2020 IN REVIEW (cont.)
COVID-19 was the one news item that monopolized ink and paper, digital platforms and media outlets worldwide from its emergence in early January right on through the end of December. We all hope that the same will not be said at the end of 2021.
The coronavirus left its mark here in Crittenden County. To date, more than 4,000 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in the county, including 72 deaths from the virus and its related illnesses.
But that was not the only news that made headlines in 2020. In the “good news” column, economic development continues despite economic slowdowns due to the pandemic. A massive Carvana distribution center is currently under construction in West Memphis, as is the multimillion- dollar Southland Casino expansion. The community’s medical marijuana dispensaries also opened this year after many delays, and new businesses and restaurants have opened or are getting set to open, including an Arby’s and Big Gun’s Pit Barbecue in Marion. But, of course, for many, a dream came true as Chickfil- A finally opened for business in West Memphis.
In sports, the coronavirus brought chaos to the schedule and to programs here and across the state, but the West Memphis Blue Devils laid claim to the 2020 State Basketball Championship (although the final game was canceled due to COVID-19). The Marion Patriots made it all the way to the Final Four of the 2020 6A Football State Tournament.
The community is poised for more growth in 2021, with Marion moving forward on its Sultana Museum as well as a massive expansion of Old Military Road and the long-awaited overpass to River Trace. The Marion School District is in the midst of adding new facilities and features to its campuses.
Speaking of campuses, the West Memphis School District opened an all-new Wonder Elementary School, with a new West Junior High under construction now. The district will also be combining East and Wonder junior highs under one roof in the near future.
But sadly, 2020 will also be remembered for the loss of some key community figures.
In May, West Memphis City Treasurer and Chief Financial Officer Frank Martin passed away. The boy who was part of the last class at Hulbert and the first class at West Junior High grew up in true blue love for the Blue Devils, the Memphis Tigers, and the city.
“We always joked about loving West Memphis,” said West Memphis Mayor Marco McClendon. “He would say you may love West Memphis, but not as much as I love West Memphis. He was more than city treasurer; he was my friend for 20 years.”
“He embodied the spirit of West Memphis,” said State Senator Keith Ingram. “He was a true public servant.
He was somebody the city council and the business community respected. The excellent fiscal position this community enjoyed was primarily the collaboration between Mayor Johnson and Frank Martin. If there was a community event, if he wasn’t heading it, he was darn sure going to be there.
“He embodied the best of what West Memphis has to offer. He was a great father. He was very active in his church. Holy Cross has lost its stalwart member. He was Blue Devil through and through and loved Memphis State. He never met a stranger. If there was an event in the city he was there and behind it. He will be missed so very much.”
McClendon said Martin had been his longtime guide and helped to the very end working from home battling cancer, navigating the city financially through the coronavirus crisis. The mayor reported Thursday the city administration had saved nearly a million dollars against the budget during the pandemic.
“Working with the numbers, he is the reason the city is in the fine financial shape it is” said McClendon. “He was our treasurer, our city financial director, but I know he YEAR IN REVIEW (cont.)
loved West Memphis. I am broken. I talked to him the previous day. He was trying to walk again and looking forward to coming back to work for West Memphis.”
In June, West Memphis Fire Chief Dennis Brewer passed away after a bout with cancer. Brewer was the first appointee named by Mayor Marco McClendon when he was elected in November of 2018. Many changes came in the 18 months Brewer held the helm at the Fire Department.
“He was six months older than I am,” said Crittenden County Justice Pat Hull.
“He is my mother’s baby brother. He is my uncle and my brother. He has always been humble and with a sweet spirit. It was no different as a child. I can’t believe he is gone.
Brewer achieved another title besides “chief.” Some called him “master” for his prowess teaching karate.
“He loved West Memphis,” continued Hull. “He loved his community. He loved people. He loved his children in karate.”
“The two most exciting days of his life were when the day he joined the fire department and the day he met his wife, Dorothy.
They had dated since the age of 13. It was a beautiful love story, better than any fairy tale. O my gosh!
Their whole story is real, better than any story ever written. He never deviated from anything. His children were his heart.”
Brewer took many children under his wing and taught life lessons and discipline through karate.
“He took my children when I moved from Detroit and taught karate,” said Hull.
“He took all kinds of children that people did not know about, children with disabilities .He provide a village for my children.”
West Memphis Police Chief Eddie West said his relationship with Brewer spanned a generation. He reflected on Brewer’s life.
“I remember when he started as a fireman and the steps as he advanced through the ranks at the fire department,” said West.
“He was a good friend. We had supper together on many occasions. He was just a real good friend. He had a big smile and a personality to match. Dennis knew no stranger. I took karate from him. He was at my first board breaking cheering me on. He was just that kind of guy.”
Just this past two months, two more losses occurred.
Popular Memphis radio personality and West Memphis native Chris Jarman died on Tuesday, December 15. “The Jar” was a staple on the radio in Memphis for decades.
Funny. High spirited. He loved his West Memphis Blue Devils and the Memphis Tigers. And he was dedicated to causes, like raising money for the Ronald McDonald House.
His cousin, Dr. Hunter Harrison, said Jarman broke his ankle on the previous Sunday and that injury is what likely caused his death.
”Yesterday morning, he got up and went to the restroom and the person he was staying with said he cried out and she went in there and he collapsed,” said Harrison. “So my thought is maybe he had a blood clot that had gone, you know, that it caused him to have a heart attack.” Danni Bruns, his partner on “Dannie and The Jar” morning show, called Jarman her mentor and thanked their fans, “the village people,” for their support after his passing.
”I’ve never seen so many people touched by one individual in my entire life, and as I said, I’ve been doing this for 25 years,” said Bruns. “This man, just full of life, and I will tell you, he did everything on his list.”
Bruns said Jarman’s ultimate
the two of them doing a morning show together. Six months ago, they took over the morning slot on 98.1.
His dream had been realized, said Bruns.
“I will miss what I didn’t realize I had with him,” Bruns said with tears in her eyes. “It was a love-hate relationship. And I don’t know radio without Jar. I will miss us.”
Reports said Jarman was treated and stabilized at Baptist-Crittenden, which does not have an ICU unit and no ICU beds were available at any of the other hospitals in the Memphis area, so Jarman was taken by ambulance, 120 miles away, to a facility with an ICU bed in Batesville, Arkansas, where he died. His family said they do not think a lack of beds contributed to his death.
And just this week, longtime Marion Police Chief Gary Kelley passed away following a long battle with COVID-19. Kelley had been planning to retire in February. He had been hospitalized for more than three weeks with COVID-19-related symptoms before succumbing to the disease.
Feb. 28, 2021 was intended to be his swan song with the MPD, but his illness derailed those plans. The 63 year-old chief was reportedly on a ventilator for weeks, according to an update offered by his son Daniel in mid-December.
'A COVID pneumonia is what they are calling it,' said the younger Kelley, expressing appreciation for the outpouring of support.
One of the chief’s closest friends and brother in law enforcement, Crittenden County Sheriff Mike Allen was one of the first to break the news that Kelley had passed away.
“This is tough, but our friend Chief Gary Kelley lost his battle with COVID19 today after a 25-day fight,” said Allen. “He leaves behind the love of his life Charleen and only son Daniel and a host of brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, I know he loved them all so much.”
Kelley also leaves behind a long legacy of law enforcement.
“He served the city of Marion for 38 years and is only the second Chief of Police the City of Marion has ever had,” noted Allen.
Kelley succeeded Chief John Griffin and served in that position until his death. With his passing, Assistant Chief Brannon Hinkle becomes only the third man to hold the position of Marion Chief of Police.