Little Rock Look Back: Pratt C. Remmel

One hundred and three years ago today, on October 26, 1915, future Little Rock Mayor Pratt Cates Remmel was born.  He was one of five children of Augustus Caleb and Ellen Lucy Remmel.  His father died when he was five, leaving his mother to raise six children (Gertie, Harmon – also known as Buck, Pratt, Gus, Rollie, and Carrie) by herself.  After graduating from high school in 1933, he received a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Virginia in 1937.  During World War II, he held the rank of Lieutenant in the US Navy.

The Remmel family had long been involved in politics.  A great-uncle had been the GOP nominee for governor and senator as well as serving on the GOP national committee.  Remmel’s father had been the state GOP chair and his mother was the Arkansas Republican national committeewoman for nearly three decades.  In 1938, shortly after returning from college, Remmel ran for the Little Rock City Council but did not win.  In 1940, he became chairman of the Pulaski County Republican Executive Committee. For the next several decades, he held various leadership posts in the GOP at the county, state and national level.

Remmel made his second bid for public office in 1951 when he challenged incumbent LR Mayor Sam Wassell, who was seeking a third term.  Wassell shared the often held belief at the time that the GOP could not win any races in Arkansas because of the aftereffects of Reconstruction.  Remmel ran a vigorous campaign and won by a 2-to-1 margin becoming Little Rock’s first Republican mayor since Reconstruction.  In 1953, he sought a second two year term and was re-elected.  Though he had worked to build the GOP in Arkansas, he did not emphasize party affiliation in this campaign. He stressed he had been “fair to all and partial to none.”  This campaign included a rally which was aired live on six LR radio stations at the same time, a first for Arkansas. He won by over 3,000 votes this time over alderman Aubrey Kerr.

Remmel had been mentioned as a potential candidate for US Senate or Congress in 1954.  Instead, he ran for governor and was defeated by Orval Faubus in his first race for the office.  Remmel did receive more votes for governor than any GOP candidate had since reconstruction.  He is credited with laying the groundwork for the future successful campaigns of Winthrop Rockefeller.

A month before the election in 1955, Remmel announced he would seek a 3rd term as Mayor.  While later admitting he should have stuck with the customary two terms, he also said he ran to give voters an alternative to the Democratic nominee Woodrow Mann.  Mann, like Remmel, was in the insurance business; Remmel considered Mann to have a questionable reputation.  Several statewide Democratic leaders campaigned for Mann, who beat Remmel by 1,128 votes, one of Little Rock’s closest mayoral elections.

As Mayor, Remmel served in leadership positions with the US Conference of Mayors and the Arkansas Municipal League.  It was during his tenure as mayor that the land which is now Rebsamen Golf Course was given to the City.

After he left office, Remmel returned to business interests and staying active in civic affairs.   He was an active leader of First United Methodist Church and Gideons International.  He was a Mason, a Shriner, a member of the American Legion, and the American Red Cross.   Remmel served on the Arkansas River Basin Commission and chairman of the Arkansas Waterways Commission.  In 1996, he was posthumously inducted into the Arkansas River Hall of Fame.

Married for many years to Catherine Couch, the couple had three children, Pratt Jr., Cathie and Rebecca.  Lake Catherine in Arkansas is named for his wife. Remmel Park and Pratt Remmel Road in Little Rock are named for Mayor Remmel.

Mayor Remmel died on May 14, 1991.  He and Catherine (who died in 2006) are buried in Oakland Cemetery.

Sculpture Vulture: Baptist Health Healing Garden

On the grounds of Baptist Health, there is a Healing Garden which features a sculpture by Kevin Kresse.  It depicts a person reaching down to help out another person.  Kresse’s abstract style allows the viewer to determine whether they think it is Jesus Christ helping a fallen man, or just a “Good Samaritan” aiding someone in distress.

The garden, which was designed by P. Allen Smith, also includes a cross on one end and a fountain on the other end.  Cathy Mayton, who was longtime executive vice president of Baptist Health envisioned the Healing Garden, which was supported by Russell Harrington, ceo and president of Baptist Health.  The project was made possible by donations from the Estate of Mary Ann Boyd, Mr. and Mrs. Bob Shell, the Stella Boyle Smith Trust, Mr. and Mrs. Sam Winstead, Gertrude Butler, Mr. and Mrs. R.J. Wills and hospital auxiliaries.

Though many people walk past the Healing Garden without noticing it as they are going in or exiting the hospital, it provides a refuge for countless visitors as well as employees.

A few years ago, I was out there and saw a grandfather and his toddler grandson in the garden.  I have no idea whether they were at the hospital for a joyous reason or a sad reason. But whatever the reason, as they were playing in the garden, they were enjoying themselves and having a time alone – just the two of them – in the midst of the hustle and bustle of life.

This space exemplifies the purpose of public art.  It allows people to have their own unique experience which meets the current need of their life. It allows for interaction, quiet reflection, and personal experiences.

Every time I am there I see a variety of ages, races, and backgrounds sharing the space in a meaningful way.  It is through public art, and the arts in general, that we can come together as a society.   Art allows us to be both an individual and part of a greater being at the same time.

Arts & Humanities Month: Wildwood Park’s Harvest! Festival

Wildwood Park for the Arts continues its annual Harvest! Festival today.

It features hayrides to Pumpkin Hill, family crafts, model trains and live music.  There will also be a culinary competition, activities such as sack races and pumpkin push races, and the Arkansas Pickin’ & Fiddlin’ Championship.

The event started yesterday and continues today from12 noon through 6pm.  It is one of Wildwood’s seasonal festivals which take place on the 104 acre campus throughout the year.

Wildwood Park for the Arts seek s to challenge the intellect, engage the imagination and celebrate the human spirit through encounter with nature and a full spectrum of the cultural arts: visual, performing, literary, horticultural, culinary and more.

Gardens on the site include the Richard C. Butler Arboretum, the Gertrude Remmel Butler Gazebo and Gardens (a project of the Chenal Valley Garden Club), the Ruth Allen Dogwood Trail, the Boop Water Garden, the Carl Hunter Wildflower Glenn, the Bruce Theatre Gardens, the Doris Carre Gay Asian Garden (a project of the Pulaski County Master Gardeners),the Campbell Davies Reflection Garden and an 8-acre swan lake. Paved walking trails provide access to all areas of the park.