A book signing for a book that has been in the works since 1996 -- “University of Arkansas Fort Smith: The First 85 Years” -- will be held on July 30.


The event, which will include music by Holly Dickinson on the harp, will be held from 5-7 p.m. at UAFS at Second Street, 101 N. Second Street. Giving brief remarks will be Dr. Paul B. Beran, UAFS chancellor, and the book’s three authors, Billy D. Higgins, Dr. Stephen Husarik and Dr. Henry Q. Rinne, all of Fort Smith. The public is invited.


The authors credit Dr. Carolyn Moore of Fort Smith, former vice chancellor for advancement at the University, for the book’s concept. The first typeset version, done in-house, was available in 1998, but the history of the school kept unfolding. This final version, available in advance at the Lions Bookstore on campus, includes the transition to a four-year school and the institution’s first years as a regional university.


Those attending the July 30 book signing may bring their pre-purchased copies to the book signing or buy books that evening. The hard-bound version is $25, and the paperback version is $15. Only 500 books were printed.


Rinne said the audience for the book is a broad one.


“Anyone who has a connection to the college in the past would be interested in it,” said Rinne, “as well as anyone who is interested in how the institution developed and prospered. I think there’s hardly a family in Fort Smith that has not been touched in some way by Fort Smith Junior College, Westark or UAFS, so it’s a big audience.”


The three also said that anyone interested in education would also want to read it, since higher education in Arkansas -- particularly community college education -- was influenced by Westark.


Husarik said one particular event in the time period covered by the book stands out to him, the midnight conversion of Westark College to the University of Arkansas - Fort Smith, which happened as the clock moved from Dec. 31, 2001, to Jan. 1, 2002.


“I followed the senior administrative officials into the campus center near the fireplace after the changing of the flags,” he said, “and I was surprised to see no one celebrating or chattering in any particular way. They simply stood looking at each other in amazement, evidently stunned by what they had accomplished.”


Husarik called it “a heavenly pause” in what they went through to change the college into a university.


“Of course, I knew that they would be all back hard at work the next business morning and that this pause was only temporary. They were out to change the world and make it better.”


Higgins said he likes all sections of the book, pointing out pieces from what was written by Rinne and Husarik.


“There were a lot of fascinating people in our history, people like Pierce McKennon, Anna Nelson and Charles Angeletti,” said Higgins. “It’s amazing the people who came through here.”


McKennon was a student at Fort Smith Junior College who joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1939 when war broke out, shooting down enemy planes during 1940-42. Nelson, who wrote her first paper at Fort Smith Junior College in 1950, was a distinguished historian who served on the John F. Kennedy Assassination Review Board. Angeletti played basketball here, became a Fulbright Scholar and still teaches at a higher education institution in another state.


“The book is based on a lot of interviews,” Higgins said. “One of the things you can get out of this book is how the funding changed, how the enrollment changed. To me it’s a great, delightful story, how the institution started in the high school and then, here we are 85 years later, part of the University of Arkansas System. It didn’t come easily, but it came through a lot of steps.”


Rinne points out another area of change that stands out in the Westark-UAFS history -- integration.


“It came about very quietly,” said Rinne, “but the school was forced by the federal government to integrate. The commander at Fort Chaffee sent a letter to the board, stating that all of his Army officers would be allowed to take classes here or none would.”


Rinne said that the 75 officers taking classes amounted to “a big chunk of tuition,” and it was decided.


“The board voted rather quietly to allow African American students to enroll,” he said. “No public announcement was made, and it was some time before the newspaper discovered it. By that time it wasn’t news any longer.”


Higgins, associate professor of history at UAFS, is the author of “The Barling Darling; Hal Smith in American Baseball” and “A Stranger and a Sojourner: Peter Caulder, Free Black Frontiersman in Antebellum Arkansas,” which was co-winner of the 2005 Ragsdale Award for the Best Book on Arkansas History.


Husarik, professor of humanities and music, has published and contributed to more than a half dozen books in the humanities area, published articles in journals and read numerous papers for learned organizations in the United States and abroad. He is currently co-editor of “Interdisciplinary Humanities,” the journal of the Humanities and Education Research Association.


Rinne, who joined the UAFS faculty in 1979 as an artist-in-residence, is dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences and professor of humanities and art history. He also serves as a peer reviewer and team chair for the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association.


UAFS has held several names over the years -- Fort Smith Junior College, Westark Junior College, Westark Community College and Westark College -- before becoming the University of Arkansas - Fort Smith.


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Date Posted: 
Tuesday, July 2, 2013
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​A book signing for a book that has been in the works since 1996 -- “University of Arkansas Fort Smith: The First 85 Years” -- will be held on July 30.