RIP Donna Axum

News outlets are reporting that Arkansas’ first Miss America, Donna Axum, has died.

A native of El Dorado and a student at the University of Arkansas, during her reign as Miss America Miss Axum (or simply Donna as the newspaper headlines referred to her) made four public visits to Little Rock.  As the first Miss Arkansas to become Miss America, the state’s Capitol City was very interested in giving her a warm welcome.

After being crowned on September 7, 1963, Axum’s first official visit to Arkansas was November 1 through 3.  In addition to stops in Hot Springs and El Dorado, she appeared in Little Rock to attend events including an Arkansas Razorback football game at War Memorial Stadium.  Her entourage included the top four runners up from the Miss America pageant.

In February 1964, she made a brief appearance in Little Rock which included a press conference.

Donna Axum spent nearly two weeks in Arkansas in May 1964 attending several pageants as well as spending time with family.  During that visit she appeared in Little Rock twice.  The second time she headlined a concert with the Arkansas Symphony (not related to the current Arkansas Symphony Orchestra) and the Arkansas Choral Society. It took place at Robinson Auditorium.

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Little Rock Look Back: Hogs vs. Ole Miss in Little Rock

It appears that the first meeting of the Arkansas Razorbacks and Ole Miss Rebels in Little Rock was in 1913. That would have been at Kavanaugh Field (now the site of Quigley Stadium on the campus of Little Rock Central High School).

On November 15, 1913, the two squads faced off in only the second gridiron match between the schools. The Razorbacks were on the losing end of a 21 to 10 score.

The next year, on November 14, 1914, the two teams again met in Little Rock. Because of the use of an ineligible player by Ole Miss, the Razorbacks count this as a victory by a score of 1 to 0 due to a forfeit.  Ole Miss, to this day, disputes that fact and counts it as a 13 to 7 win over the Hogs.  Due to the dispute, the teams would not meet again until 1924.

On October 25, 1924, the Hogs and Rebels resumed their football face off and returned to Little Rock.  That day, the Razorbacks (under third year coach Francis Schmidt) dominated Ole Miss by a score of 20 to 0.  This would be the final time the two teams would meet in Little Rock for over two decades.  Most of their games would be in Memphis during the intervening years.

The series returned to Little Rock on October 25, 1952.  This would be the first time the two teams would meet in War Memorial Stadium. It was in the final of Otis Douglas’ three unremarkable seasons as coach of the team.  The score reflected the disappointments of his tenure as the Razorbacks managed only 7 points to Ole Miss’s 34.

When the Hogs returned to War Memorial two years later to face Ole Miss (October 23, 1954), both teams were nationally ranked. Arkansas was number 7 and Ole Miss was number 5.  The result was a 6-0 upset of Ole Miss on a 66-yard touchdown pass from Bob Benson to Preston Carpenter known to Razorback fans as the “Powder River Play.” After the season, coach Bowden Wyatt left to coach at his alma mater, Tennessee.

In his three seasons as coach, Jack Mitchell led the Razorbacks against Ole Miss in Little Rock only once. But that single entry on October 27, 1956, was a Hog victory. Ole Miss was again held scoreless while the Hogs ended the game with fourteen points. Prior to the game, Ole Miss had been undefeated. (The Razorbacks also would hand the Rebels their first defeat of the season the following year in Jackson.)

On October 25, 1958, first year coach Frank Broyles would lead his Razorbacks into Little Rock to face 6th ranked Ole Miss. It was Broyles’s second appearance in Little Rock following a 12 to zero defeat by Baylor in his inaugural Hogs game. While the Razorbacks lost the game to Ole Miss by a score of 14 to 12, it was in this game that a Broyles-led team scored its first points in Little Rock.

October 22, 1960, saw Broyles and the Hogs return to Little Rock to face Ole Miss.  This time both teams were nationally ranked. Arkansas was 14 and Ole Miss was 2.  After a defensive slugfest, Ole Miss escaped with a 10 to 7 win over the Hogs.  Though Arkansas lost, they actually rose in the national polls to number 12 the following week.

It would be over twenty years before the two teams would again play each other in Little Rock.  On September 25, 1982, the 9th ranked Razorbacks met the unranked Rebels.  This would be coach Lou Holtz’s penultimate season as head coach for the Hogs, though no one knew it at the time. (Except possibly athletic director Frank Broyles.)  The team that season was captained by Gary Anderson, Jessie Clark, Richard Richardson, and Billy Ray Smith.  Arkansas escaped with a 14 to 12 victory. Perhaps because of the closeness of the game, the team fell to number 10 for the following week.

Ken Hatfield’s first game as Hogs head coach was in Little Rock against Ole Miss.  The date was September 15, 1984.  The outcome of the game was a tie.  Both sides scored fourteen points. His other two Little Rock entries that first season would be wins (Texas Tech 24-0, Rice 28-6).

Two years later (September 13, 1986), Hatfield’s Hogs again started the season in Little Rock against Ole Miss. This time Arkansas was ranked 18 while Mississippi was unranked.  The Hogs team (captained by James Shibest, Derrick Thomas, and Theo Young) dominated Ole Miss and ended the game with a final score of 21 to 0.

September 17, 1988 was the next time the two teams met in Little Rock.  That year Hatfield’s team was captained by Steve Atwater, John Bland, Odis Lloyd, and Kerry Owens.  Both teams were unranked for this game.  The Hogs again scored 21 points, but this time Ole Miss scored 13.  While not as convincing a win as two years prior, it was still a victory for the Hogs.

In 1990, new head coach Jack Crowe led the Razorbacks to War Memorial to face Ole Miss.  The Hogs were ranked 13 while Ole Miss was unranked.  Arkansas lost by a score of 21 to 17. The team would fall ten spots in the polls and be out of the polls for the remainder of the season shortly thereafter.

Interim head coach Joe Kines did not have much better luck against Ole Miss in Little Rock.  On October 17, 1992, the two teams met for the first time at War Memorial Stadium as conference foes. This was the first season after the Hogs had made the jump to the SEC.  Ole Miss left win a 17 to 3 win.

With the conference switch, the scheduling of Hogs vs. Rebels games entered a new phase. For the next twenty years the teams would alternate between Fayetteville and Oxford MS for games.  Hogs coaches Danny Ford, Houston Nutt, and Bobby Petrino never coached a Razorback team against Ole Miss in Little Rock.  (Though all coached plenty of games against Ole Miss and in Little Rock.)

When the 2012 season was announced, it looked like Bobby Petrino would coach the Hogs against Ole Miss in Little Rock. However due to an off-season incident, by the time the October 27, 2012, game came around, the Razorbacks were coached by John L. Smith.  In what would be his only season leading the team, Arkansas lost the Little Rock game to Ole Miss by a score of 30 to 27.  That is the most recent meeting of the teams in Little Rock until 2018.

Over all the Razorbacks lead the series against the Rebels by a tally of 36 to 27 to 1.  In Little Rock, the record is 7 wins, 7 losses, and 1 tie.

Little Rock Look Back: War Memorial Stadium opens on Sept 18, 1948

On September 18, 1948, the Arkansas Razorbacks took on Abilene Christian and won the game by a score of 40 to 6.  It was the first game of the season, and the Razorbacks went into the game ranked #13. They maintained that ranking for four weeks before falling out of national standings.  The team ended up with a season record of five wins and five losses. Playing four of their games at War Memorial that season, they were two and two in Little Rock. They were one and two in Fayetteville and amassed a 2-1 record on the road.

Dedication ceremony in 1948. Photo courtesy of the War Memorial Stadium Commission.

Dedication ceremony in 1948. Photo courtesy of the War Memorial Stadium Commission.

Prior to the game, the stadium was dedicated to the veterans of World War I and World War II in a ceremony led by former Razorback standout and Medal of Honor recipient Maurice “Footsie” Britt.

Though Britt would later be known for entering politics and becoming Arkansas’ first Republican Lieutenant Governor, in his college days he was known statewide as an outstanding Razorback football and baseball athlete.  During World War II, his bravery and courage allowed him to become first person in American history to earn all the army’s top awards, including the Medal of Honor, while fighting in a single war.

Also participating in the opening ceremony were a mass of high school marching bands from across the state. Reports indicate up to forty bands were on the field to play the National Anthem as part of the event.

The construction of the stadium had been the brainchild of Razorback coach John Barnhill and Arkansas Secretary of State C. G. “Crip” Hall.  The duo shepherded it through the 1947 Arkansas General Assembly.   As a student at the University, Hall had been a team manager for the Razorbacks and had remained a longtime, active supporter.

In August of 1947, Little Rock was chosen as the location over Hot Springs and North Little Rock. West Memphis had abandoned its bid when it was unable to secure the necessary financial pledges.  Construction started in 1947 and continued up until opening day.  On the day of the game, newspaper photos showed heavy equipment grading the parking lot prior to paving.

The park in which the stadium sat would be renamed War Memorial Park in June 1949 and dedicated by President Harry S. Truman in a nationally-broadcast ceremony from War Memorial Stadium.

Little Rock Look Back: Arkansas’ first Miss America comes to Little Rock

Tonight a new Miss America will be crowned.  The competition has had a tumultuous year with many changes behind the scenes as well as alterations to the event format.

It seems a good time to hearken back to a earlier, simpler time when Donna Axum first brought the Miss America title to Arkansas.

A native of El Dorado and a student at the University of Arkansas, during her reign as Miss America Miss Axum (or simply Donna as the newspaper headlines referred to her) made four public visits to Little Rock.  As the first Miss Arkansas to become Miss America, the state’s Capitol City was very interested in giving her a warm welcome.

After being crowned on September 7, 1963, Axum’s first official visit to Arkansas was November 1 through 3.  In addition to stops in Hot Springs and El Dorado, she appeared in Little Rock to attend events including an Arkansas Razorback football game at War Memorial Stadium.  Her entourage included the top four runners up from the Miss America pageant.

In February 1964, she made a brief appearance in Little Rock which included a press conference.

Donna Axum spent nearly two weeks in Arkansas in May 1964 attending several pageants as well as spending time with family.  During that visit she appeared in Little Rock twice.  The second time she headlined a concert with the Arkansas Symphony (not related to the current Arkansas Symphony Orchestra) and the Arkansas Choral Society. It took place at Robinson Auditorium.

Little Rock chosen as site for War Memorial Stadium on August 9, 1947

As has been noted in a previous post, War Memorial Stadium was approved by the Arkansas General Assembly in March 1947.  The work then began on the finalization of the location.

Four cities were in the running:  Little Rock, North Little Rock, Hot Springs, and West Memphis.  Each of the cities was required to donate the land for the stadium, provide parking for it, and sell local subscriptions equivalent to $250,000 to raise money for it as well.

On May 19, 1947, the City Council approved Resolution 1,747 to donate the land for the stadium in Fair Park if Little Rock was selected.  This was not the first mention of a stadium in City records.  In March of 1947, the City Council had set aside land in Fair Park to use for a playground — with the stipulation that if it was eventually needed for a stadium, it would be relinquished for that purpose.

On August 9, 1947, the War Memorial Stadium Commission met in the House Chambers of the Arkansas State Capitol to select the location for the stadium.  West Memphis dropped out prior to the meeting; they had not been able to raise the sufficient local funds.  That left the three remaining cities.  (Cities had until June 24 to file paperwork expressing their interest in applying and were to submit their proposals by August 1.)

Instead of meeting in a usual committee room, the meeting was held in the House Chambers of the State Capitol.  The location for the meeting had been set because a large crowd was expected.  And the attendance did not disappoint.  City government and business leaders from all three cities turned out in full force.

The members of the Commission were Ed Keith, Chairman, Magnolia; Gordon Campbell, Secretary, Little Rock; Ed Gordon, Morrilton; Senator Lee Reaves, Hermitage; Senator Guy “Mutt” Jones, Conway; Dallas Dalton, Arkadelphia; Judge Maupin Cummings, Fayetteville; Dave Laney, Osceola; and Leslie Speck, Frenchman’s Bayou.

For several hours the nine heard proposals from the three cities.  Little Rock’s location was in Fair Park, North Little Rock’s was near its high school, and Hot Springs was on land next to Highway 70 approximately 2.5 miles from downtown.  Finally it was time to vote.  After two rounds of voting, Little Rock was declared the winner on a weighted ballot.

The north shore’s leadership was magnanimous in their defeat.  Hot Springs, however, was far from it.  In the coming days they filed suit against the Stadium Commission alleging flaws in Little Rock’s proposal as well as improprieties by members of the commission.  A preliminary decision sided with the state.  Ultimately, Hot Springs’ relatively new mayor Earl T. Ricks opted to drop the suit.  The Spa City’s business community was concerned that fighting the location might delay construction – and could negatively impact legislative and tourists’ feelings toward Hot Springs.  (And it was entirely possible that the State Police could have been used to “discover” that there was gambling going on in Hot Springs.)

Though ground was broken later in the year, by December 1947, the stadium was still $250,000 shy of funding for the construction.  This was after the state and Little Rock had previously both upped their commitments to $500,000 each.

The building did eventually open on schedule in conjunction with the 1948 Arkansas Razorback football games.

As for Mayor Ricks of Hot Springs, he moved to Little Rock to serve as Adjutant General of the Arkansas National Guard during the governorship of Sid McMath.  He later held leadership positions in the National Guard Bureau in Washington DC.  He died in 1954 at the age of 45.  Among the ways he was memorialized was a National Guard armory in Little Rock, which stood in the shadow of War Memorial Stadium.

Little Rock Look Back: President Truman dedicates War Memorial PARK in a national address

Though President Truman was in Little Rock for a military reunion, he did conduct some official business while here.  In his Presidential role, he spoke at the dedication of War Memorial Park on June 11, 1949.

(It is sometimes erroneously reported that he dedicated the stadium.  That took place in September 1948, at a Razorback game with former Razorback player and future Lt. Governor Maurice “Footsie” Britt delivering the keynote.)

President Truman’s address took place inside War Memorial Stadium at 2:30 p.m..   It was not a brief dedicatory speech, but instead was a lengthy treatise on foreign affairs.  The address was carried live on nationwide radio (though some radio networks opted to broadcast it later).  The text of his address can be found here.

The stadium was by no means full.  A major reason for that was that many thousand individuals had turned out to witness a parade downtown in which President Truman marched along side Governor Sid McMath.  The parade was in conjunction with the military reunion.  Given the June heat in Arkansas (in which parade spectators had been standing for several hours) and the difficulty of getting from the parade route to the stadium, most (if not all) parade spectators opted for skipping the presidential address.

Before the parade, President Truman (who was still riding high from his upset victory in the 1948 election) was asked by a local reporter if he would run in 1952. He refused to answer stating that the national media would think he had planted the question with a local member of the press.

Prior to the name War Memorial Park, the land had been known as Fair Park.  It was a former location of the State Fair.  In the 1930s, it had briefly been known as Overman Park in honor of then-Mayor R. E. Overman.  The City Council had named it for him as a tribute to his work on a variety of projects. When he displeased them, they reversed their decision and renamed it to Fair Park.

Little Rock Look Back: War Memorial Stadium approved

WMS Hall BarnhillOn March 18, 1947, Governor Ben T. Laney signed the bill into law which authorized the construction of War Memorial Stadium.

The plans for the stadium were the brainchild of Arkansas Secretary of State C.G. “Crip” Hall and University of Arkansas Athletic Director John Barnhill.

Apparently the Southwest Conference was threatening to kick Arkansas out because of an inadequate football facility. Since the University did not have the funds to build a new one on its campus, Barnhill and Hall decided that the state should build one. Many other states were building War Memorial facilities of a variety of natures. The duo decided that the new football facility could be a War Memorial Stadium to pay tribute to the men who died in the recently concluded World War II.  While the stadium was touted as being of use to all colleges in the state and a variety of other types of activities, it was very much designed to be a home for the Arkansas Razorbacks.

Getting the stadium through the Arkansas General Assembly was not easy.  The bill to create the stadium commission sailed through both houses. But even some who voted for it said they would oppose any funding bills.  When time came to vote for the funding, the bill fell far short of the three-quarters vote that was needed in the House for an appropriation bill.

WWII veterans were on both sides of the issue.  Some felt it was an appropriate way to honor those who died.  Others felt it was a gimmick to get the stadium approved.  Some of the opponents felt that a new state hospital for UAMS would be the more appropriate way to honor those who died during the war.  The debates were often heated and personal.

Overnight a new bill was created. It would pay for the stadium through the issuing of bonds. In addition to the state issuing bonds, any city which wished to bid for it would have to put up money for it as well as provide land.  This new bill would require only 51 votes to pass the House.  It was able to pass that threshold.  The Senate made a few amendments (mostly dealing with the composition of the stadium commission and the amount of dollars that the host city had to pledge).  Finally the House agreed to the Senate amendments and it went to Governor Laney.

The next hurdle for the stadium was choosing a location. That process would occupy stadium proponents throughout the spring and summer of 1947.