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Searcy should be planning two- or three-day festival for 2024 total solar eclipse, state tourism director
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The city of Searcy should be planning “for a two- or three-day festival” April 8, 2024, for a total solar eclipse that will reportedly last four minutes and 26 seconds, according to Division of Arkansas Tourism Director Travis Napper.

Even though the eclipse is still years away, an “In the Know” on-site and virtual meeting was held Wednesday morning by the Searcy Regional Chamber of Commerce with Napper to talk about it.

He said community leaders should give those visiting the city to view the eclipse “a reason to fully experience your destination to its fullest, and know that people will come here and they may go somewhere else during those days and that’s OK. We have the type of people who are willing to come.

“... So it’s not four minutes it’s over and I’m out of town, but it’s four minutes are over and now the marquee thing ends up being that night. Some people will leave right after it’s over, but we can spread that event into that night and hopefully the next day as well, plus that’s just more economic impact in all of our communities as well.”

According to nationaleclipse.com, the eclipse “will trace a narrow path of totality across 13 U.S. states.” In addition to Arkansas, the other states are Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.

“This is already on our radar and while that seems a long, long ways away, it has been on our radar,” Napper said. “We have already had sessions with the leading NASA scientists ... making sure we are aware of it and that is on our radar and what we can do.

“We have also been working with a lady named Brook Kaufman [CEO of Visit Casper] from Casper, Wyo., which was deemed one of the best places to watch the last one in 2017. She has been kind of unofficially consulting with us and has been extremely helpful to us as an office. But we also had a follow-up webinar with over 100 different people from different communities to learn what they learned.”

According to Napper, for the total solar eclipse in 2017, communities promoting it had a “much smaller time frame. They only planned for about 16 months ahead of time, which does seem like a lot of time, but we got a major head start on that.”

Napper said he was told by Kaufman that Arkansas is far ahead of many of the other states from viewing locations that she has communicated with.

“I am glad that we are ahead of this,” Napper said. “We will continue to offer opportunities for communities to learn best practices – what did work for them, what didn’t work, what they would do differently. In the end, we see ourselves as a gathering of all the opportunities that are available. We want the communities to be on the forefront, the opportunities for guests and visitors to come in and participate with this.

“It is on a Monday and I would say that is not the ideal day; this is the same day that it was in 2017, which is great that we have the exact situation that they had.”

During the 2017 total solar eclipse, Napper said Wyoming saw over 100,000 visitors and “that is with zero marketing. They did not market the fact that they were a great place to view it. They were in the path of totality. They spent no money on that, very little effort. All their effort was on planning.”

“We believe with us getting out ahead of it, we will have the planning taken care of but she [Kaufman] said, ‘If you just go and invite people to come, you will be amazed on how that number will just explode.’ Just by my eye, our state has be, if not the best, one of the best for the most coverage of full totality.”

He said it has been said that every portion of Arkansas will be within 85 percent of totality coverage, “which is considered extremely good.”

Kaufman told Napper that people are always going to ask “What’s going to be the impact of this?” and she said, “What are you doing to make sure they [the visitors] are having a good time and will want to come back?’

The Arkansas Department of Transportation and the Arkansas State Police are also working with the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism along with those in education on the state level to make sure they are prepared logistically for the total solar eclipse in Arkansas.

“We can make sure we are doing the right things to offer the best experience while they are here and they just don’t leave with just a really cool experience but ‘Man, that took a lot out of us getting home, or whatever,’” Napper said, “but that we can offer them a great experience from the beginning to the very end.”

Casper did a whole lot, Napper said, to make 2017’s total solar eclipse a festival event over the course of multiple days. In Arkansas, Napper said the locations for viewing will be on hills, mountains, rivers, lakes, streams, cities and everywhere in between, so there will be a lot of variety in an event, including group activities that can be scheduled.

“It’s just tremendous,” he said. “I think it will be a great kickoff to that time of year and you are really bumping up tourism toward that summer travel season.”

Leaving Searcy and wanting to come back to Searcy is something Napper talked about as the key to making this opportunity successful.

An idea Napper discussed was making the total solar eclipse timeframe a time to have a weekend for students to come visit Harding University a weekend and then “give them the added benefit of the event on the back end.”

Also with a “great downtown,” Napper said visitors will always gravitate toward it. Napper said the organizers in Casper took a pair of glasses and a “one-pager” of information about the 2017 event to businesses just so they were aware of it, and a lot of them weren’t until they got that information.

Getting this information out on the local level “pretty soon” is what Napper is recommending. “They will have plenty of time to think about how they can build a program for that.”

Napper said banks should have enough money in ATMs to handle the crowd that comes in. “That will be the source for them to get more cash, especially if it’s more of a fair or festival environment. If you are bringing in international people, do they [the banks] have currency to do that exchange? I just encourage any of you to think of your job through the lens of tourism and how you can be an advocate for your town.”

Tinkering around downtown

ABOVE: Searcy Beats and Eats raised a little more than $5,000 for the Museum of Discovery at Tinkerfest, the organizers’ first ticketed event, according to co-coordinator Marka Bennett. The museum experienced an estimated $2 million in damages from winter weather events earlier this year.

LEFT: Tim Westbrook of Harding University was the “theme leader” and Marka Bennett said he did a great job from concept to actuality on the STEM-related street festival. Bennett said weather was perfect and Harding Academy’s Breakaway robotics team was “impressive as always.”

Tim Westbrook of Harding University was the “theme leader” and Marka Bennett said he did a great job from concept to actuality on the STEM-related street festival. Bennett said weather was perfect and Harding Academy’s Breakaway robotics team was “impressive as always.”

McRae Elementary Principal Gurchiek becomes Harding Academy superintendent
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Harding Academy has found its new superintendent a little more than a month after James Simmons announced his retirement, and the search committee didn’t have to look very far.

Acting Harding University President Dr. David Burks announced Monday that McRae Elementary School Principal James Gurchiek will be replacing Simmons at the end of the school year. Gurchiek is a 1986 Harding University graduate.

The university also announced that Bradley Francis, the high school’s longtime basketball coach has been named high school principal, taking the place of Dr. Steven Breedlove, who is pursuing other options after this school year.

“The search committee and I have been very serious in our efforts to select the best people to lead Harding Academy,” Burks said in a statement. “We prayed that God would answer our prayers, and I believe he has done just that. I have no doubt that we have found two people who will bring a Christ-centered approach and attitude to everything that they do.”

Gurchiek said he got the news that he would be the new superintendent last Wednesday. He said he has been with the Searcy School District for at least 25 years.

“I have been here at McRae for 19 and then I was at Westside for a year as an assistant [principal],” Gurchiek said. “Before that I was at Sidney Deener as a resource teacher in 2011 and also in that year and in previous years, I drove a school bus for Searcy Schools. And I taught at the Sunshine School for several years and before that I taught for two years in Nashville, Tenn.”

In 1986, the year he graduated from Harding, Gurchiek got married and then he and his wife moved to Nashville for two years and then they came back to Searcy in 1988, the year he got the job at Sunshine School and the year his wife got a job at Southwest Middle School. “During that time, we both went back and received our master’s degrees, which mine was in elementary administration at that time before I got my principal’s certificate.

“About four or five years ago, I went through my program to study district administration and I completed that through Harding University.”

Gurchiek said his interview for the job at Harding Academy was the week before last with Burks and the search committee.

Asked to talk about the differences between working at a public school and a private school, Gurchiek said “probably the dynamics, with the academy being focused on a Christ-centered approach and with public schools, it’s the same standards that Arkansas goes by, also the same standards we will have at Harding Academy.”

He noted that Harding Academy does have chapel for its students.

He said what he’ll take away most from his time in the Searcy School District is “the friendships that I have made through the time I drove a school bus, meeting with the other drivers before we headed out on bus routes, just sharing stories, talking about our families, that type of thing.”

He said working with the teachers is going to be another memory he will take with him. He remembers when he got into the resources room at Sidney Deener to start working with the teachers in that aspect. He said the teachers helped him with ways he could help his students in the classroom and he in turn could help them in their classrooms.

“Getting into administration, first over at Westside, just the different aspect going from a teacher to an administrator, just knowing how those roles are different but yet still having that close connection with all the staff that even though it was a different role, our attitudes with each other didn’t change,” he said. “And then coming over to McRae in 2002, just again how they welcomed me and helped me get established here and through the years, the camaraderie that we built up . It is something that is going to last a lifetime.

“It wasn’t just always about school but it was also about family, about helping those that are in need. Anytime, one of our students, something would happen to them, we would reach out to them just like a family would do in a time of need. If it would be some type of a weather disaster, a loss of a family member or just some hard times that anybody had gone with, just coming together as a unit like that of a family to help out.”

He said he will “cherish more than anything, and there again, keeping those connections alive and sharing stories with our kids growing up and with them getting married and grandkids and all that stuff. It’s just that human connection that we still have that just because I’m not going to be in just a different building but on a different campus, that we will still have that connection that we were able to build while I was here.”

Gurchiek said being a principal is not just academics but it is also looking out for student needs, be it academic or behavior or any type of support.

‘As far as working with other personnel, the custodians, cafeteris and all of that stuff, we worked hand in hand together,” he said. “Going to this superintendent’s position, I think all that stuff will very much apply, but it gets to more, not just making decisions for a building but also decisions for a whole district. It also has to deal with those custodial services, security, meal prep, which will be different over at the academy but a lot of the same basics will very much apply.”

He mentioned sports too, where he will “work together with that group to keep everything together and working smoothly, being in touch with every aspect going on.”

Great parental involvement is something Gurchiek also discussed. “When you have that parental support with these kids, the sky is the limit on them as far as things they can accomplish. With the superintendent, it’s kind of a bigger piece of working with things specifically.”

McRae runs kindergarten-third grade and has 446 students enrolled now. Harding Academy goes from pre-L through 12th grade.

Gurchiek said he will start sometime at the beginning of June, with the exact start day still being worked out. It is not yet known if Francis will keep coaching basketball.

Francis brings more that 20 years of teaching experience to the table and 32 years of coaching. In his statement, Francis said, “I am excited about this new role and desire to serve the academy in this new way. Recently we have gotten to see a lot of what Harding Academy is about. I am excited for many more days ahead, and I appreciate all that is done by so many at the academy.”

Beebe City Council approves $52,205 price for Center Street sidewalk extension

The Beebe City Council accepted a bid last week to extend a sidewalk along Center Street from the Windwood Drive to the entry road to the Walmart Supercenter, a project that has been in the works since the city was notified in December 2018 that it was receiving federal funding.

The low bid from J Con Inc. of Benton was for $65,865, with $36,000 to be paid by an 80/20 Transportation Alternatives Program grant the city received. The council also agreed to move forward with an alternative plan that deleted paving the entry road to the supercenter, reducing the contract price to $52,205.

“I have worked with J Con Inc. on several TAP projects in the past and recommend them,” Engineer Adam Whitlow said. “They have done probably four of these TAP projects in Cabot. They are kind of special. They go after these TAP projects specifically and do sidewalks and the street scape projects.”

Mayor Mike Robertson said the last time he and council had talked about this project, they were going to do the alternate plan. Whitlow said if the council had left in the deductive alternative, the city’s portion of the expense would have been $29,865. With the deductive alternate applied, the city’s portion will be $16,205.

Moving forward, Whitlow said the next phase is to obtain a letter of concurrence from the Arkansas Department of Transportation. “Once we have concurrence, we may issue the Notice of Award and begin executing the contract documents. Once all the bonding is secured for the contract documents, the pre-construction meeting can be scheduled.”

Back when Beebe was awarded the grant, Robertson said, “We’ve had numerous requests [for a sidewalk] since Walmart opened. We do see a lot of people walking along the highway [U.S. Highway 67B] from the residential area.”

A sidewalk already runs down the majority of Center Street.

Robertson said other than safety, extending the sidewalk will help alleviate complaints the city receives regarding walkers taking a short cut through residents’ yards to the large retail business. However, he said in March 2018 that the main issue with building a sidewalk might be that “you will have a few homeowners that probably will be opposed to a sidewalk in front of their house.”

Garner 33-year-old, reportedly wielding ax, charged with threats, assault




A 33-year-old Garner man accused of making a threat while holding an ax, striking two women and reaching into his pocket, where a “small, multitool ax” was found, and turning around “quickly” while being patted down by a deputy is officially facing multiple charges.

Cedric Dion Eddington was set to appear in White County Circuit Court this morning for plea and arraignment. He was not in custody at the White County Detention Center on Monday.

A warrant, with a $25,000 bond, was issued last week on two counts of class D felony aggravated assault, two counts of class D felony first-degree terroristic threatening, class D felony possession of less than 2 grams of methamphetamine, class D possession of drug paraphernalia with purpose to inhale methamphetamine, class A misdemeanor violation of a no-contact order and class A misdemeanor third-degree domestic battery.

According to the affidavit written by Detective Derek S. Warren of the White County Sheriff’s Office, Deputy Sidney Marini had went to a residence on Martinez Circle in Garner on Feb. 28 in response to a “physical domestic disturbance in progress.”

When she arrived, Eddington reportedly was walking away from the residence. She attempted to check him for weapons after “noticing a large item in the front of Mr. Eddington’s hoodie,” Warren wrote. That was when Eddington reportedly attempted to reach into the front pocket of the hoodie and “turn around quickly.” However, Marini was able to place him in handcuffs before reportedly finding the small ax in his pocket.

Marini then spoke to the two alleged victims. One of them reportedly said she had been told to come to the residence by Eddington “to collect her property.” Although he wasn’t there when she arrived, he came in while she was in the residence and threatened her mother “while holding an ax,” Warren wrote. He then reportedly struck her mother “after she pushed him away” before striking the other alleged victim “multiple times in the face.” Warren wrote that they both had minor injuries and “redness in the facial area.”

Before leaving the residence, Eddington reportedly “armed himself with a second smaller ax.” In addition to the two axes, Marini reportedly found “two glass smoking devices and a small baggie containing a crystal-like substance” in his backpack after he was placed under arrest. It was also learned that one of the alleged victims had a no-contact order against Eddington.

A warrant for class D felony aggravated assault on a family/household member also was issued last week for Kyler Lee Grammer, 33, of Judsonia. He was charged as a habitual offender.

Grammer was not in custody in White County on Monday, but was set for plea and arraignment this morning.

Grammer reportedly attacked the alleged victim in the bedroom of a Prospect Lane residence March 2, placing “both of his hands around her neck and ... squeezing and shaking her before shoving her backwards.”

According to the affidavit written by Judsonia Assistant Police Chief Joseph Gossett, “red patches” were seen on the alleged victim’s chest and neck along with scratches on “her left cheek and the back of her neck near the hairline.”

The alleged victim reportedly said Grammer had broken things inside the house and punched holes in the wall after becoming “enraged during a verbal rant.” She had fled to the bedroom before he allegedly attacked her. She reportedly said that she called the police and left the house without him knowing after he left the room.

“Since January 2018, Kyler Grammer has been arrested and charged with five separate acts of domestic battery,” all in Sharp and Independence counties, Gossett wrote. The alleged victim reportedly said that “both mental and physical abuse has been going on for years, but the violence is escalating and she is fearful of him.”

Another class D aggravated assault warrant was issued last week for 45-year-old Michael S. Garrison of Bald Knob. Garrison also was not in custody Monday and was set to appear in court this morning.

According to the affidavit written by Bald Knob Police Officer Dillon Chandler, the alleged victim said that she had been choked by Garrison on March 2 at a residence on Forbes Street “to the point she thought she was going to pass out.” He also had “hit her in the face,” she reportedly said.

Chandler wrote that he saw red marks on her face and neck, and she was taken to an emergency room because she “was having trouble breathing.”

Garrison reportedly told Chandler he was trying to get the alleged victim to leave and “pushing her arms away from him during an argument.” Police had been gone to the residence after a caller said the alleged victim had “called him saying she was being choked and slapped.”