Juvenile court officials, along with the Conway mayor and University of Central Arkansas representatives, gathered Tuesday morning at the Justice Building to recognize and honor Neil Rutman for his commitment to local youth.
Despite his California roots, the well-recognized pianist has made Conway his home, where he impacts students in higher education as well the lives of troubled youth.
"Neil is a San Fransico native [who] proudly calls Conway home and gives back to the University of Central Arkansas, the community, his church and especially to Juvenile Court-involved young men through teaching them the discipline of boxing and the self-discipline that will carry them further than the ring," Mayor Bart Castleberry said during the Tuesday morning ceremony recognizing Rutman's work with adolescent men in the Juvenile Court program.
The Steinway artist is a piano professor at UCA who has also worked with and mentored at-risk youth in Faulkner County since 2010.
Juvenile Judge Troy Braswell Jr. said Rutman's work with local juveniles has impacted their lives greatly and that he has proven himself as a positive reinforcement in their lives through his boxing program.
"If you think this is just boys signing up to fight, you've got it all wrong," Braswell said, noting Rutman has served as a positive role model for "some of our most difficult boys" involved in the Faulkner County Juvenile Justice System.
Rutman, who has served as the boys boxing coach for at-risk juveniles for nearly nine years, has worked countless hours to provide positive opportunities for the adolescents that find themselves in his program, Braswell said.
Since 2010, Rutman has served "as an unsung hero" by supporting young men in Faulkner County "by coming to court as an advocate, helping them shop for Mother's Day gifts, pairing them with college mentors, teaching them life lessons and respect — for self and others," Castleberry said as he proclaimed June 12 as Neil Rutman Day in Conway.
UCA President Houston Davis also attended the ceremony, thanking Rutman for his work in higher education, in the musical realm and also with at-risk youth.
"He never puts himself first," Davis said of Rutman. "It's always about his students. It's always about the young people that he's working with. This is a wonderful recognition of someone who always puts others before themselves."
During the proclamation, Rutman was also recognized for some of his past accolades, including an award — MLK Drug Majors for Service Award — from former President Barack Obama in January 2012. The MLK Drug Majors for Service Award is an award for volunteers who perform extraordinary acts of service but who seldom receive recognition. He was also acknowledged in 2017 by Deliver Hope through the Dare to Dream Award for his work with undeserved youth.
"Neil is not only a boxer but an accomplished professor of piano and a pianist of such renown that The Washington Post has written of him that his playing 'met the highest standards and his spotless articulation gave the whole program unusual polish and virtuoso marks,' and the New York Times stated that 'he won the audience over for himself with exquisite performances — both commanding and full of character,'" the proclamation reads in part, also noting that "while Neil has studied and performed around the world, it is to his hometown of Conway and Faulkner County that he makes such contributions as to change lives."