Arkansas Testimonials - Relocating to Arkansas - Arkansas Retirement & Relocation

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Testimonials on Relocating to Arkansas

Brianne Connelly, Lake Village

There are many benefits to relocating to Arkansas. Brianne Connelly, Lake Village
Arkansans are known for their hospitality. But when Wisconsin-raised Brianne Connelly moved to Lake Village in 2007 with Teach for America, she had no idea just how deep that Southern hospitality ran. "Hospitality is being polite in Wisconsin. In Arkansas, hospitality is opening up houses and hearts to new people," she said.

Connelly was also impressed by Arkansas's breathtaking, diverse landscapes, especially the wide-open beauty of Lake Village. Lake Chicot - the nation's largest natural oxbow lake - is located there, and it's perfect for fishing, boating, swimming, canoeing and just relaxing.

"The sunsets over Lake Chicot are the prettiest I have ever seen," she said. "The Teach for America corps members refer to Lake Village as the 'Hamptons of the Delta' because of its beauty and resort-like feel."

Connelly is the director of the J. Austin White Cultural Center (JAWCC) in Eudora (only 15 miles south of Lake Village). JAWCC offers music, art, theater and other activities for children and youth in Southeast Arkansas; broadening them to grow into responsible, cultured adults who give back to their community. "I feel beyond blessed to have this position," she said.

In addition to planning fun and enriching classes, workshops and events for JAWCC, Connelly teaches a variety of classes in the community, including Zumba, karate, visual arts and ballroom dance.

And a few times a year, she hosts family from Wisconsin. "They love the sunshine, the weather, the beautiful sunsets, the slow pace and the extremely friendly people," Connelly said. "They would definitely say the people of Arkansas are the most hospitable they've come across."

Where to eat:
La Terraza - "The service is great, it's affordable and open late, and the Mexican tacos they serve (not on the menu, but ask for them) are amazing."
Rhoda's Famous Hot Tamales - "NPR-rated best hot tamales in the Delta."

What to do:
Lake Chicot Fall Fest - October - "No outside food vendors are allowed, so it's a great way to try all the local folks' food."
St. Mary's Spaghetti Dinner - March - "Just celebrated 101 years; best homemade noodles and meatballs you'll ever have."
Wild Game Supper in Eudora - February - "They serve everything from bear to snake."

Don Bacigalupi, Bentonville

Arkansas testimonials reveal the benefits of living in the Natural State

Don Bacigalupi, Bentonville

In 2009, native New Yorker Don Bacigalupi packed his bags and moved to Bentonville to help build, open and oversee Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art as its executive director. He'd only been to Arkansas once before, but he fondly recalled the magnificent beauty of The Natural State and didn't hesitate a moment to make it his home.

"I love the fact that even while maintaining its small-town character and charm, Bentonville is continually building great new amenities which give it the best of both worlds," he said.

Not the least of these amenities is Crystal Bridges. The 100,000-square-foot museum is slated to open Nov. 11, 2011, and will house permanent and temporary exhibits of American artworks from the Colonial era to modern times, including works by Norman Rockwell, John Koch, Wayne Thiebaud, Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol.

"As the first great American art museum of the 21st century, the importance of Crystal Bridges cannot be overestimated..." Bacigalupi said. "Trust me when I say it is one of the most dazzling and glorious collections of American art anywhere."

Bacigalupi holds a B.A., an M.A. and a Ph.D. in art history with a concentration in American art of the 20th century, and he has more than a decade of museum management expertise from the Toledo Museum of Art, the San Diego Museum of Art in Balboa Park, the University of Houston's Blaffer Gallery and the San Antonio Museum of Art.

When he's not busy running the show at Crystal Bridges, Bacigalupi spends his time exploring Arkansas. "We've been all around Northwest Arkansas, to Eureka Springs, Little Rock and a quick trip to the Delta. We've made a couple of spectacular float trips to the Kings River and the Buffalo. But there are so many places we look forward to seeing."

Where to eat:
A Taste of Siam - "Excellent Thai food!"
Fred's Hickory Inn - "Award-winning pit BBQ, hand-cut steaks and delicious Italian food."
Table Mesa Bistro - "This boutique-style bistro is located on the square, in the heart of Bentonville's historic district."

What to do:
Bentonville, Fayetteville and Rogers Farmers Markets - "The best fresh, local produce and products."
Bentonville First Fridays - "The Bentonville Square transforms into a huge block party filled with live music, great food and all-day-long fun."

Scott Watkins, El Dorado

Relocating to Arkansas was a great choice for Justin Edge Scott Watkins, El Dorado

You won't meet a bigger fan of El Dorado. Scott Watkins sings its praises as sweetly as one of his favorite city's renowned South Arkansas Symphony performances. Watkins, the executive director of South Arkansas Symphony, isn't even from El Dorado, let alone Arkansas, but the Arizona expatriate said he couldn't get here fast enough.

"I knew Arkansas was home when we came here on our first visit; not only do you have the healing factor of the trees and nature, but also the slower pace just seemed to fit," Watkins said. "It's so nice to be able to hear silence versus the busy rat race in the big city."

Big cities are something Watkins knows well, having survived the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex while working at places like the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and Symphony Arlington in Arlington, Texas. None of these cities matched his vision for his family's quality of life. (And with five kids, the El Dorado Promise Scholarship, which pays college tuition for students who graduate from the El Dorado School District, was quite a lure.) "I calculated this to be a good $300,000 in educational support," he said.

So, the Watkins family packed up and moved to El Dorado in 2008. "In fact, we signed the paperwork for purchasing a house the day we arrived, and moved in immediately," he said.

The excitement of the move hasn't dulled either, as he watches his new city grow. A high school, conference center and health and science center were just built, while plans are laid for a downtown hotel and three performance venues. In addition, El Dorado has taken steps to secure its new brand for the future: the "City of Festivals." The goal will be to bring in a festival every weekend.

"South Arkansas isn't a myth. We are here, we are thriving and we are an incredible place to live, play, raise a family and listen to some great symphonic music!"

Where to eat:
Historic Downtown El Dorado (in general) - "There are so many different shops and restaurants to enjoy
on the square."
La Piazza Italian Restaurant - "Try the pizza and chicken calabrese."
La Villa - "For my Mexican fix and for the chicken chimichangas."

What to do:
MusicFest in El Dorado - "A two-night festival of great music attended annually in October by more than 16,000 people."
South Arkansas Arboretum - "13 acres of beautiful native West Gulf Coastal Plain plants and exotic species."
South Arkansas Arts Center - "The center hosts numerous theatrical productions and art exhibitions."

Dr. Fitz Hill, Little Rock

Relocating to Arkansas allowed the Mirats to build their dreams Dr. Fitz Hill, Little Rock

Natural State-native Dr. Fitz Hill says he's never strayed too many years away from his beloved home state - always returning to Arkansas after career moves and military deployments in Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

As the President of Arkansas Baptist College (ABC), Hill happily resides in Little Rock, but his attachment to Arkansas goes beyond his love of the capital city. He's spent a number of years experiencing the distinctiveness of Arkansas's other diverse regions - including a childhood and adolescence in the Ouachitas of Arkadelphia and 12 years among the Ozark Mountains as a University of Arkansas assistant football coach.

Although he eventually left the Ozarks for California's bay area and a head football coaching job at San Jose State University - he describes it as a "tour of duty" - it wasn't long before he returned. "When I was deciding where to relocate [after] California, I came to Arkansas in December 2004," Hill said. "I woke up in Little Rock, stepped outside and felt the peace and calmness that I had longed for while [in San Jose]. At that moment, I knew this was actually what I had been missing, and wanted to return to The Natural State and make Little Rock home."

That's exactly what he did. After a brief interlude back in Arkadelphia, Hill finally made it to Little Rock for his current job. And he said one thing has always been consistent about Arkansas no matter where he's lived in the state: "Arkansas is one big family." This Southern hospitality or "state unity" as he calls it, is something Hill wishes Little Rock would exploit more to its advantage. "I feel that Little Rock, as a capital city, has tremendous opportunity to become a model city." But Hill doesn't just preach this; he practices it working with local organizations to develop metropolitan Little Rock and the area around ABC.

Where to eat:
Cantina Laredo - "They have the best guacamole, made tableside."
The Hill Home - Hill says he makes the best homemade ribs in Arkansas.
Luby's - "Who doesn't love a selection of pies and Southern favorites to choose from?"

What to do:
Central Arkansas CityFest - Festivals, [like CityFest], that have a spiritual mission, are the ones Hill enjoys the most.

Bill and Gayle Page, Maumelle

Arkansas Testimonials reveal the beauty of the Natural State Bill and Gayle Page, Maumelle

As a retired Army Major General and aviator, Bill Page has lived in more than a dozen places around the world, including Vietnam, Germany and Korea, as well as on numerous army bases around the U.S. But when it came time to retire in 1993, Bill and his wife and high school sweetheart, Gayle, chose to move to Arkansas to be closer to family.

"Both sets of parents were elderly and were in Arkansas," Bill said, "so we came to Little Rock to take care of the family. Then we stayed here, and we haven't regretted it."

The couple - who have two children, three grandchildren and one great-grandchild - made their home in Maumelle, a community of around 16,000 residents, located only 18 miles from the capital city.

"I always wanted to retire on the golf course because I love to play golf," Bill said, so he and Gayle chose to live in Maumelle Country Club's Masters Place, looking out over the third fairway of the club's 18-hole championship golf course.

Self-described "joiners," the Pages are active in the community and love to meet new people. Bill serves as a trustee for Pulaski Technical College, and Gayle volunteers with Central Arkansas Radiation Therapy Institute (CARTI), Arkansas Children's Hospital and Ronald McDonald House.

One of the Pages' favorite things about Maumelle is the Maumelle Veteran's Memorial at Lake Willastein, for which Bill served as general contractor (the Renaissance man also has an engineering degree) and lead fundraiser. "It's been declared the best veteran's memorial in Arkansas," he said, and it's a touching dedication to the men and women who have protected and continue to protect our country.

Where to eat:
Capers (Little Rock) - "Try the pork tenderloin with pearl onion jam and Manchego cheese grits."
Carino's Italian Restaurant (Little Rock) - "Best curbside service."

What to do:
Arkansas Repertory Theatre (Little Rock) - 2012 performances include "To Kill a Mockingbird," "The Wiz" and "Next to Normal."
Maumelle Country Club - 18-hole, semi-private golf course has a driving range and putting green area and a club house; members have access to a pro shop, pool and tennis courts.
Maumelle Trail System - 26 miles of walking/biking trails within the Maumelle city limits.

Dr. Gohar Azhar, Little Rock

Arkansas Testimonials reveal the beauty of the Natural State Dr. Gohar Azhar, Little Rock

A native of Karachi, Pakistan, and the youngest of 10 children, Dr. Gohar Azhar had always been passionate about the study of aging. She never imagined, however, that her passion would bring her to Arkansas, a state she'd never even visited and knew very little about.

Azhar set her destiny in motion when she accepted a fellowship at Harvard Medical School in Boston. For nine years, she trained as a physician/scientist in geriatrics under renowned geriatrician Dr. Jeanne Wei. Then Wei accepted a position as director of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences' Reynolds Institute on Aging in Little Rock.

Not long after, Azhar also left Boston for UAMS to continue research with Wei, who she describes as "the best mentor possible." "I came to UAMS because there was a good aging program already established, there was great community support, and, unexpectedly, there were so many people here excited about aging and interested in aging research," said Azhar. "It's very exciting to work in a place that gives so much emphasis to a field I'm so passionate about."

One of Azhar's favorite things about living in Arkansas is the temperate climate. "I went from shoveling snow six months a year and actually having to dig my car out of the snow, to living here, where it's beautiful and the weather is good," said Azhar.

The small-town feel of Arkansas's capital city also gets rave reviews from Azhar, who likes the shorter commute to work and the fewer traffic challenges.

Although Azhar doesn't have a lot of spare time, she enjoys relaxing at her home in the Leawood neighborhood while watching birds at the feeder and honing her photography skills. "Everything is as perfect as it can be. Often, I think of it and realize what a wonderful choice I have made."

Where to eat:
Brave New Restaurant - "Excellent view of the Arkansas River and delicious food; try the Scallops Rockefeller."
Copper Grill - "Urban downtown vibe; try the Not Your Mom's Homemade Mac & Cheese Balls."

What to do:
Arkansas Arts Center - Highly regarded for its collection of works on paper.
Pinnacle Mountain State Park - Located just west of Little Rock, the park offers ample hiking trails, including two that lead to the mountain's summit.

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