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Arkansans Interviewed | City Profiles | Video: In Their Own Words

See What the People of Arkansas Say about the State!

Letter from Richard Davies

Come meet the friendly people of Arkansas

Richard Davies

Dear Friend:

Thanks for your interest in Arkansas! If you've not yet visited The Natural State, please accept this as my invitation to personally inspect our fine piece of real estate. And if you haven't been to Arkansas in a while, come on back and see for yourself how we've grown and prospered.

Good things are happening across Arkansas. From the $6.7 million renovation of Queen Wilhelmina State Park Lodge to the establishment of the Razorback Greenway between Fayetteville and Bentonville, progress is in motion. Fort Smith stands to break ground on the new U.S. Marshals Museum in Fort Smith in September 2014. The cities of Little Rock and North Little Rock will celebrate a brand new bridge lighting program over the Arkansas River, and Little Rock's SoMa district is booming with the addition of South on Main and the Esse Purse Museum - one of only three purse museums in the world. In 2013, Texarkana saw the opening of the new Holiday Springs Water Park, and the city of Siloam Springs will have its own aquatic attraction open its gates in 2014.

But Arkansas is more - much more - than a travelers' paradise. Our public schools are leading the way in test score gains, and enrollment in institutions of higher education has never been higher. Meanwhile, our medical facilities continue to offer world-class health care. And rewarding job opportunities can be found throughout the state.

Come stay with us for a day, a weekend or a lifetime.

Sincerely,

Richard W. Davies
Executive Director
Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism

Acting as an Ambassador

Ted Danson appreciates what Little Rock offers to residents and visitors
Ted Danson on the people of Arkansas

After more than 35 years in showbiz, Ted Danson has played his fair share of off-screen advocacy roles. Think of all the promotional appearances stars make on red carpets and radio waves alone. With recent recurring gigs on FX’s “Damages” and HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “Bored to Death,” Danson gets plenty of work-related media requests. His celebrity also lends itself to public-figure roles unrelated to acting. He’s an environmental activist, an occasional political campaign figure and an eternal representative of the classic sitcom “Cheers,” the long-running show that made him a star. But there’s one more spokesperson role that Danson takes on. By default, he’s an ambassador for the state of Arkansas, albeit a “junior league” one compared to his actress wife and Arkansas native Mary Steenburgen, he says.

“Mary and I have literally missed airplanes because we have been in some city and someone says, ‘Mary Nell! We’re from Little Rock!’ We will screech to a halt, there’ll be a big grin on our faces and we’ll talk to them about Little Rock and how we miss it and literally miss the plane because we talked to strangers about Little Rock, Arkansas.”

Steenburgen first brought Danson to her hometown of North Little Rock in the early ‘90s, shortly before they married. The Arizona native recalls that first visit in a series of scenes – not surprising for someone who has spent so much time on set – and many of them involve food. He recalls Doe’s Eat Place, the dive of a steakhouse that became popular among off-duty press during Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign. “I think that was a snapshot I’ll never forget. We still go there for their tamales constantly.” He also remembers tasting some of the best barbecue in his life. “We sometimes go straight from the airport to Lindsey’s,” he says.

After that first trip and their subsequent wedding, the pair returned several times and eventually purchased a high-rise condo downtown. “I really have fallen for Little Rock,” Danson says. “It has a little of the big city and a little of the rural, and I love that combo. You have all of these amazing things at your disposal,” he mentions the theaters, sports venues, hospitals and nonprofits, “and yet you can drive out to Keo and get some of the best pies you ever had.”

All his gushing over the cuisine makes you wonder about his diet outside of Arkansas. Food is a convenient way to tangibly describe Little Rock, but with some prodding Danson tries to capture the local flavor in other ways. For him, he says, Little Rock has this coloring of a president and first lady that makes it seem international – like a gateway to the world. And not just because of the Clintons. He offers Gen. Wesley Clark as another example of a worldly figure whose impression looms here. It gives one the feeling that in Little Rock, you can “be exposed to the world in pretty much every area imaginable,” he says.

Danson raves about Heifer International, the Little Rock-based nonprofit that works to end world hunger. He knows of the talent and expertise in the area’s “world-class” hospitals because of Steenburgen’s mother and aunt’s recent experiences. In fact, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences is recognized worldwide – and gets patients from as far – for its multiple myeloma research and treatment. And he’s witnessed the natural beauty statewide while campaigning for Hillary Clinton.

Then there are the people of Arkansas who create an atmosphere of “general warmth, openness and acceptance,” he says. It’s hard to go unnoticed in Little Rock like you might in a bigger city, he says. “People know you in a small-town way, and I think people kind of crave that.”

Arkansans know Steenburgen better than Danson, of course, and to be in Little Rock with her is fun, he says. “Walking around with her is a pretty amazing experience. It really is Mary’s town and she truly starts to get a little antsy if she’s been away too long,” he says. “She loves the heat and humidity in the summer.”

Raised in Arizona, Danson fancies the season as well. The thought of some Arkansas sun harkens him back to an evening meal on Brave New Restaurant’s riverside balcony. “We were listening to some of the loudest bullfrogs I’ve ever heard in my life. It was this warm, muggy nighttime with this kind of mist coming over the river. That was pretty magical to me.” It must have been. It’s the one restaurant story in which Danson doesn’t mention the meal.

“I really have fallen for Little Rock. It has a little of the big city and a little of the rural, and I love that combo.”

Mary Steenburgen Interview

Mary Steenburgen is one of the many people of Arkansas who keep coming back home
Mary Steenburgen on everything Little Rock Offers

Arkansas native and Oscar winner Mary Steenburgen was born in North Little Rock, where her mother and several family members still reside. She and husband Ted Danson visit as often as they can and even own a condo in the River Market area of downtown Little Rock.

"There's a vibrancy about Little Rock, especially the downtown area, that makes it fun and inviting," she says. "With the Clinton Library and Heifer International, there's a lot of energy in and around downtown. Those places are drawing many forward-thinking people to the area — both to visit and to live."

Mary Steenburgen has had the fortune to work on location in many cities and states, and yet she remains "inspired by the people who live and work to make Little Rock such a passionate place."

Everywhere she goes, she is proud to be an ambassador for her home state. "The majority of people I know are dying to visit Arkansas," she notes. "They have a real respect for the state and often wonder just what it is about this state that produces such passionate, progressive people."

"I recently met a woman who lived here briefly after Hurricane Katrina," continues Mary Steenburgen. "She raved about the physical beauty of the state, the warmth and friendliness of the people, and even the quality of the schools that her son attended while they were here."

When in town, Mary Steenburgen and Ted Danson take advantage of the area's many attractions — dining in their favorite restaurants, riding the River Rail trolleys and taking in nine innings of Arkansas Travelers baseball at Dickey-Stephens Park and everything else Little Rock offers. "This city is very user-friendly," she points out. "I think it's wonderful that it has the sophistication of a big city with the character of a small Southern town."

-by Jennifer Pyron


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