The iconic forward-thinking First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “No woman can really reach a place of recognition unless she has actually earned that place.”
Photography by Lily Darragh / Shot on location at The Studios at Bespoke Media, Little Rock
Each March, AY recognizes the contributions, talents and tenacity of several of Arkansas’ trailblazing women. It’s our pleasure to bring attention to these women who have certainly earned their places in our state’s rich history.
C O N S T R U C T I O N
Veronica Davis is owner of Ridgeline Construction, LLC. She was born in Helena-West Helena, the community in which her business is based. Davis earned a bachelor’s degree in social work from Arkansas State University, while working as a mental health paraprofessional.
She serves the community as a mentor for Beacon of Hope, a teen spirit program for underserved girls, ages 12 to 19. She also helps meet the needs of seniors who suffer from food scarcity and freely serves those in assisted-living facilities.
Hometown: Helena-West Helena.
Childhood Nickname: May.
What attracted you to your career? In my case, it’s who: my husband.
First big break: When we won our first contract with the city of Helena-West Helena.
One word that describes you: Ambitious.
Hobby: Reading to the elderly.
Volunteer Work: I enjoy mentoring teen girls; building ramps to ensure wheelchair accessibility; and preparing and donating food baskets for the elderly.
What you love about what you do: I enjoy taking on jobs, such as street paving, filling potholes and sidewalk repairs, improvements that enhance the beauty of my community.
What is the accomplishment you are most proud of? Becoming an entrepreneur.
What’s the one fact about you that others would be surprised to know? I am one step away from completing my training as a minister.
As a child, I spent hours … playing with dolls.
What is left on your bucket list? My goal is to establish a private foundation for runaway teens.
P H I L A N T H R O P Y
Karen Baker Minkel
Home Region Program Director
Walton Family Foundation
Karen Baker Minkel serves as home region program director for the Walton Family Foundation. She previously worked for the City of Fayetteville as director of strategic planning and internal consulting. Minkel also worked in the public sector consulting in London and served as a Teach for America corps member in Harlem.
She is an alumna of Northwestern University and earned a master’s degree in public policy from the University of California at Berkeley. She and husband Justin live in Fayetteville and have two children.
Hometown: Selma, California.
What attracted you to your career? At their core, good government and philanthropy ask: How do you do the most good with the resources you have available? I minored in economics as an undergraduate, but it wasn’t until graduate school that I began applying economic models and theory to the challenge of maximizing social good. This approach gave me a compelling way to make sense of the world.
First job: Hostess at a Cattlemen’s Steakhouse.
First big break: One of my childhood friends recently reminded me that in eighth grade I said I wanted to work for a foundation, which I’d completely forgotten. Working at the Walton Family Foundation is a realization of this early dream and has opened doors I couldn’t possibly have imagined.
One word that describes you: Persistent.
Volunteer Work: I served on the boards of the Washington County League of Women Voters and the University of Arkansas Technology Development Foundation.
What you love about what you do: I have the opportunity to meet with talented leaders, from Arkansas and across the country, whose ideas and expertise help improve the quality of life for people in Northwest Arkansas and the Delta.
What is the accomplishment you are most proud of: One of my first projects as a long-range planner with the City of Fayetteville was to manage the making and adoption of City Plan 2025, the city’s comprehensive land use plan. We had record public participation, the plan was adopted unanimously, and the project garnered national recognition when it received an award from the Congress for the New Urbanism. Land use decisions profoundly affect for generations to come whether neighborhoods and cities become desirable places to live, work and play. I had the chance to engage with countless community members during the public process, capture their aspirations and participate in the development of a framework that continues to shape land use decisions today.
What’s the one fact about you that others would be surprised to know? I love Latin dancing.
As a child, I spent hours … reading.
Personal motto: My graduate school’s motto was “Speaking truth to power,” an intended inspiration for public policy students. Our commencement speaker, though, talked about the greater challenge and importance of “speaking truth to yourself,” which continues to resonate with me.
What is left on your bucket list? So many things … I’d like to live abroad for an extended period of time, learn how to play the cello, and hike in Patagonia and along the Cinque Terre.
H I S T O R Y
Vanessa Norton McKuin
North Little Rock
Vanessa Norton McKuin has more than a decade of experience in historic preservation, nonprofit administration and arts administration. Before joining Preserve Arkansas in 2008, McKuin managed programs and operations at the New York Preservation Archive Project, a nonprofit historic preservation group in New York City. She also previously served as an assistant registrar at the Old State House Museum. McKuin earned a bachelor’s degree in art from Hendrix College and a master’s degree in historic preservation from Pratt Institute in New York City.
Childhood Nickname: My family and close friends call me V.
What attracted you to your career? I’ve always been intrigued by art, architecture, artifacts and other physical reflections of culture, past and present. My parents acquired my great great-grandparents’ homestead in Newton County when I was a freshman in college, and we pursued listing it on the National Register of Historic Places. That experience made me realize how important it is to save the places that reflect Arkansas’ history and culture. That planted the seed, but I came to realize that preservation of important places doesn’t just happen by accident. It takes champions, it takes advocates and public policies and funding and financial incentives to ensure that history is known and that historic places are appreciated and preserved for future generations.
First job: While in high school, I worked for my parents’ art conservation business, Norton Arts, Inc. At the time I really wanted to work at Sonic with my friends, but looking back I realize it was a privilege to have the opportunity to work in the family business.
First big break: While I was in graduate school at Pratt, I got an internship with the New York Preservation Archive Project. One of my projects was to assist the founder and board chair research a book about New York City’s Landmarks Law, Preserving New York, Winning the Right to Protect A City’s Landmarks. It was a great learning experience, and it also opened a professional door for me. I was eventually hired full-time to run the organization — my first job in preservation.
One word that describes you: Empathetic.
Hobby: Cooking. It relaxes me and fulfills my need to create things with my hands and to put things in order. I also love being outdoors and on the Buffalo River. That place is part of my DNA.
Volunteer Work: I stay pretty busy as the president of my neighborhood association, the Central High Neighborhood, Inc. CHNI is currently partnering with Tree Streets and I’ve really enjoyed working with neighbors and volunteers to plant trees in the neighborhood. QQA is also an organization that I help out whenever I can. I also serve on the board of the 1836 Club, the young professionals board of the Old State House Museum, and on the steering committee of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Statewide and Local Partners.
What you love about what you do: Nothing warms my heart more than seeing an old structure get a new lease on life, whether it’s a once-vacant house in a historic neighborhood or an active courthouse that gets needed repairs, a steel truss bridge from the 1890s or a Moderne gas station from the 1950s. I love seeing how rehabilitating those places has great meaning to individuals, but I also love knowing that rehabilitation provides important value for a community—like construction jobs, increased property value for the owner, increased tax revenue for the city, county and state. Investment in historic places provides such a large return—financially and culturally. If I can play even a small part in encouraging preservation of places that define and bolster our communities, that makes me happy.
What is the accomplishment you are most proud of? My husband and I worked for five years rehabilitating a c. 1901 house in the Central High Neighborhood. We worked weekends on burning hot days and bitterly cold days. In the end we hired Donna Thomas and Jennifer Carman to finish up the project — best decision we made. But I’m still very proud of the work that we did and the lessons that we learned. We have an intimate knowledge and deep appreciation of our home that you don’t get without peeking behind the plaster and under the floorboards.
What’s the one fact about you that others would be surprised to know? I lived in a hand-built hippie house in Snowball between my early childhood and high school years. I spent grades 4 through 8 in New York City and attended an international school. It was a formative experience that exposed me to so many great cultures, gave me a sense of independence and, of course, a love for that city.
As a child, I spent hours … using my imagination. I am an only child, so I entertained myself a lot, mainly by drawing and exploring in the woods by our house.
Personal motto: Be kind.
What is left on your bucket list? International travel — my dream vacation is to take cooking lessons and travel by bike through Italy. And to see several landmark buildings rehabilitated.
L A W
Lori L. Burrows
Attorney, Vice President and General Counsel
Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corporation
and Arkansas Electric Cooperatives, Inc.
Lori Burrows serves as vice president and general counsel for the Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corporation and Arkansas Electric Cooperatives, Inc. She formerly served as assistant attorney general for the Arkansas Attorney General.
Burrows graduated from the University of Central Arkansas and the William H. Bowen School of Law. She is a member of the Leadership Greater Little Rock Class XXX; the Arkansas Association of Women Lawyers; the Bowen School of Law and UCA Alumni Associations and several bar associations.
Hometown: Benton, but I graduated from the Bryant School District.
Childhood Nickname: My mom called me Lori Lou, but Lou isn’t my middle name.
What attracted you to your career? The opportunity to improve the quality of life for rural Arkansans by assisting in ensuring they have access to reliable and affordable electricity.
First job: Cashier at the McDonald’s in Bryant.
First big break: When my ninth grade civics teacher, Mrs. Pennington, pulled me aside and said, “You have natural-born leadership talents. Use those to help others.” Then, she went above and beyond to teach me how to do so.
One word that describes you: Committed.
Hobby: Crafting, painting and reading.
Volunteer Work: I am involved as a reading tutor at Baseline Elementary School and volunteer with the Arkansas FoodBank, Tree Streets and Arkansas Women In Power, in addition to other legal and energy community service causes.
What you love about what you do: Spending time in the Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas service territories interacting with their democratically elected board members, employees and the members of the local electric cooperatives.
What is the accomplishment you are most proud of? I have been honored to help form Arkansas Women In Power, a nonprofit organization dedicated to recruiting, maintaining and promoting women in the Arkansas energy industry. I also completed a full tour as a Peace Corps volunteer as a nonprofit developer before law school. However, my two daughters make me proudest.
What’s the one fact about you that others would be surprised to know? Despite what my husband thinks, I’m good at math.
As a child, I spent hours … reading, dancing and dreaming about being on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Personal motto: You’ll never regret taking the high road.
What is left on your bucket list? Watching my girls become who they’re meant to be.
B U S I N E S S
Everett Buick GMC; Everett Chevrolet; Everett Toyota; Everett Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram; and Infiniti Little Rock
Susie Everett, husband Dwight and their sons-in-law own seven automobile dealerships in Arkansas and Texas. She earned a nursing degree from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences; served as a Benton school nurse and a registered nurse practitioner with Benton Health Clinic; and helped establish Home Health at Saline Memorial Hospital.
She’s the proud grandmother of six, an active member of First Baptist Church in Benton and serves the community through the dealerships and as vice president of the Christian Community Care Clinic board.
Childhood Nickname: Susie; my real name is Joy Susan.
What attracted you to your career? I simply wanted to support and help my husband with our first automotive dealership.
First job: Wrapping Christmas packages for Gingles Department Store in downtown Benton.
First big break: My husband and I stepping out in faith to purchase the (Pontiac) Buick GMC in Bryant in 2006.
One word that describes you: Compassionate.
Hobby: Exercise; I do Crossfit three times per week and Fuse Fit Boot Camp twice weekly.
Volunteer Work: I serve Christian Community Care Clinic in Saline County as a volunteer nurse and vice president of the board; Saline Memorial Health Foundation as a board member; the American Cancer Society Relay for Life; Benton and Bryant chamber ambassador; and on the Ouachita Baptist University Board of Trustees.
What you love about what you do: I love the fact that we are changing the perception of the car business as we conduct business with trustworthiness and integrity. I also love meeting customers and hearing their stories and the opportunities I have been given to speak to thousands of people and share my testimony.
What is the accomplishment you are most proud of? Having the opportunity to give back and make a difference in our community through the dealerships, and helping found the Christian Community Care Clinic. Also as a school nurse, I was once told a student with spina bifida would never learn to catheterize herself. With perseverance, patience, and determination she learned this skill giving her confidence and independence.
What’s the one fact about you that others would be surprised to know? As healthy as I appear to be, I am a two-time cancer survivor!
As a child, I spent hours … reading! I loved when the mobile library unit came to our small country school in Oklahoma.
Personal motto: Love the Lord my God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and treat others as you want to be treated.
What is left on your bucket list? So many things! I want to travel to landmarks in the United States: Mount Rushmore, Napa Valley, the East Coast … anywhere to whitewater raft; to take my granddaughters to New York City; to live on a farm with lots of dogs and ride horses; and to always seek to influence one more person to trust Christ as their Lord and Savior.
N O N P R O F I T
Audrey Monique Coleman
Director of Communications
Arkansas Regional Organ Recovery Agency (ARORA)
Audrey Monique Coleman has for nearly 15 years worked in public health, primarily focused on organ and tissue donation. She has been a senior manager at ARORA for 12 years.
She formerly served as a program manager in the women’s healthcare clinic for Planned Parenthood of Arkansas & Eastern Oklahoma and as the executive director of Catherine’s House. A former editor with the Arkansas Writers’ Project, she earned degrees in journalism and public administration from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
Hometown: Little Rock, but I was born in Amarillo, Texas.
Childhood Nickname: My dad called me Tubby, and my sister called me Neekie.
What attracted you to your career? I love to write, and I also am attracted to cause-oriented work. Working for a nonprofit organization in communications is the perfect marriage of the two.
First job: Working summer college breaks at Southwestern Bell Telephone Company.
First big break: Not long after I graduated from journalism school, I was hired by Olivia Farrell to work at the Arkansas Writers’ Project as editor of Today magazine.
One word that describes you: Resourceful.
Hobby: Playing the cello, crafting, cooking and reading.
Volunteer Work: I do some communications volunteer work with the American Red Cross.
What you love about what you do: I have the opportunity to utilize so many skills in my job: writing, public speaking, event planning … and that’s in addition to having the pleasure of managing a superb staff of communications professionals.
What is the accomplishment you are most proud of? I have professional and personal endeavors of which I am pleased to have accomplished. But what I am most proud of is being able to — in small, but meaningful ways — continue the spirit and intention of the civil rights movement of my formative years, as modeled by my parents. They were both quite active in the movement and helped me understand the value of “different” and the significance of social justice.
What’s the one fact about you that others would be surprised to know? I love nostalgia — classic movies, the vocalists of the ‘40s to the ‘70s, old-time radio, vintage fashion and home design.
As a child, I spent hours … playing with my dolls and annoying my big sister!
Personal motto: “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” – Friedrich Nietzsche
What is left on your bucket list? So much travel!
E D U C A T I O N
Deborah Baldwin, Ph.D
Collections and Archives, University of Arkansas at Little Rock
Deborah Baldwin earned a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. She joined the faculty of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR) in 1980 and has served the university in numerous ways, including curriculum development and working with University History Institute. She has a great interest in Mexican history and culture and Latin American, Chicano and women’s history and is author of the book Protestants and the Mexican Revolution: Missionaries, Minister, and Social Change. Baldwin is also the state coordinator for the Open Door Student Exchange Program.
What attracted you to your career? I was curious about why people act as they do and why events occur. History seemed to play a key role in any explanation. Teaching history classes is still my first love.
First job: Cashier at Lerner’s Department Store.
First big break: I was hired by UALR into an assistant professor position to teach Mexican and Latin American history during a very difficult time for higher education employment. I thought that I would stay for two years!
One word that describes you: Optimistic.
Hobby: Cooking Mexican dishes.
Volunteer Work: I am an Odyssey of the Mind high school team coach for Mount St. Mary Academy (I have taken 15 teams to an international competition). I have served on the MacArthur Museum and Arkansas Military History Commission, the Arkansas Humanities Council Board and the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute Board.
What you love about what you do: Seeing “the light bulb come on” for students.
What is the accomplishment you are most proud of? The development of the UALR Center for Arkansas History and Culture in the RiverMarket District. UALR has expanded its collection of historical material, attracted more than $500,000 of external funding during the last year and established creative programming including concerts, radio programs, workshops and community-partnered oral-history projects for adults and children.
What’s the one fact about you that others would be surprised to know? I like to sew.
As a child, I spent hours … swimming! I was a competitive swimmer from age 8 until college; I practiced three times per day.
Personal motto: Make things happen, even when it is difficult.
What is left on your bucket list? Travel to Cuba.
M E D I A
Times-Herald and Courier-Index
Weston Lewey is the third generation to own and work at the Times-Herald Publishing Co., Inc., which serves St. Francis County. She worked in the editorial, advertising and accounting departments before become publisher of the Times-Herald, one of two family-owned daily newspapers in Arkansas. In 1989, her family purchased the Courier-Index in Lee County. They also own the East Arkansas Advertiser. Lewey also owns a gift boutique, Chez Weenie, and is a consultant with Rodan + Fields. She is a member of the Arkansas State Parks, Recreation and Travel; the UofA Sam M. Walton College of Business Dean’s Alumni Advisory Board and others.
Hometown: Forrest City.
Childhood Nickname: Tut.
What attracted you to your career? My family needed me, and I needed a job!
First job: Delivering flowers for a local florist when I was 16.
First big break: I am so thankful to serve on the State Parks, Recreation and Travel Commission. I’ve loved this state my entire life, and I also love to travel. To be able to promote the beauty of our state and share all that it has to offer seems completely natural. I have met many wonderful people as a result, and I hope I am a good ambassador for Arkansas. It has truly been one of the best things with which I have ever been associated.
One word that describes you: Here are three: decisive, driven and determined.
Hobby: My other two jobs are my hobbies!
What you love about what you do: I enjoy the role that community newspapers play in the areas in which they serve. I believe deeply in the power of the press, especially our duty to report the activities of our government at all levels. Newspapers are a permanent record of our history, and without them, our history becomes murky. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” I don’t think anyone wants that!
What is the accomplishment you are most proud of? Raising my beautiful and intelligent daughter, who, by the way, is getting married this month!
What’s the one fact about you that others would be surprised to know? I am an introvert at heart. Everyone who knows me knows that I am very energetic and thrive on being around people and interacting with others, but I must have my “down time” at home to recharge my batteries.
As a child, I spent hours … playing outdoors in the woods, ridges and ravines on Crowley’s Ridge. It was, and still is, a beautiful place to grow up.
Personal motto: What’s past is prologue.
What is left on your bucket list? Too many things to mention … my bucket is full; when one thing is accomplished, another takes its place. One of my long-standing dreams is to go on a photo safari in Africa.
G O V E R N M E N T
Elizabeth Saxman Underwood, Ph.D.
Associate Vice Chancellor
Government and University Relations | University of Arkansas — Fort Smith
Elizabeth Saxman Underwood serves as associate vice chancellor, Government and University Relations at the University of Arkansas — Fort Smith. She is responsible for government relations encompassing federal, state and local policy. She also oversees the offices of Public Information and Marketing and Communications, co-teaches the Chancellor’s Leadership Class and is the advisor for American Democracy Project. Underwood earned her doctorate in public policy from the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Arkansas.
Childhood Nickname: Liz.
What attracted you to your career? My career path has been a combination of passion and serendipity. I have always wanted to work in education, and that has evolved to include government relations. I believe that higher education in our nation is on the brink of a paradigm shift, and government policy will shape the future changes.
First job: Lifeguard.
First big break: Several years ago, I was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship. I traveled with a team of American Colleagues to study higher education in Germany, Poland and France. This experience was transformative. Walking through the Reichstag (German parliament building) in Berlin, I gained a global understanding of policy and how it transcends through government and intersects with higher education.
One word that describes you: Adventurous.
Hobby: Whitewater kayaking. It has become a metaphorical experience for me, as there are many analogies that compare the sport to my career. Paddling down rivers I have to pick my lines and navigate the river choosing the safest routes (avoiding boulders and holes/ turbulent water that can flip the boat). Navigating the halls of the Arkansas Statehouse I determine what policies are going to be most beneficial for education and which can have negative outcomes (unfunded mandates and unintended consequences). Often the experience is incredibly positive; the river is scenic, and there are friendly waves on which I can surf and play. Likewise, government relations is enjoyable and provides opportunity to shape legislation that will create positive outcomes. I kayak best when I’m assertive and “lean in,” which requires confidence in an often intimidating arena.
Volunteer Work: I am on the board of directors with Medical Supplies Network, Inc. and with the Rotary Club of Fort Smith.
What you love about what you do: The personable aspect of working with people, especially when it involves connecting students with legislators and government officials, providing mentoring and learning experiences to students.
What is the accomplishment you are most proud of? Working on my dissertation at the Library of Congress. This is when I realized that my doctorate was truly obtainable, and that I can overcome major obstacles by thinking creatively.
What’s the one fact about you that others would be surprised to know? I have camped on a glacier in Alaska.
As a child, I spent hours … swimming laps; I was on competitive swim teams for most of my youth. This taught me that achievements come with perseverance, dedication and hard work.
Personal motto: Pack light, and be resourceful.
What is left on your bucket list? Delaware, No. 49 and Vermont, No. 50.
T O U R I S M
Cultural Affairs Manager
Visit Hot Springs
Mary Neilson has a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of the Ozarks and serves as cultural affairs manager for Visit Hot Springs and special events manager, overseeing The Stueart Pennington Running of the Tubs and the award-winning World’s Shortest St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Neilson is secretary of the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival and executive director of the Hot Springs Sister City Program — under her direction, the city received the 2012 Best Overall Program from Sister Cities International.
Hometown: Hot Springs, but I was born and reared in Hartman.
What attracted you to your career? I love to work with people, and my career allows me many incredible opportunities to do that. I have the opportunity to form friendships with people from around the world through the Sister City Program as well as celebrate the arts and culture of Hot Springs by sharing and promoting our arts community to visitors.
First job: At 15, I worked as a clerk at a motel and restaurant.
First big break: Life is full of big breaks when you look for them. My last “first” big break was a friend telling me about the job coordinating Hot Springs Sister City Program seven years ago.
One word that describes you: Motivated.
Hobby: I really don’t have time for hobbies. I love my job, my family and my dear friends, and I stay busy with all of them. I attend gallery walks and help plan and attend many great festivals and events in Hot Springs. I love watching my daughter play basketball and listening to my son practice his trombone for band. Of course, enjoying a beautiful Lake Hamilton sunset from the deck really can’t be beat.
Volunteer Work: My job touches so many facets of volunteerism; I work with Hot Springs Area Cultural Alliance, the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival and Hot Springs Sister City Program.
What you love about what you do: Working with the many wonderful people of Hot Springs and sharing the great city Hot Springs. I am able to see young “sister city” visitors who are nervous about meeting their host families when they first arrive form such close bonds, in spite of any cultural differences. They are in tears at the end of a few days when they have to say farewell to “families,” people who felt like strangers just a few days prior. I also feel very fortunate to be able to work with the many talented artists and arts organizations in our community; this makes Hot Springs unique among many other small towns.
What is the accomplishment you are most proud of? Hot Springs receiving a commendation from the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs for promoting goodwill and mutual understanding between the United States and Japan.
What’s the one fact about you that others would be surprised to know? This fall I will make my eighth trip to Japan.
As a child, I spent hours … playing outside on our family farm.
Personal motto: Life is good. People are good. Work hard, and good things happen.
What is left on your bucket list? Travel — it’s a huge world full of wonderful people, and I want to experience more of it. I love history and would like to visit Italy, especially Rome. Ireland is a beautiful country with such a rich history that I would like to spend some time there as well as Australia, Fiji, the Great Wall of China … there’s so much out there to see.