Brian Garrison, a financial advisor with New York Life, was among the vendors at the Vilonia Area Chamber of Commerce Business Expo held Aug. 14. An illness and a desire to serve others, he said, led to his job.
Garrison and his wife, Mychelle, had been serving as missionaries in Peru for nearly 10 years, when in 2008 he came down with the West Nile virus and swelling of the brain (encephalitis). His symptoms were stroke-like, including memory loss, headaches and fatigue.
"I was really bad sick," he said. However, he didn’t know exactly how sick for several months. When he became ill, he said he didn’t tell anyone because he didn’t want to worry his wife. He woke up one morning disoriented and he thought it might be caused by stress. Mychelle was getting ready to come back to the United States to bring their son for an eye appointment. While she was gone for two weeks, Brian took care of their children who stayed in Peru. He also continued to work as a church planner and he taught Bible college.
"I was pretty sick while my wife was gone, but I thought I was getting better," he said. He can only remember two things that happened during the time. "I took the kids to the zoo, and I played a round of golf."
He felt some better when Mychelle returned and he thought he would be OK. So, he explained, he just didn’t see the need to mention it. In Nov. 2008, "I crashed," he said.
Fluent in Spanish he couldn’t remember a sentence. Since then, he has gained his memory back and once again can speak the language. The couple returned to the United States.
"It was just too much to work in a foreign culture," he said.
He still has headaches and some fatigue, but he is able to deal with it. He said his job with New York Life serves him well. His schedule is flexible, allowing him to work and continue to minister. He said he is not a salesman but a financial advisor who helps people with estate planning.
"When someone dies, I am the only one that comes bringing a check," he said.
In the aftermath of the tornado, he took two weeks off and helped with the aftermath. The couple began volunteering in the Black Oak area where his language skills come in handy.
"There are a lot of Hispanics there," he said. "I have found they need help. They are poor and very thankful for any support. They are also resilient. For some of them, this is the second time they have been hit in three years."
Another booth at the Expo was manned by Jim and Sharon McGraw representing the Museum of Veterans and Military History that was downed by the tornado. It is anticipated to be built on North Mt. Olive Road and open Nov. 8, in honor of Veterans Day, the McGraws said. They were also selling name bricks for $50 each, allowing residents to purchase and place names on them to line walkways.
Other booths included Vilonia Family Pharmacy, First Security Bank, Vilonia Realty, Central Christian Academy, Pace Fitness, the Vilonia Eagle, What’s for Dinner, the Museum of Veterans and Military History, United Way, Anita Mize CPA, Centennial Bank, Scott Sanson for treasurer, Vilonia Animal Clinic, Conway Women’s Med Spa, J&D Hardware, TBF Sanitation, Sonic, Regions Bank, The Paw Spa, Conway Regional, Kona Ice and Vilonia Chiropractic.
The chamber provided free Eagle red bags to carry the goodies being provided to those who were manning booths.