Leadership Texarkana Lunch with Leaders 2022

Leadership Texarkana celebrated local excellence in community leadership at their annual Lunch with Leaders at Texarkana, Texas Convention Center on April 19th, with the awarding of the organization’s Leader of The Year Award, as well as honoring community leaders through Leadership Texarkana’s annual Wilbur Awards. The luncheon was sponsored by Texarkana Emergency Center and Hospital. This year marks the 30th year of the Wilbur Awards in our city.

Leadership Texarkana Executive Director, Ruth Ellen Whitt, spoke to the motivation of the organization’s annual awards program, quoting Albert Schweitzer who said “Example is not the main thing, it is the only thing.” As an organization committed to growing a community of leaders who help lead the way for community excellence, Leadership Texarkana lifts up exemplary leaders in our community as models for us all, showing what is possible if we choose to serve one another by investing time and effort in our community.”

The Leader of The Year Award is the highest award given by Leadership Texarkana annually, to honor outstanding graduates of the Leadership Texarkana program; it is given in memory of Idalee Raffaelli Hawkins who set a lasting and inspirational example for her willingness to serve our community.

This year’s Leader(s) of the Year was presented to Julie-Ray and John Harrison. The Harrison's founded Partnership for the Pathway, a non-profit organization in 2006. Their vision then was to create trails in our community, for walking, running, hiking, and biking.  Through their tireless efforts, they have advocated, fundraised, navigated the regulatory and legal environment, and brought miles, and miles of trails to our community. For 16 years now they have tirelessly worked to enhance our community for the better making the two Texarkana friendly to pedestrians, families, and mobility impaired persons. Through the Partnership for the Pathways organization, the Harrison's have also been responsible for attracting many thousands of runners to Texarkana USA annually to compete in the community's unique Run the Line Half Marathon, generating many thousands of tax dollars through the tourism it generates. This region will forever be better because of the determination and vision of the leaders honored this year.

Leadership Texarkana’s Wilbur Awards have been given annually since 1992, in memory of community servant and historian Wilbur Smith. Celebrating the power of one to positively impact our community, the Wilbur Awards are given in three categories: honoring adults, youth, and organizations, to individuals and groups who demonstrate exemplary leadership in the community and a commitment to working together for community excellence.

Wilbur Award for Organization—Texarkana Regional Airport
Wilbur Award for Adult—Scott Norton
Wilbur Youth Award—William Carter

The 2022 Wilbur Award for service by an organization was presented to the ‘Texarkana Regional Airport. The Texarkana Regional Airport has taken a leadership role within our community to positively impact many visitors’ first impressions of the Ark-La-Tex. The airport worked hard to keep flights going during the pandemic when many communities lost service. In addition, despite pilot shortages, the Texarkana Regional Airport successfully negotiated a new route to Houston. The airport drives economic development to the area; the new terminal will help to attract new business and create jobs. Airport staff even hosts troubled youth to inspire and educate them on various opportunities in aviation.

This year’s adult recipient of the Wilbur Award is Scott Norton. Scott Norton is Executive Director/CEO for TexAmericas Center. Scott has been instrumental in developing TexAmericas’ property into a first-class industrial park that will provide economic development opportunities for the Texarkana region for decades to come—a purpose that drives him daily. Scott has served on numerous nonprofit boards in various leadership roles in our area and is a one-of-a-kind force for Texarkana USA.

This year’s Wilbur Awards for Youth Leadership was presented to William Carter. Will coordinated and wrote the curriculum for a leadership camp for middle school students from five school districts. Will encourages leadership and engages his peers to put ideas into action. Will planned twelve service projects this year alone for the “Kick Cancer” theme. Will developed the Lantern Launch project to fundraise and work with City Officials where he read the names of 75 people at our pep rally and gave each person who donated a lantern to take home to launch in memory of their loved one.

Continuing the Wilbur tradition set from the beginning of the awards thirty years prior, Leadership Texarkana also honored and celebrated all of the individuals and organizations which were nominated as they are all exemplary models of community leadership that are worth following.  Wilbur honorees for outstanding community leadership included:


Kelsey Berry, Red River Credit Union, and Liberty Eylau community volunteer. Kelsey works with teens daily to teach job knowledge, financial literacy, and other important life skills in addition to her managerial duties at the bank. She loves interacting with our community members and supports LEISD at various events throughout the year with a smile on her face.

Chad Pirtle, Superintendent of Pleasant Grove ISD, Chad has led PGISD to unprecedented growth and achievement due to his relentless commitment to doing what is best for kids no matter the circumstance. Mr. Pirtle has led with passion, commitment, and consistent support. With his leadership on developing/adopting a new mission, PGISD ensures high levels of learning for all students.


Greater Texarkana Young Professionals—This organization strives to improve the Texarkana community through volunteer service, networking with a purpose, and developing future leaders to encourage youth to return to Texarkana. The majority of GTYP members show up for our many events such as Destination Downtown, Leadership Through Service, and Scholarship Golf Tournament to name a few. GTYP is active and improving our community to make our future bright.

University of Arkansas, Hope-Texarkana—Through a combination of unique, affordable academic programming, UAHT increases higher education and workforce skills of our community. UAHT encourages local youth free college and career planning offering students opportunities to complete associate's degrees and technical certifications while in high school, also offering low-cost college credit hours to local high school students, while providing local networks of business leaders to enhance the likelihood of students remaining in Texarkana. UAHT has many wonderful programs to address food and clothing insecurities. As a dynamic community of unique and diverse individuals, the college is a cohesive network that works to create a nurturing, accepting, and personalized campus to meet the needs of students.

Pleasant Grove ISD Education Foundation—The PGISD Education Foundation engages the community in supporting activities and materials for students not funded by tax dollars. Through grants, special projects, and a college preparatory fund, the Foundation touches the lives of every student of PGISD. Foundation volunteers have funded over $700,000 since its formation in 2007.


Salem A’longe, a 13-year-old sophomore at Texas High School. Salem is a talented young lady who has worked extremely hard to learn to be a leader as an immigrant from Nigeria. Salem’s high aptitude and work ethic have been instrumental in helping the Robotics team win awards. She has volunteered many hours with robotics, the Multicultural club, and church youth group. Salem is a natural leader that is often tasked with speaking to peers and administrators regarding problem-solving and the importance of STEM education.

Brooks Beck, is a senior at Pleasant Grove High School. Brooks has demonstrated school leadership as student council president by increasing student engagement and overseeing various service projects. One of Brooks’ greatest passion is mission-based work where he has traveled to Guatemala and Mexico for five years delivering clothing and constructing a church building. Brooks is one of only ten students from the US 4th District given a nomination to West Point, the Naval and Air Force Academies for the United States Military.

Tucker Keeney, Jr., an 8th grader at Pleasant Grove Middle School. As a rail enthusiast, Tucker took it upon himself to reach out and get involved in the Amtrak Station Beautification Project. Tucker’s communication and creative thinking skills have contributed to the project in many important ways, including greeting donors and fundraising efforts. In addition, during the pandemic, Tucker helped to create an extension to virtual learning for students to replicate classroom interaction and socialization missing from the virtual platform.

Rashad Thrower, a senior at Arkansas High School. Rashad is a natural leader making a huge impact on students in the Pride Program as well as Student Council. Fellow students look up to him as he serves in various capacities on campus and in youth groups with the church. Rashad is a member of the Student Focus Group for Texarkana, AR working with the City Manager on larger community issues such as street repairs and condemned housing.

Leadership Texarkana is committed to fostering community excellence by providing a leadership voice of possibility and responsibility, and by developing citizens who are willing and able to make a difference of significance as community leaders. It is committed to engaging and equipping citizens throughout our community as leaders working together for community excellence, pride and progress. For more about Leadership Texarkana, visit leadershiptexarkana.com.

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