Lucy helped lead the way – hundreds have followed
Lucy Hartmeier became a local business and education pioneer in 1982, when she was assigned to represent one of Fort Smith's longest operating corporations in a formal “partnership” between businesses and the Fort Smith Public School District.
Lucy's boss, President and CEO of printing company Weldon, Williams and Lick, S.W. “Bud” Jackson read a magazine story about successful “Adopt-A- School” alliances being formed between local businesses and school districts in several cities.
Jackson was aware of what he termed “...a big gap in the relationship between corporate American and public schools.”
Hoping to help local businesses and K-12 students know more about each other, Jackson sent Fort Smith Schools Superintendent C.B. Garrison a copy of the article and volunteered WWL to pioneer the city's first “partnership” between local businesses and schools. If Garrison was willing to participate, Jackson offered to adopt Howard Elementary because it was near WWL headquarters in downtown Fort Smith.
Renamed Partners In Education, the program that began with one business and one school now has about 220 businesses – each with more than one employee involved – partnered with every one of Fort Smith's 26 public schools. The Fort Smith Chamber of Commerce and Entertainment Fort Smith are partners with the school district as a whole.
Howard's Partners In Education now include Gerber, Trotter Electric, Lincoln High School Alumni Association, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority and Preferred Office Products.
At Jackson's first meeting with Howard's principal and staff, he asked for a “wish list” of items the school needed but couldn't afford. Then he designated Lucy – WWL's corporate secretary/treasurer (and first female in that position in the company's long history) to coordinate the partnership.
“At the time of the start-up with Howard School, I asked Lucy to help me get things going – which she did in a very fine way,” Jackson recalls.
Helping start a Parent Teacher Association and a winter carnival were among Lucy's early efforts for WWL and Howard.
Lucy started working at WWL within days of graduating from Fort Smith High School in 1949. She retired in 1987.
During a recent telephone conversation with me, Lucy modestly declined praise about her serving as the first designated contact for the first company to “partner “ with a Fort Smith school. But she had high praise for her first, and only, employer for nearly 38 years.
Many of her former co-workers still fondly recall Lucy's dedication to Weldon, Williams & Lick, and Partners In Education.
“I remember when Lucy and Warren Bailey first started going to Howard School to hand out apples and treats to the students before Christmas,” current WWL benefits administrator Claudia Moreton recently told me. “I can still see Lucy dressed in her little red skirt and vest, a starched, white shirt and black pumps. She was prim and proper and a very good mentor. We remain friends to this day.”
Bailey, who had naturally white hair, would let it grow longer, along with a proper Santa beard, so he could suit up appropriately.
About two years before Lucy retired, she began training Tracey Geren to replace her as the company's secretary/treasurer. After Geren took over the position, Chief Financial Officer was added to the title.
“Lucy was well-respected and trusted by the employees,” Geren recalls. “She worked her way up at the company from a position in the accounting department ... she had tremendous loyalty for the company and would do whatever was asked or required of her. In fact, she told me early on that a pet peeve of hers was when people would say they felt something 'wasn't their job.' ”
In the early days of the company's partnership with Howard, the school's needs were more monetary, Geren recalls. The company would set a budget for the school's most pressing needs, which Lucy would help the school prioritize. Although the company still offers some financial support, its focus is now more on direct interaction with students, Geren added.
James Houston, WWL's current Partners coordinator, notes that the company now does more student mentoring. He says he “does the paper work” while co-workers David Israel and Shea Foldvary “do the hands-on work.” Each week, eight employees spend 30 minutes with a Howard student. The company also initiated two annual, fun but educational programs – a three-month rocket-building and launch science project and a chess club for fourth to sixth grade students. The chess club also hosts a citywide tournament each May at Evans Boys Club and 150 students from nine local schools will compete this month.
Houston also credits Howard's other partners, especially long-serving Gerber employees, led by Keith Cummins, for their dedication.
Jim Walcott became WWL president/CEO and chairman of the board after Jackson's official retirement from the positions in 1985, although Jackson also continued to remain active in the company for a period of time.
“We've gone from Bud and Lucy to Tracey and me – from handing out apples to a rocket building and launching program and students playing chess hosting a citywide chess tournament,” Walcott says.” But our goal remains to continue doing what we can to help schools do every thing they can to give every child a chance for a good outcome, and to succeed as a citizen and an employee.”
Plant manager LeeAnn Vick adds, “Participation in Partners in Education offers an invaluable opportunity for our employees to not only give back to the community, but also benefit from the personal gratification of helping children realize their full potential. No other Employee Assistance Program can match that experience."