Leadership Texarkana celebrated local excellence in community leadership at their 10th annual Lunch with Leaders at Northridge Country Club on April 9, with the awarding of the organization’s Leader Of The Year Award, as well as honoring community leaders through Leadership Texarkana’s annual Wilbur Awards.  The luncheon was sponsored by Texarkana Emergency Center.

Leadership Texarkana Executive Director Ruth Ellen Whitt spoke to the motivation of the organization’s annual awards program, quoting Albert Schweitzer who said “Example is not the main thing, it is the only thing.”  As an organization committed to growing a community of leaders who help lead the way for community excellence, Leadership Texarkana lifts up exemplary leaders in our community as models for us all, showing what is possible if we choose to serve one another by investing time and effort in our community.”

The Leader Of The Year Award is the highest award given by Leadership Texarkana annually, to honor outstanding alumni of the Leadership Texarkana program; it is given in memory of Idalee Hawkins who set a lasting and inspirational example for her willingness to serve our community.

This year’s highest Leader of the Year honor was presented to Sonja Yates Hubbard, who exemplifies the impact of an individual who will lead the way in our community, by helping to found and serving as the President of the AR-TX Regional Economic Development Incorporated.  As a dedicated community leader Sonja has served on boards supporting the following entities:  Christus St. Michael Hospital, Arkansas Research Alliance, Arkansas Children’s Hospital Foundation, Arkansas Aviation Alliance, Texas A&M Texarkana Foundation, University of Arkansas Accounting Advisory Board, Opportunities, Inc., and the Texarkana Regional Arts and Humanities Council.

Known as an astute business leader well beyond our community, Sonja has served as a member of the Board of Directors for the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis after serving as a Director and President of the Little Rock Branch. She has also served as Chairman for the National Association of Convenience Stores, an organization that represents the nation’s 153,000 stores and its members.  She was the first woman and first legacy, following her father’s footsteps, to serve in this capacity.  Sonja was named the Outstanding CPA in Business & Industry by the Arkansas Society of CPA’s, Accountant of the Year in Industry/Government by the University of Arkansas, was recognized as a Woman of Influence in the Food Industry by the Griffin Report, received the Texarkana Regional Arts & Humanities Hero Award for Leadership, and was inducted into the Convenience Store Hall of Fame in 2010.

The Press Release also says, Leadership Texarkana’s Wilbur Awards have been given annually since 1992, in memory of community servant and historian Wilbur Smith.  Celebrating the power of one to positively impact our community, the Wilbur Awards are given in three categories, honoring adults, youth, and organizations to individuals and groups whose demonstrate exemplary leadership in the community and a commitment to working together for community excellence.

Wilbur Award for Organization – Twin City Black History Association
Wilbur Award for Adult – Don Ruggles
Silent Smith Award – Mary O’Farrell
Wilbur Youth Awards - Kaitlyn Oliver and Sarah Jane Paddock

Also honored for exemplary community leadership:
Wilbur Adult Honorees Robbin Bass, George Chappel, Dr. James Anthony Morris, Isabel Sanchez, Michael Stephenson
Wilbur Honoree/Org: Damien Davis Foundation

The 2019 Wilbur Award for service by an organization was presented to the Twin City Black History Association (TCBHA), established in 1992 to unite the cities of Texarkana, Arkansas and Texas in the celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King’s Birthday and Black History Month every February. TCBHA showcases this rich history with activities of celebration, including a parade in downtown Texarkana, City Wide Church Service, a Youth Rally and a Sandra Calloway Scholarship Banquet. TCBHA gives scholarships to graduating seniors who have an interest in becoming educators. TCBHA is active in donating time and money to various organizations within the twin cities, including a major donation of school supplies each year to a number of schools in the Texarkana area as they give back to the community to make a difference the lives of our residents.

This year’s adult recipient of the Wilbur Award is Don Ruggles (pictured above), who has gone above and beyond for our community throughout the years with his company Helicopters Southwest. Most significantly, Don worked tirelessly thirty-five years ago to begin what we now know as Life Net. Thousands of flights later, Life Net is a critical part of emergency response for our area, and acknowledged as one of the very best in both Texas and Arkansas. Many testimonials give credit to Don for saving their lives or the lives of their family members. Accolades such as ‘life saver’ and ‘true hero’ are used in describing him. He changed how our area receives emergency treatment. Besides the life saving measures, he generously has provided countless flights for the Chamber of Commerce to help recruit business and industry to our area and has been active in local veterans groups. Our area doesn’t have a military organization that has not benefited from his work on their behalf. He is a skilled videographer and has captured much of Texarkana’s history on tape for future generations.

Myra Loving presenting 2019 Silent Smith Award to Mary O'Farrell
Myra Loving presenting 2019 Silent Smith Award to Mary O'Farrell

A Silent Smith award for community leadership was presented to Mary O’Farrell. Only given in special circumstances, the Silent Smith Award recognizes individuals who make their difference behind the scenes. The first female member of Rotary in Texarkana, Mary is a power of one and has always contributed to her community through civic and church organizations. Mary is best known these days for establishing Mary’s Closet in her church, First Methodist at Fourth and Stateline Ave to assist those in need in the Texarkana community. From its beginnings four years ago, Mary’s Closet has grown in both size and scope from her willingness and passion to do and serve: She opens the closet on Sundays before church and invites anyone who comes to services and to lunch afterward. During the week, she will go to the church to meet people in need when they call her. Mary works with the Randy Sam’s Outreach Shelter, Texarkana Homeless Coalition, the Texarkana Area Coalition Organization Active in Disaster and with the Red Cross in helping with finding clothes and household items. As a former educator, Mary sees the needs of the community and has strived to meet these for as many people as she can.

This year’s Wilbur Awards for Youth Leadership were presented to two outstanding young women of our community: Kaitlyn Oliver and Sarah Jane Paddock.

Kaitlyn is a Senior at Arkansas High school, an outstanding scholar and school leader. Kaitilyn is an active participant of the Interact Club which is a community service-based club on the Arkansas High campus that allows students to learn the importance of giving back to your community. She has participated in a large number of service projects with hundreds of hours of community service, including helping with Special Olympics events. Kaitlyn is also very involved in Student Council where she currently serves as the secretary. She has helped organize sessions at the Arkansas State Student Council Conference, and has served as Junior Counselor at several of the Student Council Leadership trainings. Kaitlyn is a member of Leadership Texarkana’s Today’s Youth, Tomorrow’s Leaders program, participates in Rotary Youth Leadership Awards, PRIDE Academy peer leader and Youth 2 Leaders. She is a member of the National Honor Society and of Beech Street Baptist Church.

Sarah Jane Paddock is a senior at Texas High School and currently ranked sixth out of her class of 385. Sarah Jane is President of Texas High Student Body, which along with being Team Captain of the varsity soccer team, tops the list of several leadership roles at her school. She has completed over 1,000 community service hours, including a mission trip to Africa. Her honors include TYTL member, member of H Ross Perot STEM Academy, Distinguished Graduate/Summa Cum Laude Honor Graduate, National Honor Society member, among many others. She is respected by her peers and teachers as a leader, organizer and planner. Sarah Jane has proven her leadership abilities repeatedly at Texas High, from applying for National Gold Council of Excellence to hosting District 19 Spring Forum, to the donation of over $10,000 in goods and services to the Texarkana and TISD communities.

Continuing the Wilbur tradition set from the beginning of the awards twenty-seven years prior, Leadership Texarkana honored and celebrated all of the individuals and organizations which were nominated as they are all exemplary models of community leadership that are worth following. Wilbur honorees for outstanding community leadership included:

Robbin Bass, Deputy District Director for the office of US Congressman John Ratcliffe, for her outstanding work with federal agencies for the elderly and disabled, coordinating with economic development agencies to bring jobs and economic stability to the area, while acting as a champion for military families, spouses, service members and Veterans

George Chappel who works to meet our area’s needs as Operations Coordinator for the Texarkana Urban Transit District (T-Line), considering it his mission to provide public transportation (300,000 trips per year) to his passengers, many of whom have disabilities, or seniors and economically disadvantaged.

Dr. James Anthony Morris, Pastor of The Hamilton Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Church. Since his arrival in Texarkana, he has immersed himself into the community with public service, serving educational causes and the homeless, youth leadership and nursing homes, among many others.

Isabel Sanchez has been serving area youth for well over a decade, with leadership and dedication to all whose lives she touches. As a minister of Sacred Heart Catholic Church, she works for the well-being of young Hispanic students and adults to build a better future. She donates her time and talent as a teacher of Mexican Folklore dance for youth, who have performed throughout the community.

Through his work, Michael Stephenson serves the students at Texas A&M University–Texarkana and selflessly offers assistance to any student who needs it. He has organized The Big Event in Texarkana, an annual event where the TAMU-T family volunteers for a collective total of over 1200 hours at more than 30 project sites around the Texarkana community. Michael has also helped organize teams of student volunteers for Habitat for Humanity, and many other local organizations, getting students connected to the community to make a difference in Texarkana and for students.

Through his foundation, Damien Davis focuses on feeding and clothing the less fortunate community in Texarkana. Damien Davis is a caring leader for Texarkana who works to provide food for the homeless, activities for children who could be at risk, coaches youth sports and, through his job, goes out of the his way to lift up the people along his way.

Leadership Texarkana is committed to fostering community excellence by providing a leadership voice of possiblity and responsibility, and by developing citizens who are willing and able to make a difference of significance as community leaders. It is committed to engaging and equipping citizens throughout our community as leaders working together for community excellence, pride and progress. For more about Leadership Texarkana, visit leadershiptexarkana.com.


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