Conaly Bedell of Fort Smith was presented the Diligence to Victory Award -- the highest alumni honor bestowed by the University of Arkansas - Fort Smith -- at an alumni reunion dinner Nov. 9.
Recipients of the award are alumni who have distinguished themselves through service to their community, state or nation or whose outstanding leadership in their business or professional lives exemplifies the “through diligence to victory” motto of the first graduating class at Fort Smith Junior College in 1928.
Bedell, an international technology and political consultant, attended UAFS in the 1950s. As an associate with Jefferson Waterman International, he serves international clients through a consulting company he maintains in Fort Smith.
Although Bedell’s history with the institution began when he was a student, his role with the University continued when he served for 18 years on the Board of Trustees for Westark, which was the name of the institution at that time. He said he had a record of attendance in the upper 80th percentile for those 18 years. He is now active on the UAFS Alumni Advisory Council.
Warren Rappert, chair of the Alumni Advisory Council’s Awards Committee, introduced Bedell at the reunion dinner, praising what Bedell did and is doing for UAFS.
“Conaly never forgot his roots,” said Rappert. “He served on the Westark Community College Board of Trustees from 1975 to 1992 and now serves as a founding member on the Alumni Advisory Council.”
Rappert said Bedell has, through the years, been a proponent and advocate for property acquisition because “he could see where the University would grow and what it would need.”
During Bedell’s Board tenure, the institution purchased the property now housing the UAFS Fitness Center. That facility, which once had a shared use between the college and the Fort Smith Boys Club, was on the edge of the campus at that time but is now in the center of the school’s property.
Bedell also noted the acquisition of the property on the southwest corner of Kinkead and Waldron, which was a convenience store when purchased and has since held various functions of the University. It will soon be torn down to accommodate a new visual arts facility. He also recalls the purchase of other properties, including the Echols Building, a former elementary school.
In addition he points with pride to the Board setting aside funds toward what is now Boreham Library and growing programs in the technology area. Bedell, who was an advertising and marketing executive for 25 years and owner of one of the larger agencies in Arkansas, said he was also proud that he handled the advertising campaigns to raise money for Breedlove Building and the science building, as well as several bond issues.
He is most proud, however, of how he was able to provide assistance when Westark needed it for a University Center on campus. The University Center concept was one where Westark, as a two-year school, would invite four-year universities to offer the junior- and senior-level years for programs on the Westark campus, allowing students to stay in their hometowns and earn a bachelor’s degree.
Appropriate legislation had been passed by the legislature in 1989, but Bedell said Gov. Bill Clinton planned to veto it. Bedell, as Board chair at that time, was asked by former chancellor Joel Stubblefield to contact Clinton. Bedell did that, reaching Clinton’s office and saying he wanted to talk to the governor.
“Five minutes later, Bill called me and said, ‘Conaly, I can’t sign it,’” said Bedell. “He knew why I was calling. I asked him for a couple of minutes of his time to listen to our reasons for wanting a University Center, explaining that this was precisely the answer needed for a state short in higher education money. Bill said he never thought of it that way, and he agreed to sign the legislation.”
UAFS continued with the University Center operation until the institution became a four-year university.
Bedell’s role with Jefferson Waterman is focused in two areas – early-stage technology business and international political strategies.
His international experience includes a decade of work as a United States representative for an Australian investment firm. He has consulted for an American corporation on financial systems development for Kurdistan, has filmed in the Caspian Sea region to document opportunity in a former Soviet country and has explored science and technology with Russian scientists.
Bedell's career began as a print journalist, which included periods as education editor at the Tulsa Tribune and subsequently staff reporter at Life Magazine. He became an early-stage bio-technology executive and, during the 1990s, served as president and director of one publicly listed bio-technology company and president, chief executive officer and chairman of the board of a successor public bio-tech company. The bio companies were early innovators in recombinant yeast products and DNA electrophoresis.
He is a past international-level officer of Rotary, having served as governor of one of the largest districts in Rotary world, comprised of 5,000 members in parts of Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas and Missouri. In his district he has worked in world community service, district governance and international exchange programs.
Bedell has been one of a select 500 members of Rotary's World Legislative Council on two occasions. He also served as chairman of the Parks and Recreation Commission in his home city of Fort Smith during his five-year tenure on the Commission.
Bedell received a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Tulsa, where he also did graduate study in history. He also studied in the University of Arkansas graduate program in philosophy. Bedell's wife, Cynthia, teaches religion at Trinity Catholic Junior High School, and they are members of Immaculate Conception Parish in Fort Smith.
Previous recipients of the Diligence to Victory Award are Randy Wewers (Class of ’58), the first recipient of the award in 2010; Peggy Raynor Weidman (’73) in 2011 and Stacey Jones (’71) in 2012.