "Jim Dandy" Mangrum, met in school in Monette, 5 miles north of Black Oak where they first rehearsed in a grain elevator. Black Oak Arkansas charted 10 albums in the 1970s and had a Top 40 hit with a "fiery version" of LaVern Baker's song "Jim Dandy," according to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. Bruce Springsteen opened for Black Oak Arkansas at Kent State University in 1974.

Ouida Cox, 98, Oct. 13. Cox became editor of Rural Arkansas Magazine (now Arkansas Living and the official publication of the Arkansas Electric Cooperatives), in 1967 and held the job until 2012.

Carolyn Pollan, 84, Oct. 23. Pollan of Fort Smith was the longest-serving woman and Republican in the history of the Arkansas House of Representatives, serving 12 terms, from 1975-99. She created and chaired the Children and Youth Committee, now the House Committee on Aging, Children and Youth. After term-limiting from the Legislature in 1999, Pollan was a senior staff member for three years for Gov. Mike Huckabee.

Willie Cobbs, 89, Oct. 25. Born and raised in the Smale community of Monroe County, Cobbs was a blues harmonica player whose song "You Don"t Love Me," was included in the Allman Brothers Band album "Live at the Fillmore East." He had a role in the Denzel Washington 1991 movie, "Mississippi Marsala." In 2013, Cobbs won the Sonny Payne Award for Blues Excellence that recognizes individuals who have strongly influenced the blues music of the Arkansas Delta.

Bobby L. Glover, 85, Oct. 27. An accountant and insurance agent, Glover served 10 terms in the state House of Representatives and eight years in the Senate. He is a former Carlisle mayor and was a member of the state Board of Correction under two governors.

Travis Mac "Mike" Trimble, 78, Nov. 20. Trimble's 48-year career as a newspaper reporter and columnist started at the Texarkana Gazette and was followed by jobs at the Arkansas Gazette, Arkansas Times, Pine Bluff Commercial, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and Denton Record-Chronicle. He was described "as clever a mind" ... and as "accomplished a writer to ever grace any newsroom anywhere." Henry Anderson Jr., 51, Dec. 4. A longtime educator in Pulaski County area schools, Anderson was superintendent of the Marvell-Elaine School District.

Garrick Feldman, 73, Dec. 5. He was the founder and publisher of The Leader, a newspaper that covers north Pulaski, Lonoke and White counties.

Fred Kellar Noggle, 82, Dec. 7. Noggle served as executive director of the Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators -- an organization of the state's superintendents, principals and other school leaders -- from 1976 to 2005.

Print Headline: Ex-UA track coach, editorialist among notables lost in 2021


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