ARKADELPHIA — It’s a beautiful day June 7. There’s a nice little crowd saluting an American flag that U.S. Army Maj. John Paul Arnold is raising during a ceremony at Ouachita Baptist University, his alma mater. He’s wearing a chest full of ribbons earned in two tours of duty in Iraq and one in Afghanistan.
His older brother and fellow OBU graduate, Curtis, is there as well. It’s the middle of a workday, but Curtis’ schedule is – let’s just say it’s under his control. A few years ago, he sold the Internet company he founded, Cardratings.com, and used part of the proceeds to start a charitable foundation.
Two brothers, two big-time success stories. How did this happen?
You might say it started a generation ago. Their father, Bill Arnold, grew up in Portland, Ore. His dad, who had never been around much, died when Bill was very young, and Bill spent the last part of his childhood being shuffled through five foster homes. Eventually he served in the Navy in the Gulf of Tonkin in the earliest days of the Vietnam War.
When Bill came home, he enrolled at OBU and met his future wife, Sharon Owens, in the cafeteria on the third day of school. He took her to do the laundry on their first date. Not that romantic, but it worked. They married, settled in DeValls Bluff, and taught school for 40 years together.
For Bill and Sharon, teaching was a calling, not just a job. J.P. remembers his dad driving long distances a couple of days a week to give some of his students rides to basketball and baseball practice.
When J.P. arrived as a freshman, he entered OBU’s ROTC program to become an Army officer while pursuing a degree in communications. He’s since spent the past two decades as a public relations officer, earning two Bronze Stars.
He returned to OBU June 7 to present to the School of Humanities an American flag he flew over Kabul, Afghanistan. He did this to honor all OBU students who have served in the military, particularly those killed in the line of duty. Two of those students, 1st Lt. Pryor Wheat and Capt. Herschel South, were classmates of Bill’s.
J.P. was particularly moved by the story of Captain Chris Dunaway, a Mena native who had raised money for a campus memorial honoring the seven OBU students killed in the Vietnam War. The memorial features a globe circled by the words of John 15:13, which in the King James Version says, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
Dunaway himself gave his life along with 23 other paratroopers in a training accident in 1994, and J.P. intends to honor him with a memorial at a later date. The two never met, though Dunaway’s widow, Jan Davis, was at the ceremony June 7.
Meanwhile, Curtis in 1998 started Cardratings.com, which provides consumers information about credit cards. After a few years of hard work, the site picked up a top listing on Yahoo back when Yahoo was king of the Internet. Advertisers flocked to the site. Curtis wrote a book, “How You Can Profit from Credit Cards.” Eventually, three companies started a bidding war to purchase his company, and he sold it for – well, he sold it for enough that there’s now a Bill and Sharon Arnold Family Foundation that funds various youth, cultural, and economic development programs. Its recent We Believe! camp brought 41 kids to Hazen for four days of basketball and life lessons.
Bill suffered a heart attack a couple of years ago, but he was at the camp, barking orders at the young people to do their push-ups correctly in a gym that was not air-conditioned.
“I often told kids that I taught, you know, hey, if you want to find an excuse to be not successful, I guess I had them,” Bill told me. “But I just reversed the coin. Because I’ve always believed honestly, deep in my heart, this one, kind of an Arnold postulate, that God never put any of us on this earth to be a failure. That’s our choosing.”
Sunday is Father’s Day. Bill Arnold should have a happy one.
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Steve Brawner is an independent journalist in Arkansas. Follow him on Twitter at @stevebrawner.