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Western Arkansas Human Resource Association

WAHRA Chapter History

The Western Arkansas Human Resource Association (WAHRA) (formerly called the Society for Human Resource Management of Western Arkansas (SHRMWA) and Personnel Association of Northwest Arkansas (PANWA) was founded in 1966 as an affiliate of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), formerly called the American Society for Personnel Administration (ASPA 1948-1989). The group was created to encourage the exchange of ideas in Human Resource Management and to promote the growth and development of sound Human Resource practices in business and the community. Our organization strives to encourage continued education, research and the development of the profession as well as the professional.

Past President’s are invited to contribute information and memories from their tenure. If you have any additional information or want to help us with this project, please contact the Chapter President.

Chapter History-Memories From The Past

Submitted by Saylor McHam (President 2020 - 2021)

Submitted by Dr. Kim Gordon (President 2018 - 2019)

My two years flew by quickly thanks to the terrific team of leaders that were on my Board. We moved to a paperless system using an online service for membership records, communications, and meetings management. The River Valley area was late to suffer from the economic issues of 2008 and the loss of Whirlpool and numerous satellite businesses in 2012. The region is slowly rebranding with the addition of three medical colleges and a slew of quality of life businesses.  

A highlight for the chapter was being awarded a Pinnacle Award in November 2019 at the annual Volunteer Leaders Business Meeting in Washington, DC. The award recognized us for our work with 100 Families, a collaboration to move unemployed people with broken families through a training program and into gainful employment. At the end of 2019, our efforts had aided 137 families and reunited a number of children with their biological families. WAHRA donated the $1000 Pinnacle prize to a fund to provide work boots to those in 100 Families who needed them. 

Submitted by Michele Burns (President 2007)

We placed special emphasis on increasing membership numbers and meeting attendance. In 2007 our membership had increased from 126 (2006) to 177 (2007). An increase in membership of 40.5%. Over 50% of our chapter members were also SHRM members!!! In addition, we were acknowledged by SHRM as a Southwest Central Region Membership Superstar Chapter. We also applied for the Pinnacle Award and highlighted our success in membership and meeting attendance.

Our meeting attendance increased 33.33% with an average attendance of 52 (attendance in 2006 was an average of 39). Our goal for the year was an increase of 10%!

We held a new member orientation during the month of April.

We began applying for and receiving HRCI credit for most of our chapter meetings. We had some wonderful speakers like Retired Lt. Colonel Kevin Sweeney and NFL Referee Walt Coleman. Our December meeting was held at Bost, Inc. And for the first time we sold the beautiful poinsettias that we get for our December meeting to go to the SHRM Foundation. With this fundraising project, as well as the grab bag project, and our donation from the State Conference proceeds, we ended up donating $1,112.44 to the SHRM Foundation.

In an effort to get to know each other better, we provided the opportunity to have pictures made and placed photos with names on our website under the Member Only Section.

We held our Fall Supervisor Conference at the University of Arkansas, Fort Smith with Paul Vitale as the keynote speaker who spoke on Inspired Teamwork and Leadership.

We supported the ARSHRM State Conference that was held in Fort Smith and won the award for the highest percentage of members attending the conference! As a result we received our portion of the State Conference proceeds of more than $8,000!

One of the funniest things that happened (although not funny at the time) related to various members traveling back from the National Conference in Las Vegas. After days and days of rain and bad weather in Dallas and days and days of flight delays, chapter members who attended the conference ended up sharing cots, conference shirts (we couldn’t get blankets and were freezing), stories, etc. and ended up sleeping overnight in the DFW airport. In the morning we joined up with the West Central Arkansas Chapter (Hot Springs) who had blankets but no cots. They were unable to fly to Little Rock in the morning and finally decided to head for Fort Smith just to be close to home. Let’s just say by 5:00 a.m. the next morning we were all a sight to see.

Submitted by Jeff Owens (President 2005):

During my tenure we partnered with a local private school and hosted an art contest for Cinco de Mayo to promote diversity.

We entered the new Millennium by changing our logo to a new progressive and more diverse logo. In addition, we developed a stronger web presence where we began posting jobs for the local area.

We obtained a Federal ID number, as one was never on record previously.

Submitted by Pat Kelley (President 2002-2003):

I think the highlight of my years as an officer was continuation of the fall supervisor’s seminars we did, with increased participation each year.

And Pat submitted the notations regarding J.C.’s tenure:

I also remember the outstanding State Conference we had in Fort Smith when J.C. was president, and we set a record for attendance.

Submitted by Tona Schmidt (President 1997):

We met at the Holiday Inn each month, and we did have a mini-conference for area businesses.

The by-laws were rewritten during my tenure which made Committee Chairs Board Members (before the Board just consisted of the Officers), and we did receive a Superior Merit award for 1997.

For the Christmas lunch we had Northside choir members under the direction of Bill Cromer sing for us.

Submitted by Mike Evans (President 1996):

I have a treasure trove of information for you, thanks to my former boss, Bill Corrotto who never threw anything away and knew exactly where it was. I have monthly newsletters for pretty much every month dating back to the PANWA (Personnel Association of (NW) Arkansas days from about 1974 and forward. Also, included are copies of some meeting agendas and conference brochures back when Fort Smith did its own conference (before the state conference came along– starting in about 1981). The first All-Arkansas Personnel Conference was held in Hot Springs in August of 1986.

Our chapter actually received the Superior Merit Award back in 1986 when Evan Breedlove was president — so 1996 was not the first time we received the award, just the first time in quite a while.

Submitted by Merrill Bradley (President 1993):

I served as Vice-President (two years) at the request of Roger Lee (formerly of Rheem). Roger was asked to serve as President by a number of different members in an attempt to “revive” the chapter. We decided to devote our time, money, and energy to things more locally instead of just fulfilling the National SHRM requirements, etc.

Either in his time or mine, we went to lunch meetings rather than dinner meetings, agreed that less money in the bank and better speakers (paid if necessary) were desirable objectives – which dramatically increased attendance.

I believe we started the first seminar for supervision—can’t remember the first year but I think he or I organized the first (held at WCC if I remember correctly).

(Merrill also had some interesting stories about someone bringing beer over the state-line but we will let you ask him about that)

Submitted by Howard Fikes (President 1981-1982/ ASPA Regional District Director 1983-1984)

In 1979 the chapter had the first recipients in the state of the new professional accreditation given by the national association (ASPA). This accreditation was achieved by 5 members by taking the series of tests and received the AEP accreditation. I only remember three of the recipients (Penny Swan from Southwest Times Record, MJ Howard from MidAmerica Industries, and myself from Bekaert Steel. Maybe someone remembers the other two recipients.

In 1981 the chapter held its first 2 day Personnel Conference at the Sheraton Inn in Ft Smith. The chapter stepped out on faith and commitment and invited the National ASPA Executive Director and the National ASPA President to the conference and both attended and spoke at the conference. We had attendees from Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri and other chapters in Arkansas. The conference was a big success in both attendance, number of exhibitors, and profits. Express Personnel Services owned by Paul McGee donated the first Grand Prize which was an all expense paid trip for two to the Cayman Islands. The risk paid off and in 1982 the chapter followed up with another very successful conference and the profits were allowing the chapter to be very aggressive in promoting personnel activities in the area and the state. This continued this each year leading up to the first ever state wide conference in 1986 in Hot Springs. Due to the success of the chapter’s conferences, the Little Rock Chapter (known then as the Arkansas Personnel Chapter) proposed the state wide conference where we would share the responsibility and the profits of the state wide conference. This was successful and continues to be the basis of the state wide conference held each year since.

Preparing for the chapter personnel conferences and promoting the chapter throughout the state took most of my time as President during the two years I was honored to serve this hard working group of professionals. We had some of the best HR professionals that I ever had the pleasure to know and they worked hard to build the chapter on the foundation already established by those who served before us.

©Western Arkansas Human Resource Association, Chapter#187.

All rights reserved. Western Arkansas Human Resource Association is a 501(c)6 non-profit organization. 

P.O. Box 1211, Fort Smith, AR 72902

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