The Shirley Community Development Corporation has been changing Shirley and the surrounding area for the better over the past 30 years with its roots stretching further back. Director Tom Kimmons created the CDC in 1988 as a way to continue his grant writing for Shirley where he had already secured grants for lighting at the softball field and park pavilion. While these grants are great for place making and quality of life Tom’s best work for the city came when he secured a $384,000 grant to tie the Shirley City Water in with Community Water. In the late 1980’s Shirley’s city water was provided by four wells located in the city park. During this time period the walls of the wells collapsed creating an immediate issue but also provided a long-term solution for quality drinking water.
To truly understand the CDC one should take time to better understand Kimmons and his mission. Tom was raised in the small community of Cavanaugh just south of Fort Smith. He spent his youth delivering groceries and medicine for a local grocery store and pharmacy. Tom began his collegiate education at Arkansas Tech with a degree in Biology, he would continue his quest for knowledge at Kansas State University where he graduated with a master’s degree in history, and finish his formal education with a PhD in Philosophy at the University of Missouri. Tom has used that education to teach philosophy at the University of Missouri, medical ethics at UAMS, and critical thinking at Hendrix.
It was during his time teaching in the 70’s when the social atmosphere in our country was becoming more abrasive and Tom, not to far removed from marrying his wife Brandy, decided to move to rural Arkansas to start a family. Tom recalled driving through Shirley as a college student at Arkansas Tech on his way to Mountain View and how he thought Shirley was where he wanted to live someday. It was in the mid 70’s when Tom and Brandy made that dream come true when they bought 40 acres about five miles north of Shirley off of River Road.
The Kimmons lived in a small cabin on the 40 acres for the next ten years. Removed from civilization and in a way they didn’t even know the news going on in the world outside of their immediate circle. During the winters they would work in Little Rock and Hot Springs with Tom playing rhythm guitar and Brandy working as a hostess. They would use their winter money to get crops in the ground and would live out their dream on their little slice of heaven through the summer months. This pattern would continue until the arrival of their daughters Ginny and Kasey and for the children’s sake they moved to Shirley to begin another chapter of their life.
It was this move to Shirley that would be the beginning of Kimmons’ grant writing and the eventual creation of Shirley Community Development Corporation. In 1988 after years of successfully acquiring grants for the City of Shirley, Tom created the CDC with grant monies from the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation and other agencies. With the creation of the CDC an avenue to continue his grant writing was established.
1990 was a year of growth for the CDC. That was the year when the Kimmons bought an old furniture factory and its five acres that lie on the banks of the Middle Fork of the Little Red River. While the property was overgrown, Tom had a vision and quickly put his plan in motion. That old factory would soon become not only a shitake mushroom growing facility but also a place to teach the techniques needed to grow the mushrooms and a coop to better organize the growers to the emerging market. The shitake mushroom factory would eventually grow to have 30,000 active growing logs, employ 15 workers and provide support for local growers while attracting over 10,000 visitors a year from around the world. The shitake mushroom facility would be in operation until 2009 when the mushroom facility burned.
With the mushroom facility no more Kimmons started a new chapter in his life and used his new found free time to help with preserving our natural landscape and protecting the small city in the foothills of the Ozarks that he chose as his home so many years ago. Tom would shift his efforts to water quality from natural and manmade contaminants. In 2009 he began working with the USGS to monitor 127 wells in the Fayetteville Shell to create a base. This base is the condition of the groundwater before the drilling takes place allowing a reference point to refer to see how fractural drilling is affecting the water supply. The CDC was also instrumental in $50,000 of grant monies from the unpaved roads project has greatly reducing runoff into the Middle Fork, improving quality of life for our wildlife neighbors and better lower cost drinking water for all.
Through the years the CDC has continued its mission to better Shirley and the surrounding area. From their youth programs in the 80’s to today’s efforts to improve water quality and so many different projects in between the CDC has been working for three decades to make Shirley a better place to live.