The people who know me personally will tell you that I am a man of very modest means. Granted, I could have had a lot more money and material possessions if that was my goal, but money has never been something I was obsessed with having. I need money to pay our bills like everyone else, and a little extra for a rainy day, but that’s about it. So, for me to pay $110 for a coffee-table book, not once but twice, is a little out of the norm for me. The reason is because the author of both books is Bill Ward, a friend of mine, and should he write another one, he can put me down for that one as well.

Bill’s latest book is titled "Beyond the River," and it is one fabulous piece of work, from a content standpoint and also the beautiful photography. But first a little background since you probably don’t know Bill Ward personally. Bill is the son of a Baptist minister. He and his seven siblings moved around quite a bit, but they spent most of their time in the Conway area, mostly in Morrilton, Greenbrier and Bee Branch. Singing and musical instruments were part of their upbringing, and their talents were honed over the years until later when the family got together to form the Ward Family Singers. They were not only in demand, they were good. In the mid-1950s, Bill started to Arkansas State Teachers College, which later became the University of Central Arkansas. Needing to supplement his income, he took a job as photographer of the Log Cabin Democrat, the local daily newspaper. This was well before modern technology and back in the days of hot-metal and linotype to prepare the copy for publishing. As the paper’s first photographer, Bill would spend part of his time helping to get the paper out, but any time there was a story he was on the scene to visually capture the images for the following day’s paper. If he had extra film he did not use, he would just snap a wide variety of shots that would later help to create his archives that now contain more than a half million photographs.

He has been a photographer for more than 50 years, so this includes the transition into today’s high-tech digital world and more beautiful color photographs than you can imagine. Now, to the topic at hand, "Beyond the River" features the Arkansas River, which flows about five to six miles west of Conway. However, the headwaters of the Arkansas begin near Leadville, Colo., as a small stream you can step across. It later snakes its way through Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma and Arkansas to the mighty river it becomes before it enters the Mississippi in extreme Southeast Arkansas near Arkansas Post. What Bill has done with this book is travel to the headwaters for some beautiful pictures and then uses beautiful prose to tell stories of life near the Arkansas.

While it is impossible to do justice to this book in just one column, here are a few of the offerings: Developing a Great River, Mark Twain at Napoleon, Quapaw: Life and Death of a Great Tribe, Age of Awakening of Food and Music, Gospel Music and Watermelons, Indian Artifact Collector, Jimmy Driftwood: A different Sort of Fellow, Two Brothers Cover J.F.K., Grim Reminder of Cold War, Arkansas’ Greatest Success Story: William Jefferson Clinton, Winthrop Paul Rockefeller: A Lot Like His Father, and So Much More.

All of this narrative has the backdrop of beautiful photographs. Just the research is worth many times over the cost of the book. If you would like a copy, visit Bill’s website: www.billwardphotography.com.

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(EDITOR’S NOTE: Jim Davidson is a public speaker and syndicated columnist. You may contact him at 2 Bentley Drive, Conway, AR 72034. To begin a bookcase literacy project visit www.bookcaseforeverychild.com. You won’t go wrong helping a needy child.)