Marquee name. First Western Bank closed at 1 p.m. Wednesday so that employees could attend a memorial service for Jeral L. Hampton.
Early in his banking career Jerry Standridge believed Jeral Lee Hampton was wasting a lot of time.
“I asked him one day, Jeral you work in a bank and you spend about an hour a day on bank stuff,” Standridge recalls a conversation with Hampton, who passed away on Feb. 3, at the age of 92. “He said ‘what’s wrong with that. I hired you guys for that, if you’re not doing it I’ll let you know.” Standridge had a problem last Wednesday.
Standridge was tasked with addressing Hampton’s Booneville legacy during a public memorial service held at First Baptist Church in Booneville Wednesday afternoon.
Longtime residents likely assume, and justifiably so, that should not be hard to accomplish. But, with a full program, Standridge needed to finish in about seven minutes.
“Ninety-two years,” Standridge asked, rhetorically.
Okay, it was the 59 years since Hampton started having a vision of growth for Booneville, but it was still a tall order.
“When I drove into Booneville for the funeral,” Standridge, who now lives in Hot Springs area said, “I started seeing fingerprints of Jeral Hampton about Blue Mountain. There’s the ball fields, the airport, the industrial property, Rockline and the Cargill stuff.
“Now he would be the first to tell you he didn’t do it, a committee did. But he did it.”
Standridge says at the age of 33 Hampton put together a group of individuals whose interest was in growing the community and it became the Booneville Industrial Development Corporation (BIDC).
“They knew Booneville was not growing. He was in the car business and I asked him one day what made him decide to start that group,” said Standridge. “He said there was nobody to buy cars.
Hampton’s group raised $100,000 to help entice ACE Comb Company to move to Booneville, Standridge said.
“That $100,000 in 1955. A majority of them went to the bank and borrowed their portion,” Standridge adds. “How many people would do that today.
Ace eventually provided 400 to 500 jobs Standridge said.
Hampton’s leadership then helped entice Spang to relocate Wolverine Toy and, later, Magnetics.
“I wouldn’t have been in Booneville if it were not for them recruiting Spang,” Standridge said. “I remember when they were breaking ground I had just gotten out of the military and I went looking for a job. That turned into about 500 jobs.
“There are certainly many people who would not have been able to grow and spend their life in Booneville without (Hampton). There was no economy.”
That, Standridge, believes fueled the fire.
Frank Rath at Spang told me :’these guys were unbelievable. The fed us, they wanted us and they convinced us to come.’”
The list goes on and involves the recruitment of DPM, which became Cargill and about 800 jobs to Rockline, Ind., where the work force is now approaching 300.
The latter came about with what Standridge says was a “bulldog persistence” that involved negotiating with the Spang people to acquire the land and building at “a low market value.”
Forming BIDC was not a fluke, Standridge says, because Hampton was also a visionary in every sense of the word.
Things happen. Like companies left for various reasons and or locations, Standridge says, and Cargill burned.
“He was persistent that we’ve got to do something with these buildings,” said Standridge.
Hampton pushed for five years for the creation of the non-profit 501(c)3 Petit Jean Regional Foundation, Standridge said.
Through that organization, buildings such as the old Lady Fair Mills in Caulksville and Westark Garments buildings in Magazine were donated by their owner, subsequently sold with funds used to purchase the Chamber of Commerce Building.
There was also the old Gretsch plant building which was leased to another industry, the old nursing home property which is now home to a fast food restaurant. The most recent building donation was that of the Cargill freezer which Hampton also helped work to fill with Bennett Construction.
“He was such a visionary that he spent times on things that, honestly, we didn’t know why,” said Standridge.
Hampton also had a goal of seeing higher education in Booneville, Standridge adds. He also helped make that happen as Rockline has granted space in which the Arkansas Tech University Ozark Campus offers college courses at its Booneville Training Site.
“Who would have thought that would happen,” Standridge asks.
Wednesday’s memorial, held after a private ceremony, also included coverage of Hampton’s legacy at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia and his family legacy.