Linda Crawford, a well-respected name in area economic development and Miller County election oversight, says getting things done right is always her top priority.
Crawford is a North Dakota native, and that is where she met the man who would become her husband, Buddy Crawford.
"On one of our first dates Buddy said, 'If this materializes, I'm not staying here.' It was the dead of winter.
"His version was, Buddy's Southern drawl sounded warm, I was always cold and glad to move South. Buddy had lived in Texarkana all of his life and after joining the Air Force found his first assignment was at a North Dakota radar site," Crawford recalled.
Crawford was born and raised in Mayville, North Dakota.
She and Buddy married in 1959 and established a home in the Texarkana area. She worked for a florist and Genoa schools for several years.
Her leadership in improving Texarkana began when she started working at the Chamber of Commerce in 1976.
"At that time, L.E. Gilliland was the executive director of the Chamber. He retired in 1979 and had been there for years. I was working for Dale Hubbard at that time. He (Hubbard) moved into that executive director position and ultimately Robert E. 'Swede' Lee became the executive director," she said.
In 1985, Lee asked Crawford to head up the chamber's economic development efforts.
"When Swede told me he wanted me to take over economic development, I was very surprised, very unsure of myself. He told me to hire an assistant. I prayed a lot and developed a good relationship with the Arkansas Economic Development Commission," she said. "The levels of help versus the state of Arkansas and the state of Texas was a vast difference."
Through her time as economic development director, she cultivated contacts that paid off greatly through the years.
"The first thing I did after establishing my own office was make those contacts and stay in contact. Anytime anyone called about anything, I would call the state. They were pleased with that because they said that many cities would work their own plan and then call to say what they need," she said.
"At that time Arkansas put money into a Texas facility (Alumax). I am told that likely wouldn't happen now, but it worked extremely well," she said.
The state helped fund training the initial workforce at Alumax. They were aware some employees would be Arkansas residents.
She met Fay J. Durrant in 1985. He had lost his lease for his packaging business in Memphis and was looking to relocate.
"He came into Texarkana on a Saturday. We met at the John Deere place that was still pretty much in the country at that time," she said. "It was one of the most marvelous relationships."
The partnerships and big projects kept coming, which included:
-- Southern Refrigerated Transport's relocation form Ashdown, Arkansas, to Miller County along Interstate 30. Then-state Sen. Barbara Horn and the Miller County Quorum Court helped make the deal happen.
-- A regional aircraft school at Texarkana Regional Airport, which came after developing a $2 million-plus package. Greg Arnold, owner of The Arnold Companies; the late Steve Leubbert, former airport director; and Larry Sullivan, former Texarkana, Texas, city manager and Texarkana Independent School District superintendent, all played a part in landing the airport school. The late Hayes McClerkin, an Arkansas state representative, also helped secure funding.
Retiring from Chamber, running food pantry
After 30 years of service at the chamber, Crawford retired in July 2006.
"I knew I had retired at the right time. When you retire, it has to be here as well as here," she said, pointing to her heart and her head. "On the way home, I prayed for two things. 'Dear God, I need to sell this car.' When I got home, I got a call and the car went away."
Her second prayer on the day of her retirement took a little longer to get answered.
"Dear God, help me find something to do to make a difference in people's lives, but something nobody else wants to do."
A bit after retiring, Fay J. called asking if Crawford's church, Christ United Methodist Church, would be interested in running a food pantry.
After getting the church board's approval, Crawford and her husband operated the pantry from the trunks of their cars.
"It kept expanding. Ledwell gave us a trailer and we put deep freezers in it. Then we found out through Camille Wrinkle you could join the Arkansas Hunger Alliance and every year you were eligible to apply for a grant," she said.
Crawford applied for and received money for the effort.
The pantry venture found a permanent home when a building was added onto the church's gym by a church member.
A local heating and air company added duct work at no additional cost, and shelving was acquired from the New Boston Road Walmart, which was undergoing a remodel. Walmart decided to help with the pantry as a service project.
"They had 18 wheelers and crews assembling the shelves. We fed them a fish dinner, and a few days later, he called to say, 'Come look at our warehouse and see what else you want.'
"It was an answer to our prayers and a total blessing. We were paid for and ready to go. My husband and I coordinated it for 14 years. I resigned about a year ago ... the church was interested in keeping the food bank running, and it is still going strong today," she said.
Miller County elections service
In 2007, Miller County got its first electronic voting machines through federal funding. Robby Selph, who served as election coordinator at that time, asked Crawford if she would be interested in working a polling site.
Crawford worked the Union polling place at Cornerstone Baptist Church. Selph resigned as election coordinator the following year.
"We knew we had upcoming elections, and three of my friends and myself got together and divvied up the main duties," she said.
One by one, her friends dropped out of the venture for various reasons, leaving Crawford in the role.
"As I began to take on full coordinator duties, David Orr (of Orr Chevrolet) was a patient and very kind mentor as he taught me the various facets of the election process. I now work closely with the county clerk's office. Tonya Bohn is the deputy for voter registration," she said.
"They never looked for an election coordinator. I do not work for the county. I chose to work for the Election Commission. They set a salary for me. I turn in hours for work directly related to putting an election together. We do a lot of volunteer work," Crawford said.
"This included getting with the school board and showing them how they can save money by moving their election to a different time frame, talking to legislators about more election equipment so each county in the state had the same equipment.
"We got our new equipment in 2017, and my deputy election coordinator, we went to Fayetteville and the election commission there is the best in the state. She spent a whole day with us about how to unpack equipment, get rid of cardboard and foam, how to use the equipment and directions," Crawford said.
"We do whatever it takes to make sure we follow the law and the necessary training. I love every minute of this. Fortunately we have had good, solid elections."
Last fall's election brought out 9,500 early voters at the Cabe Center. In the final few days of early voting last year, about three additional early election polling places were opened. Manning the early voting sites meant 12-hour days for Crawford and her crew.
Screens were built and sanitizer was used so there was no face-to-face contact amid the pandemic.
Orchestrating the move of the voting machines proved a logistical challenge.
The first move was to the Cabe Center took a utility trailer. The equipment then had to be moved from the early voting sites.
"I got a call on the Friday prior to the Nov. 4 election in 2020 from the company saying they are not renting to any government companies, but the law stated the equipment had to be moved out on Monday."
The company agreed to do it this particular time with mere hours to spare.
But Crawford's connection with Ledwell brought about the company making the elections team a good deal on a box truck with a lift gate. The company wrapped it with county logos at a nominal charge.
"It has been amazing what can happen. It never ceases that I am amazed at the generosity. There has never been a need that the county hasn't met," she said.
Another challenge came in February of this year when the election machines had to be moved due to flooding at the courthouse.
"Every department was calling their spouses, mothers, daughters, anyone who could help. We got the equipment out and then the next thing was to find a place to rent," she said.
The election equipment initially went to a storage building before being stored in a large office room.
"Security is a big responsibility," she said.
The electronic voting machines have to be recharged every six months, as well.
The county has 56 voting machines and 15 tabulators. There are also two check-in tablets for each voting location and three in the county clerk's office.
She said she is quite pleased with the accuracy of the election service and software.
"The new equipment has made it much more easier," she said. "We are hoping some day there will be a standalone facility where we will keep our equipment."
Stitch in Time
Crawford and her husband have two daughters, one son-in-law, five grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.
Her husband is retired from Union Pacific Railroad.
In her spare time, Crawford quilts. She has made more than 100 quilts.
"The other thing I did when I retired, I wanted to learn to quilt. I wanted to be able to leave my children and my grandchildren something that they know I made with love and something that cannot be bought," she said.
"I have made a lot of quilts and donated them to church to raise funds for the backpack program. I am making smaller pieces like small wall hangings."