Part Two of a Two-Part Series
As noted in Part One, President Heber McAlister was the first president to live in the house and dealt with many new construction problems that were eventually resolved to his satisfaction.
The next president to live in the President’s Home was his successor, Dr. Nolen Irby. President Irby served as UCA’s president from 1941 to 1953. He submitted his resignation on March 31, 1953, stating that a downturn in health was one of the reasons he was resigning.
President Irby was quoted by the Log Cabin Democrat as saying, "These 12 years have been happy ones. Mrs. Irby and I have enjoyed every day and we are glad that our connections with the college and our friends in Conway will not be completely severed."
Mrs. Irby was quite popular with UCA faculty, staff and students.
According to The Echo, "One of the nicest things about Dr. Irby is Mrs. Irby, a Teachers College teacher remarked to a small faculty group. There was unanimous assent. The speaker wasn’t one of President Irby’s critics, but one of his most ardent admirers.
The remark came apropos of some conversation about hindering wives, whose management of college affairs on other campuses had been a cause of irritation. Of hindering wives, Mrs. Irby definitely is not one."
President and Mrs. Irby always made students feel welcome at the President’s Home. The Irby family enjoyed living across the street from UCA, especially during the Christmas season. According to The Echo, "One of her delights, and Dr. Irby’s, is the Christmas caroling; and last year when Dr. Irby was compelled to be out of town the week before Christmas holidays, he expressed particular regret that
he would not be home to welcome the carolers."
"Most college presidents’ wives are likely to accept some social responsibility in connection with their husbands’ position. Mrs. Irby welcomes college-related guests with such gracious hospitality that one can hardly believe this is a mere responsibility…So strongly do the Irbys feel that the President’s Home belongs to the college community, they refuse to be thanked for the privilege of using the Irby Grill." The Irby Grill was frequently used by faculty, staff and students and drew those associated with UCA closer to President Irby and his family.
While we have no record of changes made during the Irby administration, we can say with confidence that during Irby’s tenure as president students, faculty and staff were made to feel welcome at the President’s Home.
President Irby’s successor was Silas D. Snow who moved into the President’s Home during the summer of 1953. President and Mrs. Snow had two children, a son, Silas Snow Jr. and a daughter, Sue Snow Cooper. Silas Jr. is three years the senior of his sister and attended UCA for one year before transferring to Southern Methodist University (SMU) where he received a Bachelor’s degree in economics. He later received a Masters degree from the University of California at Berkley. Mrs. Cooper attended UCA for two years and after she was married transferred to Arkansas State University (ASU) where she graduated. Mrs. Cooper’s oldest son, Todd Cooper, has a Master of Business Administration (MBA) from UCA.
Mrs. Cooper has vivid memories of living in the President’s Home and said the only room that was air-conditioned in 1953 when her family moved into the home was the library that had a window air-conditioning unit. In 1954, a central air-conditioning unit was installed in the President’s Home which cooled the entire house.
Mrs. Cooper also stated, "When we moved into the President’s Home there were dark red velvet drapes in the dining room and in the formal living room. Mother had those drapes replaced about two years later with drapes that were more of a neutral color. The carpet was also replaced at the same time. Other than the addition of central air-conditioning, the most significant change in the home while my parents lived there came about in the late 1960s when the kitchen was remodeled. As a family, we usually ate in the kitchen."
After serving his alma mater for 22 years President Snow stepped down and was replaced by Dr. Jefferson D. Farris, Jr., UCA’s sixth president. President and Mrs. Farris had three children, Rebecca, Jeff III and Elizabeth.
Elizabeth is the president of Regions Bank of Hot Springs and is also a member of the UCA Board of Trustees. In a telephone interview with this author, Mrs. Farris commented on the President’s Home and some of her favorite memories of the home.
When asked what type of physical changes occurred in the President’s Home while her father was president, Mrs. Farris stated, "The downstairs rooms were painted a soft gold color. Pat Otto assisted my mother in choosing the color and we also hung new drapes."
When asked to describe what she thought of the home itself, she stated, "It’s a wonderful family home. The holidays are the best memories I have of the house. We had a two-story Christmas tree that was located in the foyer by the stairs and my young nephews decorated the tree, which always had a lot of decorations close to the bottom of the tree. Each Christmas my nephews had a wonderful time decorating. It was a great house for entertaining and Mom and Dad enjoyed entertaining the different groups on campus."
Monty Rowell, General Manager of KUCA, UCA’s student operated radio station, and a 1980 graduate of UCA, commented on how accommodating President Farris was to students.
According to Rowell, "In 1976, President Farris told the entire freshman class at a meeting in Ida Waldran Auditorium that if they needed to talk to him they could come see him at his office on campus, or, they could come to the President’s Home to talk to him. It was just great that a president of a university would reach out to a group of young students and want to help them. His kindness just blew me away."
After serving as UCA’s president for 11 years and five months, President Farris resigned and became chief executive officer of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. He was replaced by Bill Pate who served as interim president from December 1, 1986, to December 31, 1987. Mr. Pate was replaced as interim president by Dr. H.B. Hardy Jr., who served as interim president from January 1, 1988, to March 31, 1988. Dr. Hardy was replaced by UCA’s seventh president, Dr. Winfred L. Thompson.
In 1995, when the President’s Home was nearly 60 years old, a major $400,000 renovation project got under way. Construction costs were $350,000 and architect fees and other costs came to approximately $50,000 for a total of $400,000. The project was originally scheduled to be completed in 240 days, but the actual time needed to complete the project was 340 days. There had been no major renovation to the home except for the addition of central heat and air-conditioning in 1954 and a new kitchen in the late 1960s. All other changes over the years were cosmetic in nature and included new paint, new carpets and new drapes.
Before the renovation project began, President and Mrs. Thompson began experiencing problems with mice getting into the home and in one instance, a squirrel.
When this author asked Dr. Thompson to describe the house prior to the renovation, this was his response, "Just before we moved into the president’s house in 1988, after Jeff and Patsy Farris moved out, it was painted inside and new curtains were installed. As I recall, the carpet was changed in some of the rooms, and a few other minor repairs were made. However, it remained pretty much the same house Jeff and Patsy had lived in for years. I do not know if there had been any substantial renovation when the Snows moved out and Jeff and Patsy moved in.
"The kitchen, in particular, was antiquated by the time Carmen and I arrived. Most of the rest of the house was showing its age and the basic systems — air conditioning, plumbing, etc., were beginning to break down. The place was really not sufficient for entertaining, and we were plagued by varmints of various kinds, mostly mice and bugs."
The incident with the squirrel was rather amusing (to others) and I asked Dr. Thompson to explain the event in its entirety for this article.
He stated, "One night Carmen and I were sitting in the tiny room that served as our den on the ground floor, reading or perhaps watching the late news. Carmen said ‘A rat just ran across the room (something we had become accustomed to). A few minutes later we both saw a furry little animal run along the wall. I agreed that it must have been a rat but thought to myself that I had never seen a rat run that fast.
"Later, in the middle of the night, we were awakened by a strange noise in the springs or mattress of our bed. I jumped up, turned on the lights, and when I did the squirrel darted out from under our bed. I found a broom, and after some commotion, we managed to trap him in our bathroom, closed the door, and tried to sleep over the noise he made for the remainder of the night.
"The next morning we called the physical plant, who captured the squirrel then liberated him in the Jewel Moore Nature Preserve. There were no more squirrel incidents, but after further issues with plumbing, air conditioning, and insects, the Board made the decision to renovate the place. Carmen and I moved out and lived for about a year in a small house we purchased on Nob Hill while the president’s house was renovated."
The 1995-1996 remodeling project included new wiring, new plumbing, an expanded and updated kitchen, building accesses for the physically challenged, and enclosing the screened porch on the south end of the home. The addition of the music room on the first floor significantly increased the square footage of the home as did enclosing the garage.
The President’s Home now has a total of 5,666 heated square feet with a basement of 520 square feet and a 1,000 square foot garage. After the renovation, the heated square footage of the home was increased by 1,788 square feet.
When asked what he thought about the President’s Home after it was remodeled, Dr. Thompson stated, "The building is really a stately and beautiful Georgian structure, and after the renovation I thought it was fine both for public functions and as a residence. Not much was changed upstairs, except for the addition of some closet space, but the kitchen was renovated, the garage was enclosed as a den, which gave us personal space near the kitchen downstairs, and a new music room was added, which gave more space for public functions.
"The ‘back stairs’ to the second floor were removed and a door added to the dining room, which made circulation during public functions much better. We enjoyed living in the renovated house very much, and I enjoyed developing the gardens over the years we lived there.
"From time to time, I realize, the building will need some attention, but I hope the basic structure and dignity will be maintained."
Dr. Thompson was UCA’s second-longest serving president, second only to Silas D. Snow. He currently serves as the president of the American University of Kuwait.
Lu Hardin succeeded Dr. Thompson and was hired on Sept. 23, 2002. Hardin served as president for almost six years and submitted his resignation on Aug. 28, 2008 with an effective date of Sept. 16, 2008. Efforts to contact members of the Hardin family for comment on the President’s Home were unsuccessful. However, UCA Physical Plant employees said that the only type of work done on the President’s Home during the Hardin administration was cosmetic. New paint was applied in some areas and some rooms received new carpet.
Hardin’s successor was Dr. Allen Meadors, a UCA alumnus, who took office in June 2009.
Dr. Meadors answered several questions by e-mail and when asked what was the best feature of the President’s Home he stated, "The location and the facility’s proud history of service to the University."
When asked about his favorite memories of the house, he stated, "It was a great location and was special for me because I had dined there when I was a student and President and Mrs. Snow lived there." When asked if the home was large enough for entertaining Dr. Meadors stated, "It was very nice for entertaining a small group, the rooms were small for larger groups, if the host wanted to make announcements/presentations or have a guest speaker."
When asked if the President’s Home was comfortable he stated, "It was comfortable for our family but would create a challenge for a family of four or more."
During the presidency of Dr. Meadors approximately $400,000 was spent on the President’s Home, according to sources with the UCA Physical Plant. However, the size of the home was not increased as it was during the 1995-1996 renovation.
Dr. Meadors served as president of UCA from June 2009 until Sept. 2011 and was succeeded by Tom Courtway.
President Courtway is UCA’s tenth president and has served as an interim president at UCA on two occasions. He no longer has the word "interim" in front of his title.
He and his wife, Melissa, live in the President’s Home and occasionally have visits from their children and grandchildren.
Sunday night is family night for the Courtway family and during the past year, they managed to have dinner with all of their children and grandchildren almost every Sunday night.
The Courtways moved into the President’s Home in the middle of March 2012 and already feel very much at home.
The couple quickly fell in love with the spacious home and both remarked that it is perfect for entertaining.
When inside the home, they spend most of their time in the den in the north end of the home that used to be the garage, which was enclosed during the 1995-1996 remodel project. Both were impressed with the kitchen and said it was very well appointed and a great place to prepare meals.
When outside the home, they have a sitting area on the colonnade located on the south side of the garage that has a grill nearby.
At their former home, the Courtways had a bedroom that was painted pink to accommodate the wishes of their 3-year-old and 8-year-old granddaughters.
When they moved to the President’s Home, the granddaughters were somewhat concerned that they were losing their pink bedroom. However, much to their delight, their grandparents purchased $116 worth of pink paint for the girl’s bedroom in the President’s Home which was painted by the UCA Physical Plant employees.
President Courtway was quick to point out that the UCA President’s Home is a public building and the public has a right to use it. During the month of April alone, there were six entertainment functions held at the home and one in particular was for young children.
The UCA Child Study Center held an Easter egg hunt at the President’s Home on Good Friday and has done so for the past 10 years. Ruth Rowell, a clinical instructor with the Child Study Center, said two classes of students participated in the Easter egg hunt along with their siblings, bringing the number of children to about 42. Parents and grandparents of the children were also in attendance making for a rather large crowd of onlookers. Melissa Courtway and her granddaughter, Abby, who is eight, watched the children as they searched for Easter eggs in the big backyard of the President’s Home; they too had a good time. Sigma Phi Epsilon, a UCA fraternity, assisted the Child Study Center employees by hiding the Easter eggs.
Brides-to-be routinely have their photographs taken at the President’s Home. The Courtways witnessed one young lady who had her pictures made there and said more are scheduled.
Members of various organizations have picnics at the home and the Courtways enjoy the interaction they have with those who use the home for special occasions. President Courtway commented that the members of the UCA Student Government Association (SGA) and their parents recently had used the home for a picnic. He says he is glad the President’s Home is being used by these types of organizations because it is a fitting place to entertain and the home belongs to the people.
The outside of the home is just as beautiful as the inside according to President Courtway, who enjoys working in the soil and with plants. So far he has created several hanging baskets of flowers and has planted several hostas, hydrangeas and other plants.
When asked what he thought was the best part of the President’s Home, he stated, "The way it looks. This is a magnificent house that has every amenity one would want, and the grounds are extraordinarily beautiful."
Author’s Note: Sources for this article include The Echo, Log Cabin Democrat, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Sue Snow Cooper, Elizabeth Farris, Dr. Win Thompson, Dr. Allen Meadors, Tom and Melissa Courtway, UCA Physical Plant, UCA Depression Era Construction Records-M97-02-UCA Archives and The Centennial History of the University of Central Arkansas by Jimmy Bryant.