Events Ahead: WRI. This is No Stuffy Institute

Grab your planner when you join me each Monday because I’ll be previewing upcoming events that you won’t want to miss.

Jill M. Rohrbach
The late Winthrop Rockefeller was a two-term governor of Arkansas and great philanthropist to the state. His legacy is one of innovation and public policy with an emphasis in arts and education. His vision can be seen today on the land he once farmed atop Petit Jean Mountain near Morrilton.

The Winthrop Rockefeller Institute in partnership with the University of Arkansas System functions primarily as an educational conference center, but also offers a range of programs and activities for participants of diverse backgrounds, interests and perspectives. It is a place for study, a place for policy initiative, a place for continuing education, and a place for recreation and relaxation.

Executive Director Richard Davies describes it this way, “It’s a place of beauty to go whether tackling a difficult public policy issue or making soup.”

These upcoming events provide a good example of the program diversity WRI offers.

April 30 through May 1 is Winthrop Rockefeller Legacy Weekend focusing on Social and Racial Justice. The life and legacy of Rockefeller will be celebrated with the two-day event highlighting his contributions to and influence on his adopted home state of Arkansas. Participating organizations include: Clinton School of Public Service, Diane D. Blair Center of Southern Politics and Society, University of Arkansas at Little Rock Institute of Government, University of Arkansas Press, Winrock International, Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation.

You can also escape to WRI to nurture your artistic talents on April 22 through 25 during Art Escapes Spring 2010, which offers these great workshops: Wildlife Painting with Duane Hada; Plein Air Pastel Painting with Gary Ozias; and, Color Studies in Oil with Tim Tyler.

All-inclusive or commuter workshop packages are available. All-inclusive packages include three nights lodging at lodge and conference center and all meals beginning Thursday evening. Commuter packages include no lodging and only certain meals each day.

Registration is available online or by calling (501) 727-5435. The registration deadline is April 15.

The Institute also offers culinary arts education programs. A Saturday Chef’s Series is a one-day, hands-on class for recreational cooks. The Chef-On-Call program is a special session of the one-day cooking classes scheduled for organized groups. Sounds like a great girlfriend getaway to me. The April 10 Saturday Chef’s Series is already sold out. But you can sign up for future programs online.

If you’ve never been to WRI, you might be surprised when you see the setting and facilities. This is one of my favorite places, and I go there any chance I get.

Facilities at the Institute include 17,000 square feet of meeting space with 16 breakout rooms. There is a restaurant, bar, upscale lodging (rooms, apartment suites, houses), theaters, classrooms, historical gallery, gift shop, and library. Additionally, three distinct open-air venues overlooking lakes or the valley are available.

The Winthrop Rockefeller Historical Gallery contains pictures and text that tell the former governor’s life story and contribution to Arkansas history. It’s a pictorial gallery that is self-guided. There is also a 1957 film made by Rockefeller for public viewing in the 25-seat theater.

The Institute has also an indoor/outdoor barn for horticultural, cattle management, archeological and arts programs. You’ll also find butterfly gardens, water features and pedestrian walkways. The Demonstration Garden includes orchards and a heritage garden of indigenous plants. The Teaching Barn has a “dirty classroom” that can be washed down after use by art groups working on paint or pottery projects or after archeology projects.

In addition to attending WRI-offered programs, the center is available to any group, whether they want to hold a family reunion or a staff meeting. Individuals and families can just enjoy vacationing here. Guests staying at the 188-acre Institute can fish at Lake Abby or use the paddleboats. Other amenities include: tennis courts, Frisbee golf, basketball half-courts, volleyball, horseshoes, playground, jogging and walking trails, pool table, bike rental, handball/racquetball court, sauna and fitness center.

Learn more at

In the Area

Petit Jean State Park is about half a mile away as the crow flies, but about three miles by road. The park contains camping sites, cabins, restaurant and lodge, gift shop, lakes for fishing and pedal boating, boathouse, airport, picnic areas, playgrounds, pavilions, recreation hall, swimming pool and lighted tennis courts. Hiking trails lead visitors along forests, canyons, streams, meadows, mountainsides and a 95-foot waterfall.

The natural beauty of Petit Jean Mountain inspired the creation of Arkansas’s state parks system when Petit Jean State Park was established in 1923. For more information, phone 800-264-2462 or 501-727-5431 and visit

Also on the mountain, The Museum of Automobiles displays more than 50 cars, ranging in age from 1904 to 1967. The museum consists of 22,500 square feet of display space and a gift shop. Other auto-related collections on display are antique gas pumps and gasoline equipment and license plates.

Founded by the late Winthrop Rockefeller, The Museum of Automobiles was opened in 1964 with his collection of antique and classic cars. Following his death, the museum building and grounds were given to Arkansas State Parks. A non-profit organization was formed to reopen the Museum the following year. Several of Rockefeller’s personal cars are on exhibit. The museum also hosts two car shows and swap meets each year.

It is located at the eastern entrance of Petit Jean State Park on Ark. 154. For more information, phone (501) 727-5427 and visit

A half-mile from the museum on Jones Lane is Barnyard Friends. Kids of all ages can enjoy a petting zoo, pony rides, goat milking, bottle and hand feeding of animals and 50-minute horse trail rides. For more information, phone 501-208-7287.

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