Ice bucket challenges honor retired Simmons CEO


The #IceBucketChallenge for ALS awareness has come to Pine Bluff to honor a retired banker and philanthropist.

J. Thomas “Tommy” May, former chairman and CEO of Simmons First National Corp. and Simmons First National Bank, was diagnosed with ALS in 2005 but decided the disease wasn’t going to define him and he would live the rest of his life on his own terms. This included running the bank until 2013 when current CEO George A. Makris succeeded him.

May worked at Simmons First for nearly 27 years. He is known as a force for good in Pine Bluff and many people respect and love him in the city.

The ALS Ice Bucket challenge has spread worldwide thanks to social media. The challenge actually dares participants to dump a bucket of ice water on their heads. The catch is that if you do not complete the dare in 24 hours from the time you are challenged, the participant is asked to donate around $100 to the ALS Association.

The #IceBucketChallenge was started by the ALS Association as a effort to raise awareness about the disease and create a world without ALS, according to their website.

ALS struck the Simmons First family when it effected May, according to Loretta Turchi, who started the challenge at the bank.

“We just wanted to do it for Mr. May and to let him know that we love him,” Turchi said.

Four people at Simmons First did the challenge Tuesday afternoon to raise ALS awareness and to show their love for May. After they did their challenge they then threw out 15 more Ice Bucket challenges to Simmons First employees hoping the movement continues. Turchi got an extra three because she had been challenged twice by some of her friends.

“I got challenged originally by my friends,” said Turchi. “I then decided why not bring it to Simmons and why not do it in public.”

On a hot 97 degree afternoon, the Simmons crew couldn’t have chosen a better day to do the challenge.

“At first I was in shock it was so cold,” Turchi said, “but after a little while it eventually felt good.”

Chuck Morgan, president and CEO of Relyance Bank, also did the challenge out of respect for May after being challenged by his daughter, Catherine Morgan.

“Chuck didn’t want to do the challenge for publicity,” said Alicia Nixon, marketing coordinator at Relyance Bank. “He did it to raise awareness in the community and to honor Mr. May.”

“We strive to be an organization and people our community can rely on,” Morgan said in a press release Tuesday. “And this was a fun way to help raise awareness that will hopefully lead to a cure.”

The two banks weren’t the only ones to join in the cold fun as the Pine Bluff Running Club also took the challenge Tuesday.

“We decided since there were so many of us in the club we would draw straws to figure out who was going to do the challenge,” said Julie Bridgforth, a member of the running club. “The rest of the people who didn’t do the challenge would just donate money.”

The running club also dedicated its Ice Bucket challenge to May.

“May is such a great man,” said Bridgforth. “We wanted to honor him with this and help with a really great cause.”

The running club will be donating all of its money to the ALS research facility at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. The club also sent a challenge to the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff Coach Monte Coleman and the Golden Lions football team.

Elsewhere in town, a challenge was taken up by Roberts Brothers Tire Service. David Massanelli said the business took it a step further challenging the whole community of Pine Bluff after having five employees accept the challenge Tuesday.

“I just want the rest of the community to do the challenge and raise some money for a good cause,” Massanelli said.

The employees who did the challenge still donated $200 each to ALS research.

According the association website, the #IceBucketChallenge donations have reached $22.9 million as of Aug. 19 and is steadily growing. This is a huge leap for the ALS association which only had received $1.9 million from July 29 to Aug. 19 last year.

Bill Gates, Lebron James and Jimmy Fallon are among some of the famous people who have accepted the challenge.

According to their website, the association’s mission includes providing care services to assist people with ALS and their families through a network of chapters working in communities across the nation and a global research program focused on the discovery of treatments and eventually a cure for the disease.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also sometimes called “Lou Gehrig’s Disease,” is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. People affected with ALS over time will lose the ability to control their arms, legs and eventually their ability to speak and swallow.

When doing the Ice Bucket challenge the ALS Association asks you to use the hashtags #icebucketchallenge, #alsicebucketchallenge, and #strikeoutals. The reason for the hashtags is to spread ALS awareness all over the world by using social network.