It all started
in February, 1958, when a group of 25 businessmen were told by Milton Green, “We owe something to these Arkansas people who have gone to the top of their careers, but are now about to be forgotten. Let’s form an Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame.”
Moore suggested that Governor McMath appoint a committee to start the shrine with legislative approval if necessary. However, Berry was of the opinion that the Stadium Commission could approve the Hall of Fame itself without going through lawmaking channels. The Arkansas Democrat reported that, “It’s an idea that could materialize overnight, especially since the cost of the project would be practically nothing.”
By February of 1951, the Arkansas Gazette reported that the Stadium Board ratified a proposal to establish an Arkansas Hall of Fame. It was said that great athletes of the state would be memorialized in the Hall which would be housed at the stadium. In early March, an Arrangements Committee to start the ball rolling for an Arkansas Hall of Fame was appointed by Ed Keith, of Magnolia, the chairman of the War Memorial Stadium Commission. Keith named Maurice Moore, who suggested the Hall of Fame, to head the new committee. Keith also appointed three other members to the committee: Ivan Grove, athletic director at Hendrix College; C.G. “Crip” Hall, Secretary of State; and Allan Berry, manager of War Memorial Stadium. The committee was to decide how members of the Hall of Fame would be selected and what type of exhibits would be used to honor them. Later it was reported that work had begun on the Hall of Fame for Arkansas athletes. The first problem was to obtain funds for furnishing the showroom in War Memorial Stadium and then the selection of the stars would get underway. However, nothing ever came out of this committee. In April of 1953, sportswriter Jack Keady of the Arkansas Democrat wondered in his column, “Whatever happened to Arkansas’ Hall of Fame, which was supposed to honor the state’s athletes with a showroom in War Memorial Stadium?”
In February of 1958, Milton Green, a sports-minded Little Rock furrier, assembled around 30 men for a dinner party and told them, “We owe something to these Arkansas people who have gone to the top of their careers, but are now about to be forgotten. Let’s form an Arkansas Hall of Fame.”
On May 10, 1958, the Arkansas Hall of Fame, Inc. was formally launched at a meeting of the Arkansas Sportswriters Association held at War Memorial Stadium. The sportswriters gave their approval to a plan formulated by a temporary executive committee, headed by Jack Pickens of Little Rock. Allan Berry, manager of War Memorial Stadium and secretary of the temporary committee, told the writers that they would form the backbone of the organization but would be exempt from dues. Invited members of the organization would pay dues of five dollars per year to finance the annual Hall of Fame banquet. The purpose of the organization, as stated in the articles of incorporation, is “to select and honor annually persons who through outstanding achievement have brought honor, prestige and fame to the state of Arkansas.”
The framework of the Hall emerged from at least six sessions of a nine-man temporary group headed up by Jack Pickens and Allan Berry. They drew up a minimum set of rules, filed incorporation papers, and reserved a hall and a top-flight toastmaster for the first banquet to be held in January 1959. Letters were sent out following the meeting of May 10, 1958, to a carefully selected list of about 400 people – two or more from every county in the state – over a letterhead reading Arkansas Hall of Fame, Inc. The letters asked each recipient to become a charter member of a non-profit corporation which, with the aid of the Arkansas Sportswriters Association, would select the honorees and install them at an appropriate all-sports banquet at Little Rock each January.
On May 25, 1958, president Jack Pickens and treasurer Cliff Shaw (temporary officers) are pictured in the Arkansas Gazette opening a bank account at Worthen Bank for the Arkansas Hall of Fame, Inc. “as membership in the new statewide organization tops the 250 mark.”
The first formal business session of the Hall was held at noon on August 16, 1958, at the Marion Hotel in Little Rock. Temporary president Jack Pickens was out of the state on business; so Lee Rogers presided over the meeting. The members approved a financial report showing a balance of $1,531 in the bank; adopted Articles of Incorporation; and accepted the report of the nominating committee to elect permanent officers. The first slate of officers included Jack Pickens, a construction firm executive, president; Milton Green, a furrier who called the first meeting, first vice president; Warren Wood, an attorney, legal counsel; Cliff Shaw, treasurer; and Allan Berry, War Memorial Stadium manager, as secretary – all from Little Rock. The first Board of Directors included sportswriters Jimmy Atkinson of Pine Bluff, Joe McGee of Conway, and Orville Henry and Jack Keady of Little Rock; also, Lee Rogers of Little Rock, athletic goods dealer; Ben Butler of Osceola, planter; C.G. “Crip” Hall of Little Rock, Secretary of State; Ray Winder, secretary-treasurer of the Little Rock Travelers; John Barnhill, athletic director of the University of Arkansas; and Rolfe Eldridge of Augusta.
On November 25, 1958, Jack Pickens presided over a luncheon meeting of the executive board and other interested parties at the Marion Hotel. The group decided to submit plans for selection to the entire organization membership and ask for nominations in a mail vote. “Eligibility requirements are broad. A person may qualify through contributions to Arkansas through athletics in any role, playing or non-playing. He or she must have attained the age of 40 or must have retired from competition for at least 10 years.” The early poll of the membership brought a tremendous list of 106 standout athletes, coaches and others who had been recognized for their sports activities in Arkansas. It was noted that “because of the requirement that a candidate must be out of his sports activity for at least 10 years, such stars as Clyde Scott, George Kell, and others were not eligible for the honor this year.”
Members of the nominating committee met in the board room of the First National Bank on December 12, 1958. The purpose of this meeting was to select 20 candidates (from the 106 nominees) to be voted on by the membership. Regarding potential inductees, the board listed these criteria: athletic accomplishment; character and leadership; national significance of honoree; conduct during years following active participation in athletics; representation of women; prestige to the Hall of Fame; balance between old-timers and present generation; credit and honor selectee has brought to the state; and representation of all sports over the years. The ballots listing the names of the 20 candidates in alphabetical order were mailed to the charter members of the Hall on December 15. “The five candidates receiving the highest number of points (on a graded 5-4-3-2-1 system) will be installed as initial Hall of Famers at an elaborate banquet at the Hotel Marion, Thursday night, January 15.”
More than 300 of the charter members of the Hall returned their ballots; the points were tabulated and on Sunday, December 21, the five initial honorees were announced in the Gazette and the Democrat. Details of the accomplishments of the initial honorees and all other honorees that followed are covered in a special section of this book.
The “souvenir program” for the “First Installation Banquet” of the Arkansas Hall of Fame has the following phrase on the cover: “An organization created solely for the purpose of honoring those who have meant most to Arkansas”. The inside of the program states that the Arkansas Hall of Fame was “Created August 16, 1958 so that posterity will be forever aware of Arkansas’ great.”
The day after the first banquet, Orville Henry wrote, “After all the false starts over the years, this was the easiest and the finest possible of productions of its kind ever conceived in Arkansas. In a sense, it became that because the five original honorees turned out to be sincere, genuine people of inestimable merit on either side of the coin.”
Prior to the formation of the Hall of Fame, Jack Pickens had become acquainted with Joe Garagiola, a St. Louis native who had played nine seasons of major league baseball before retiring after the 1954 season and joining the St. Louis Cardinals broadcasting team. Pickens chose the 32-year-old Garagiola to be the Master of Ceremonies for the first banquet. It turned out to be a masterful stroke as Garagiola handled that duty for the first eight induction banquets, all of which were held at the Marion Hotel in Little Rock.
To obtain an additional 150 seats for the annual banquet, the 1967 event was moved to the Arlington Hotel in Hot Springs. Garagiola returned as
a guest, and the first of many different emcees followed in the role he relinquished. Capacity crowds of 700 attended each of the seven banquets held in Hot Springs.
Pickens stepped down as the Hall’s president following the 1971 induction banquet. At that point, Swifton native, George Kell took over the organization. Kell, who had been inducted into the Arkansas Hall of Fame in 1964, had been a ten-time All-Star selection as an American League third baseman. In addition to owning farms in the Swifton area; he owned an automobile dealership in Newport; was serving on the Arkansas Highway Commission and was announcing baseball games for the Detroit Tigers. (Twelve years later, Kell was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown.)
In 1974, the annual banquet was returned to Little Rock and Garagiola returned to emcee the event for his final time. The new Little Rock Convention Center could accommodate 850 people and the banquet was televised in 1974 and 1975.
After serving as president for a decade, Kell retired and on August 12, 1980, Jacksonville banker, Kenneth “Pat” Wilson was elected to be the third president of the Hall of Fame. Since that time, seventeen sports-minded Arkansans have served as president of the organization; most have served for one two-year term. A complete listing of the presidents can be found in another section of this book.
In the initial articles of incorporation, the organization had been named the Arkansas Hall of Fame, Inc. The word “sports” was not included on purpose. Though the principal impetus had come from persons connected with sports, some of the founders had felt that the Hall should not be restricted to athletes or persons connected with athletics. The first secretary of the organization had been quoted as saying, “We wanted to leave that open, in case someone was worthy of an honor and wasn’t in sports.” The Hall had published a 72 page booklet in 1982 containing a complete history of the first 25 years of the Hall’s existence. Throughout the booklet, the organization is referred to as the Arkansas Hall of Fame. A review of each of the banquet programs for the period from 1959 through 1982 show that each program refers to the organization as the Arkansas Hall of Fame. However, during the 1970s, several newspaper articles begin to refer to the Hall as the “Arkansas (sports) Hall of Fame”. The name change was completed with the 25th banquet held on February 11, 1983. The programs for that event and for all events that have followed have used “Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame”.
In the fall of 1982, the Board decided to present its first Meritorious Service Award during the 1983 banquet. That first year, both Jack Pickens and the late Bud Campbell were chosen to receive the award. A complete listing of the men and the women that have received this award can be found in another section of this book.
In the fall of 1995, the Hall of Fame offered its first Lifetime Memberships. Jim Rasco of Little Rock was the first person to become a Lifetime Member. A complete listing of current Lifetime Members is shown each year in the program for the induction banquet.
In addition to the initial Board of Directors (consisting of five officers and ten directors) there were quite a few other men that were instrumental in organizing and establishing the Hall of Fame. In September of 1998, the Board voted to present a “Founders Award” to these men who started the Hall of Fame. This one-time award was presented at the 1999 banquet. A complete listing of these founders can be found on the inside of this book’s cover.
On November 10, 1998, the ASHOF held its first-ever fundraiser at the Double Tree Hotel in Little Rock. The event was a Toast & Roast honoring Jerry Jones, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys.
In the summer of 1999, Hall of Famer Pat Summerall agreed to host the annual Pat Summerall Celebrity Golf Classic that remains an important fundraiser for the ASHOF. In one of the early years of the event, Summerall (who was then in his mid-70s and was recovering from a liver transplant) had a hole-in-one in his own tournament.
In early 2000, the ASHOF began a campaign to raise the funds to build a museum. William H. “Buddy” Sutton (a native of Hope, a former
Razorback football star, and the head of the largest law firm in the state) agreed to serve as the chairman of the Capital Campaign Committee.
Jerry Jones (a native of North Little Rock, a “starter” for the 1964 national champion Razorbacks, and the owner of the Dallas Cowboys) kicked off
the campaign by donating one million dollars. Jones also convinced his former Razorback teammate Jim Lindsey (a native of Forrest City, a longtime
member of the Minnesota Vikings, and a northwest Arkansas businessman) to donate $500,000 at the same time. On April 18, 2007, the 13,975
square-foot Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame Museum was opened in what was then Alltel Arena – later to become Verizon Arena – in downtown
North Little Rock. The museum contains an 88-seat theater with a video highlighting the careers of many of the ASHOF inductees.
By 2009, the ASHOF was running low on funds, so Jim Lindsey consented to conduct a fundraiser to be called the “Jim Lindsey Appreciation
Dinner” which was held on November 6, 2009, at the Northwest Convention Center in Bentonville. The event raised just over $703,000, which was
reported to have been the record for a one-night charitable event in Arkansas.
After sixty years, the ASHOF is proud of its history and is looking to the future.
History of the
Sports Hall of Fame
There were several false starts before the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame was actually formed. The construction of War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock was completed in the fall of 1948. By January of 1951, Maurice Moore (the sports editor of the Hot Springs Sentinel Record) suggested that a shrine to honor “the great athletes of Arkansas” be established and located in a special section underneath the bleachers of War Memorial Stadium. Moore felt that the special section could be set aside for this purpose and could be maintained as part of the stadium itself with little trouble and expense. War Memorial Stadium manager Allan Berry
quickly expressed high approval for the idea and admitted that a place under the stands could be found easily enough. Berry stated that, “In fact, there is a room which we use in connection with our concessions which would be perfect for such a Hall of Fame. It is under the west stands on the south end.”
Terri Conder Johnson