Fort Smith exec honored at NWA Power of the Purse

story and photos by Julie Bagley
jbagley@thecitywire.com

The Women’s Foundation of Arkansas held its inaugural NWA Power of the Purse Luncheon Friday in Rogers, with a CEO from Fort Smith receiving the first annual top award from the foundation.

WFA promotes philanthropy among women to help women and girls achieve their full potential through grants toward education. It was founded in 1998 by women and most events have taken place in Little Rock. The group is expanding its reach into the Fort Smith area and Northwest Arkansas.

More than 100 people were in attendance at the luncheon at the Embassy Suites. Judy McReynolds, president and CEO of Fort Smith-based Arkansas Best Corp., received the first annual WFA Woman Business Leader of the Year Award. It recognizes her leadership in women’s issues in Arkansas. This is the only award given in Arkansas to a woman business leader.

“Since I became President and CEO a lot of people are excited about a women being in this role. But on a daily basis I don’t think much about it,”  McReynolds said, “Women need to know to work at it and they can accomplish this role.”

She credits the upbringing of her parents, who were in attendance to see her receive this award, for teaching her she could do anything. She told the crowd, she tried to pass along those attributes to her two sons.

“I’ve worked with many youth and women over the years and it makes a huge difference if parents are involved or adult volunteers,” McReynolds said.

The keynote speaker was the first female executive of Chase Bank, Neale Godfrey.

With her New Jersey attitude and quick humor, she had the crowd laughing during her stories of her high-powered career. She’s credited with approving a loan in support of Sam Walton’s dream of developing Wal-Mart. She even told the story of when she went on a float trip with him and 100 other bankers down the Buffalo River. Because of her first name, Neale, Walton was expecting a man to show up.

“He saw I wasn’t a man and said, ‘So little lady you are a banker. I’m okay with that because your money works the same as their [mens] money,’” she recalled.

Walton proceeded to ask if she had ever been in a canoe and she replied, “Of course I know how to canoe, I’m from New Jersey, we all know how to canoe,” she said.

Her story had the crowd laughing, but behind it was the point of her speech — women show up and just do it.

Godfrey said she loved her time with Walton, although she doesn’t remember anything about the canoe trip. She said she was praying too hard not to dump him into the river.

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Since those soggy times, Godfrey began The First Women’s Bank and The First Children’s Bank. Her mission has been to educate children and parents about money. She’s a best selling author and has published more than 17 books. She’s such an expert in her field, she’s been on The Oprah Winfrey Show 13 times.

“I’ve spent my life trying to create and give voice to women and their children, an educated voice, so we have be at the table eating the fruits of our labor and not just serving up the meals so the men can be nourished,” she said.

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