Beard, Ritchie and White Named to Hall of Distinction
Travis Beard received an early example of the personal attention provided to Arkansas Tech students.
“I was at a band rehearsal out on the football field in a company front with 120 other band students,” said Beard. “I was a freshman…just lost as a goose. All of a sudden, this old man shows up talking to (band director Gene) Witherspoon. He breaks away from Witherspoon and he’s walking right to me. He shakes my hand and says, ‘you’re the Beard boy, aren’t you?’ I said, ‘yes sir.’ He said, ‘welcome to Arkansas Tech.’ That was J.W. Hull (Arkansas Tech president from 1932-67). He knew my uncle, who was a student at Arkansas Tech. He knew my family because he used to teach in a little school adjacent to the Beard property. That’s how connected people were, how they knew each other and cared about each other. I think that attitude still exists at Arkansas Tech. I’m proud to say I see that in my old school.”
Beard graduated from Arkansas Tech in 1970 with a bachelor’s degree in music and again in 1977 with a master’s degree in education.
He began his teaching career in the North Little Rock School District in 1971. When he was hired as director of the sophomore band at Russellville High School in 1974, it was the beginning of a 35-year tenure in the Russellville School District.
Beard went on to serve as symphonic band director at Russellville High School, coordinator of music for the Russellville School District and band director at Russellville Middle School before retiring in 2009.
The RHS marching band appeared in inaugural parades for President Jimmy Carter and President Bill Clinton as well as the Cotton Bowl Parade during Beard’s career.
The Arkansas Bandmasters Association bestowed its bandmaster of the year award upon Beard in 1989 and the National Federation Interscholastic Music Association presented him with its 2002 Arkansas outstanding music educator award.
In 2004, Beard earned the Band World Legion of Honor award from the John Philip Sousa Hall of Honor Foundation. He was a 2012 inductee into the hall of fame for the Omicron chapter of Phi Beta Mu, the international bandmasters fraternity.
Distinguished Alumni Service
Arkansas Tech forever changed Howard Ritchie’s life for the better. He has returned that favor many times over by investing his time, energy and resources in creating opportunities for current and future students.
“From the very first time I stepped foot on the Arkansas Tech campus in 1966, and for the last 55 years, I have felt a part of the Tech family,” said Ritchie. “It seems like most of my experiences in life have been very positive, and when I look back at it it’s either been through Tech or the people I met through Tech. I’m just honored to be associated with those people. I would encourage everyone to get involved. You go to Tech for a certain number of years, but you’re an alumnus for a lifetime.”
Ritchie was recruited to Arkansas Tech by music faculty members Gene Witherspoon and Robert Bright. He received a scholarship and went on to graduate from Arkansas Tech in 1970 with a bachelor’s degree in music.
His volunteer service on behalf of his alma mater has included two terms on the Arkansas Tech Alumni Association Board of Directors, and he served as president of the alumni board in 2010.
In addition, Ritchie has served as chairman and as a member of the ATU Alumni Association Scholarship committee, on the planning committees for several Arkansas Tech band reunions and on the committee that created the Robert Bright Scholarship endowment through the ATU Foundation.
Ritchie has given of his time at such ATU events as Time Out for Tech and the ATU Alumni Association Breakfast During Finals outreach at the conclusion of multiple semesters.
He is also a member of the Arkansas Tech Green and Gold athletics booster club and has been a table sponsor for the Arkansas Tech scholarship dinner.
In his professional career, Ritchie invested 35 years in K-12 education, including the final 31 years as a teacher and administrator in the Russellville School District.
Outstanding Young Alumna
Adena Strickland White
At her core, Adena Strickland White is a storyteller.
“It’s through story that we learn,” said White. “We learn more about ourselves by telling stories, and we learn more about the world around us. Not only do they help build our understanding…stories also connect us with people. I didn’t realize how much storytelling was a part of public relations until I really got into it. It was a good fit for me because I was able to change outcomes through public relations. We all have a story. We can all own our stories and share them.”
White graduated from Arkansas Tech in 2007 with Bachelor of Arts degrees in journalism and speech communication.
She is applying her gift for storytelling to preserve, celebrate and enhance Black Southern culture.
“I noticed an absence in the stories being told about what it means to be Southern,” said White. “As a lifelong Arkansan and as a Black woman, I didn’t see myself represented in the stories being told about what it means to be Southern. So, I wanted to fill that gap by talking to other Black Southerners and getting their perspectives.”
White is founder and chief storyteller for Blackbelt Media LLC. Her company produces Blackbelt Voices, a podcast that celebrates Black Southern culture and has been named by O, The Oprah Magazine, as one of America’s 15 best educational podcasts.
White worked as director of communications for the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce from 2011-21 and continues to contribute to the chamber’s efforts on a part-time basis as editor of Conway Publications.
She holds the Accredited Public Relations professional certification and is past president of the Arkansas chapter of the Public Relations Society of America.
A former member of the ATU Alumni Association Board of Directors, White has also rendered volunteer service on behalf of the Children’s Advocacy Alliance.
-By Sam Strasner
for the Tech Action, Fall 2021