The city of Wabbaseka became the official hometown of the Arkansas state flag in a recent ceremony honoring the 101st year anniversary of the flag, the flag’s designer, and the battleship that started it all.
“Arkansas Flag 101” and the Arkansas Flag/Wabbaseka Memorial Completion Ceremony were held Feb. 26 at Wabbaseka Community Park. The event, sponsored by the Wabbaseka Memorial Committee, was the culmination of a push by local author and poet Jason Irby to commemorate the historical milestone and its local significance.
“What an incredible year it has been, with everything that has happened,” Irby said. “ This park has come a long way to become a place that contains a memorial that reflects our history.”
Irby said the memorial also serves as a symbol for moving forward.
“Our servicemen and women still bear the emblem of the flag 101 years past its creation,” he said.
Special guests at the event included representatives from the Office of the Secretary of State, the Arkansas History Commission, the Little Rock Air Force Base and the Arkansas National Guard as well as Wabbaseka Mayor Myra Edwards and Jefferson County Judge Dutch King.
The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff’s agriculture and ROTC departments also participated with music provided by the U.S. Navy Band and the Blues City Brass Quintet.
During the ceremony a proclamation by Gov. Mike Beebe was read declaring Wabbaseka as the official hometown of the Arkansas state flag. The proclamation, Irby said, is the result of the efforts of Arkansas State Sen. Stephanie Flowers, who was instrumental in the adoption of a bill officially honoring Wabbaseka’s Willie Kavanaugh Hocker as the flag’s creator, commemorating the anniversary and supporting the memorial.
“This event has really brought the community together,” Flowers said, adding that she was surprised to see such a large number of supporters.“This gives the people of Wabbaseka something to be proud of and to cherish.”
Flowers said she recently drove by to see the site.
“It looks good and serves to attract attention on Highway 79,” she said.
Irby said he initially conceived the idea for the memorial after learning that nothing was being done on a state or local level to acknowledge the anniversary of the flag. Irby expresses a deep commitment to and love for the state of Arkansas and his hometown.
Having grown up in Wabbaseka, attended a school named after Hocker and being a bit of a self-proclaimed history buff, Irby admits a special admiration for Hocker.
“She is a historical pacesetter in my book,” he said of the former educator, author, poet and flag designer.
Hocker. who was a teacher in Wabbaseka and a principal at First Ward School in Pine Bluff, is one of only two women in the U.S. whose designs have been adopted as a state flag.
According to Irby, the memorial is the newest wayside exhibit in Jefferson County. The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff’s Art Department assisted in designing graphics and developing information for the memorial, which currently consisting of three panels.
“One panel is dedicated to the origin of the flag and another one to Ms. Hocker,” Irby said.
Taking its place in the spotlight on a third panel is the USS Arkansas, the third U.S. Navy ship to bear the state’s name and the battleship for which the Arkansas state flag was created.
A fourth panel is still in the works, along with plans to make the exhibit wheelchair-accessible. Also on display is the winning artwork from an art contest aimed at stimulating community involvement for local students.
Wabbaseka Community Park is located at Highway 79 and Paw Paw Street. For more information about the memorial, contact Irby at 501-907-6710.