The President's Post
In the last issue of the "Communiqué,"
I wrote about our recent trip to Central America. I focused primarily
on Honduras and the devastating effects of Hurricane Mitch on that country
and its people. We also visited El Salvador and Nicaragua and were able
to see a number of Walton Scholar alumni, their parents, and several
new students for next year's class.
In El Salvador and Nicaragua the Walton alumni organized
seminars, which we attended, for local business men and women. The major
speakers were from Wal-Mart and Procter and Gamble. Seminars of this
nature and other community service projects are examples of positive
contributions our Walton alumni provide for their countries. The professional
positions the almuni hold are quite impressive, and everyone we met
was at a management level with a major business or corporation. Many
of you on this campus were mentioned as their favorite teachers or most
positive influences, and they credit this University as the reason for
their success. The Walton International Scholarship Program is making
a difference in Central America. El Salvador is an energetic and beautiful
country. The capital city of San Salvador seems as modern as most cities
in North America. The countryside vegetation and landscape are remarkable,
and we enjoyed our day's travel into the mountain region to see the
coffee plantations rich with beans and aroma. In San Salvador we were
privileged to meet the U.S. ambassador to El Salvador, Ann Patterson,
whose family lives in Fort Smith. We also met Karla Rodriguez ('94)
who works for the American Embassy and is married to Walter Rodriguez
('94) who was the primary organizer of the seminar. We listened to Claudia
Cruz ('95) on the radio. Claudia is manager for a Christian radion station
and has brought her station to number eight in ratings. One evening
we ate at Pizza Hut, a growing chain in El Salvador, and visited with
Juan Paniagua ('98) who manages a Pizza Hut. Another evening we dined
with over thirty Walton alumni from each of the three universities in
Nicaragua is the size of Arkansas with two and a half
times the population. The capital city of Managua is about as busy a
place, in regard to traffice and shops, that Sheree and I have ever
visited. The people were unusually friendly and quite interested in
the United States. Nubia Robleto ('95) is the banquet and special events
director at the Camino Real Hotel where we stayed in Managua, and Enrique
Mejia's ('98) mother assists in managing the hotel. We traveled one
afternoon with Oscar Navarette ('97) and Ivan Quant ('98) to see an
active volcano. During the drive we stopped for bottled water at a store
owned by Otto Mejia's father. Oscar and Ivan walked with us to the top
of the volcano (ask Sheree about this experience -- she almost made
it to the top), and we looked down into the belching smoke and fire.
Indiana Jones has nothing on "Arkansas Niece!" A transcending
cross is stationed by the opening of the volcano because the people
believe that this had to be the mouth of Hell. That night we ate a traditional
and delicious Nicaraguan dinner in a restaurant owned by Ivan's mother.
During the trip we signed several new students into
the Walton program. I cannot express how rewarding it is to watch the
faces of the students and their parents while Rickey Casey explains
what they are receiving. I also cannot express enough gratitude to Rickey
and Lisa Casey. The love that the alumni and their parents show for
Rickey and Lisa is a pleasure to witness. The alumni always ask about
Jackie Whitson and tell us the many wonderful things she did for them.
All three of them -- Rickey, Lisa, and Jackie -- are regarded by our
students and alumni as second parents.
And that ends my reflections on our trip to Central
America. Thanks for your patience as I recounted the many events. You
do have to admit this format was better than five hours of slides.
Rick Niece, Ph.D.