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Archive for November, 2006

One Monticello Life: Linda Beer

Sunday, November 26th, 2006
This past week at the First United Methodist Church Preschool there were many three- and four year-olds giving thanks. The children celebrated their annual Thanksgiving feast by bringing their favorite foods. This year’s feast included a bowl of cookie dough, macaroni and cheese, "pasgetty," marshmallows, and chocolate ice cream, to name a small selection. The leader behind this most-anticipated celebration is their preschool teacher, Linda Beer, known by all as "Mrs. Linda." This is her story:

She was born and raised in El Dorado, where her dad worked in manufacturing and her mother stayed home to raise her and her three brothers. After graduating from high school, she attended the University of Arkansas. She returned to south Arkansas after her first year in college to marry Ian Beer.

She met Ian in high school when his parents moved from Canada to El Dorado. Ian and Linda lived in El Dorado after they married as Ian commuted to Camden for a manufacturing job. Their house burned early in their marriage, and at that point, they decided to start fresh in Camden.

They lived in Camden for 18 years. During that time, they had three children. Mrs. Linda stayed at home and occasionally kept other children in her home as well. When her youngest child was four, she began to work in the Camden school district and finished her Early Childhood degree at UAM.

In 1995, the Beer family moved to Monticello where Mrs. Linda found an early childhood education job at W.C. Whaley. The next year, First United Methodist Church began planning to start a preschool. Upon learning of her interest through members of her church, she was hired as the school’s first teacher in the fall of 1996.

The program started with five students, all of whom are in eighth grade today. Mrs. Linda said she had no idea how much work it would take to start a preschool, but through all the paperwork, licensing, and other details, she and the church are proud of what the program has become.

Ten years later, there are two different classes, a three year-old class of 12 students on Tuesday and Thursday, and a four year-old class of 15 on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. The program’s reputation and popularity require the necessity of a waiting list.

Mrs. Linda has always loved working with children.

"Listening to the kids’ funny stories from home and their take on things is hilarious," she said.

She says that watching their "little faces light up when they write a letter for the first time" and "how they learn to interact with each other" remains some of her favorite things about her job.

In looking toward the future, she mentioned that the church is starting a new building project.

"We’re working on it having four classrooms, playground, and much more room," she said. "We would like to enlarge the program so that it will be open to everyone who wants to get into a part-time preschool. Hopefully, this will do away with the waiting list."

Mrs. Linda’s goals for children in her preschool are for the children to learn to share and interact.

"This is a time they are pulling away from mom. It is great when they get to the point they don’t want mom to come inside anymore. They become more confident and pull away. I am proud when they are ready for kindergarten," she said.

After ten years working with preschool students, Mrs. Linda confessed that she didn’t think she would still be working in this role.

"I never imagined it would bless my life like it has. I can’t imagine now doing anything else," she said.

She’s not the only one who has been blessed. Because of Mrs. Linda’s years at the FUMC preschool, many lives have been touched. Memories of Pumpkin Patch trips, fire stations, county fairs, egg hunts, and the most popular Thanksgiving Feast will not be forgotten. Many little Monticellonians and their parents are thankful this season for Mrs. Linda Beer, one Monticello life.

One Monticello Life: Chase Wellenberger

Sunday, November 19th, 2006
You may have seen a "Pray for Chase" bumper sticker around town with on it and wondered what it was all about. Chase Wellenberger is a little boy with a big story. He is an eight year old whose roots run deep in Monticello. Although at first glance he is a typical kid, a closer look shows more of the story.


His parents, Matt and Carrie, welcomed him into the world as a Texan on January 19, 1998, but before he could even crawl they had relocated to Monticello. At the early age of four (June 2002) he was diagnosed with Low Risk Pre-B cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. Within the same week of his diagnosis, his parents learned they were expecting another child. During Carrie’s pregnancy, Chase fought the cancer and after nine months entered a period of long-term Maintenance. His beautiful sister, Catie, was born. After a fairly uneventful year and a half of long-term Maintenance, Chase was checked into the hospital with a virus on October 17, 2004. Daily battling Chase’s high fevers and undergoing much testing, the Wellenbergers awaited an outcome. On December 20, 2004, the doctors reported that Chase had Leukemia blasts in his spinal fluid. His parents dreaded the news of a possible relapse and knew the tide could turn either way. Enduring numerous spinal taps and hospital stays finally brought the news that the cancer was back in full force. Needing to be close to Arkansas Children’s Hospital for daily treatments and therapies, the family moved to Little Rock in April of 2005.

Chase is currently in ACH but took some time to answer a few questions. He says that some of his favorite things to do are hanging out with his friends from Monticello, playing video games and collecting knives and dragons. Dragons are meaningful to Chase because he symbolizes fighting his cancer with fighting a dragon. While in the hospital, Chase spends a lot of time receiving treatments for his cancer and in therapy but to pass the down time he watches TV or plays video games.

When asked, “What keeps you fighting the cancer on those really hard days?” his simple answer was, “My mama, my daddy, and my sister”. He has several words of wisdom to share from what he’s learned about life:

“You can always make it through whatever comes your way.”

“Smile and have fun today; tomorrow may be worse.”

“Thank God for your blessings!”

Pictured here is Chase with Tony Hawk, a popular pro skateboarder. Tony and his crew came to AR and took some time out from their show to meet this extraordinary young man on July 1, 2005. The experience is one Chase won’t soon forget. Some other memories he enjoys are reuniting with his sister after long separations due to long-term hospital stays and playing World of Warcraft with his uncles Casey and Robert!

Even a quick visit with Carrie shows the love and support that this family has for one another. The pride of these parents in their son is evident. Although the experience of having a child with Leukemia must be difficult to describe, Carrie summed up her thoughts about Chase by saying without hesitation, “Chase is the strongest person I’ve ever known or met. He’s a trooper!”

His sister Catie (pictured here with Chase) was asked what she loves most about Chase and her reply was, “He loves on me!” She brings smiles to his face and laughs from his heart by ‘loving on him’ and playing games with him.

Along with his close-knit family, Chase’s friends love and support him. Twelve-year-old Colby Capps has known Chase for six years and says he’s her best friend. Colby remembers lots of time spent with him when they were younger and before he moved. In between giggles, Colby tells of fun times playing spy and sneaking up on their moms, who taught school together, to listen in on the grown-ups! She truly admires Chase for his energy and great sense of humor and can’t imagine life without him. Colby loves the fact that Chase laughs even when he doesn’t feel like it when she makes funny faces at him or pulls other silly antics to cheer him up!

His friend of five years, Parker Caldwell, has lots to say about Chase. He, too, considers Chase his best friend and says, “We’ve been friends for a long time and we like to play video games and go swimming together. He’s like my brother…best friends never let best friends down! Leukemia or no leukemia, Chase can count on me. He needs me but I need Chase!” Parker’s mother, Robin Caldwell, is touched by the friendship between the two and says that Parker and the family prays for Chase consistently.

If you haven’t taken the chance to dig a little deeper and find out more about Chase, now is the time. Learn more about Chase on the website his mom and dad update frequently at While you’re there, boost Chase’s spirits by leaving him a message in the guestbook. You won’t regret getting to know this one Monticello life better: Chase Wellenberger…

One Monticello Life: Priscilla Smith

Sunday, November 12th, 2006
South Arkansas Rehabilitation recently moved to its newly-built facility on Old Warren Road. Among the busyness of workers still finishing the indoor pool and the staff of physical therapists working with patients last week was a dynamic blend of past and present in for Monticello. Nat Grubbs invited a friend and patient, as well as a former physical therapist to view a special room in the facility. The room was especially designed for children in need of rehabilitation services, and it was dedicated to Priscilla Smith. This is her story:

Priscilla Hopkins Houdlette Smith was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1918. Her father was a civil engineer who designed the majority of interstate highways in that state. Her mother was a house wife who died during the birth of Priscilla’s sister, Claire. Priscilla was seven years old at the time. She and her sister were raised by their grandmother for most of their lives.

She was an registered nurse during World War II. She served in England and France from 1943-1945. After her service was complete, she moved to New York City where she worked as a nurse. In the late 40s, Pat Stewart, a nurse friend, from the military talked her into considering work in a new field called physical therapy. She moved to the University of Texas at Galveston to train as a PT.

Polio was in full outbreak in 1950. Warm Springs, Georgia became known for its therapeutic waters. Even President Franklin Roosevelt, himself a polio victim, went to Warm Springs for therapy. Priscilla relocated there and began to work.

"The country was full of polio kids. No one thought there was going to be a cure," she said.

After she worked in Warm Spring, she moved to Dallas, Texas. Working as a PT there, she became the chief PT at Parkland Hospital in downtown Dallas. She also trained students at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.

It was in 1963, at her apartment complex, that she met James Smith. He was visiting friends who lived below Priscilla and had been recently divorced. He was raising his four children who were ages one, three, five and seven at the time.

"When I met Smitty, he was changing his son’s diaper. I knew then he needed a mother for his kids," Priscilla smiled.

After a few dates, Priscilla and James traded in her pink and gray Thunderbird for a station wagon. They were married on November 3, 1963.

James was in the field service modular business. They moved several times over the next few years, to Michigan, Dallas, and California. Priscilla put physical therapy aside for a while to raise the children.

In 1985, with the kids grown and gone, the Smiths were in Dallas again. She returned to Parkland Hospital to work as a PT, but in 1988, James’ father, Homer Smith, had a stroke. He lived in Monticello. At that time, the Smiths moved to Monticello to be with James’ family. Priscilla found a job with home health in McGehee and worked there from 1988 to 1999. She was 80 years old when she retired.

Priscilla met Nat Grubbs by becoming a patient of his. The relationship became one of deep friendship and respect. Nat had always been interested in the history of physical therapy, and when he discovered that one of its pioneers was a patient of his, he never let an opportunity pass without learning something and asking questions.

"It has been a tremendous blessing getting to know "Miss Pris" over the years since I returned to Monticello and opened my therapy practice. She has been to me a pioneer, a mentor, a colleague, a patient, and a dear friend….but more than anything else, she has been an inspiration to me. I am inspired by her "spunk," by her unwavering desire to improve herself, by her compassion for others, and by her determination to meet life’s challenges. I hope that all of us who know Miss Pris will be similarly inspired to choose to have the same type of attitude that she has demonstrated as we are faced with our own challenges. I love Priscilla Smith!" Nat said.

At 88, Priscilla Smith is a wonder and delight. These days, she spends more time at home than ever before. Getting around is more difficult as she’s forced to use a wheelchair. She and James smile and laugh more than they ever have, and their kindness and joy is self-evident.

As she received her personal tour of South Arkansas Rehabilitation this past week, she was wheeled into the children’s room that has been dedicated to her. On the wall there is a picture of Priscilla working with a child who was a polio victim. The words below the photo say "In appreciation of your contribution to the physical therapy profession and the many patients you served, and for the inspiration you have provided those of us who have followed in your footsteps… Thank you! We love you! Your friends at South Arkansas Rehabilitation." Priscilla Smith will never be able to estimate the lives she’s literally touched over the years. Our community is grateful for such a life: One Monticello Life.

One Monticello Life: Mae Simpson

Sunday, November 5th, 2006

Books can influence and change the way you see the world. At the Monticello Public Library, there are not only significant books, but there is also a special libararian. Mae Simpson has impacted many people not only through the world of books but also through her life. Here is her story:

Mae Everett Simpson was raised in the 16th Section community east of Monticello. Her father was a pastor and her mother was a housewife. She was the 9th child of 11 children. Mae went to school most of her life in Selma. She went to high school at Drew Central and graduated in 1968. She then moved to Pine Bluff to attend college.

Her freshman year she married a schoolmate, Tommy Simpson. After her first year in college, they moved to South Carolina for two years where Tommy served in the Air Force. In 1970, the couple moved back to Monticello and had their first child.

Mae worked at Burlington for 15 years until the plant closed its doors. She then went back to school in McGehee. In 1985, she graduated from vocational-technical school with an associate secretarial degree.

Though Mae and Tommy had only one child, she parents 13. Mae is a foster parent. They have been fostering for 12 years. At  present, they have three children who have lived with them for six years.

"We lived out [of town] and my husband works in Crossett (where he is a licensed electrician and machinist at Georgia-Pacific). He works graveyard. I would be home by myself all the time. I didn’t like that. So, one of my co-workers suggested I become a foster parent," Mae responded when asked how they began fostering.

They still keep in contact with all of the children they’ve fostered. "I am Mom!" she said. "We are their Mom and Dad."

Mae started working at the the Monticello Public Library soon after she received her secretarial degree. She is the assistant branch manager and holds that title with pride.

"I love the people. There are so many nice people. If I didn’t like the people, it would be hard to stay in the same place for 20 years with all the different personalities you work with," she said.

When asked how what she has seen change in Monticello over the years, she said, "There are more opportunities for minority people. In the past, you wouldn’t have walked through the door of the library and found me behind the desk. It has been a joy to work here. You know, life is nothing without people. I don’t care who they are or the color of their skin. You get them and you mold them. We help them, and we give them opportunities to go to college. It gives them someplace to work, and they learn as they work."

Mae loves the people of Monticello. "There are good people here. They’ll do anything to help you. You know everybody, and that’s good."

Unwilling to simply go to work and return home, Mae is currently on a committee to restore her old school house in Selma. She and several others are worked towards making Selma Junior High School a historical site. The building is used now for banquets and group meetings like the Masons and Eastern Star organization of which Mae is a member. Mae is also an active member of 16th Section Missionary Baptist Church.

Between fostering children, educating young people, working to restore historical buildings, and her active church membership, Mae’s life a book worth reading. Next time you’re in the library, introduce yourself and let Mae know you’re thankful for her life: One Monticello Life.

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