LAKE CITY, AR (KAIT) - "If you want something done, ask a busy person." That old adage describes May's GR8 Acts of Kindness winner perfectly.
Brenda Hutcheson has touched the lives of countless children while preserving history and envisioning the future for the community she loves.
"Isn't that amazing?! Look at how she starts that by herself," Brenda Hutcheson, Gifted and Talented teacher for the Riverside School District said, as she pointed to the book outstretched in front of her.
Hutcheson challenges young minds to learn. She has been doing this for 34 years in Lake City and Caraway.
Hutcheson admits she loves a good challenge herself. That led her recently to work on a labor-intensive effort to uncover the past.
"I thought it was a predominately black cemetery and I thought it sad that no one cared," Hutcheson said of a cemetery outside of town.
Hutcheson assembled a team of volunteers to transform the cemetery overgrown with brush, weeds, and briars—enough to fill 33 dump trucks, according to Hutcheson.
"We have located three stone markers for sure and we've located 16 graves," Hutcheson said.
Prairie Cemetery is the name Hutcheson decided the plot of land should be called after the cemetery was reclaimed from decades of neglect. Her dedication to this project and others resulted in nominations for the GR8 Acts of Kindness.
"I've never seen anybody who does everything," Buren Knight said. Both Knight and his wife, Barbara, nominated Hutcheson for the award.
We gathered up several of the nominators and headed to the classroom where Hutcheson sat unsuspectingly.
"Surprise!" yelled an ever-expanding group of friends, family, and students as they entered the classroom. Hutcheson sat dumbfounded looking at the people from all walks of her life.
Her husband, minister, daughter, teachers, and friends—even Lake City's mayor came to join in the surprise.
"Oh, my gosh! My husband's here!" Hutcheson said. "That means it's a really big surprise."
I explain why the group has made their way to her classroom.
"You are our next winner in the Gr8 Acts of Kindness," I said. "Oh, my gosh!" Hutcheson said. "Now wait you all!" She wipes tears from her eyes. "I can't believe this," Hutcheson said. "I'm overwhelmed."
And elated over this—cash from First Community Bank and KAIT.
"Four hundred, five, six, seven, eight," the crowd counts the prize money in unison. A few voices from the children in the group continue counting up to five hundred.
"Notice my students kept going," Hutcheson said with a big grin. "I've taught you well!"
"Congratulations and thank you for all that you do," Allen Williams, Community President at First Community Bank said.
"Brenda is the most loving, kindest person I have ever met and she just never runs out of time to do anything," Barbara Knight said.
Barbara has waged a fight with cancer.
"I go to M.D. Anderson every three months and every trip I have made, Brenda has made a goody basket for me. She knows I love lemon cookies!"
"We had lots of dignitaries come," Hutcheson said as you pointed to a picture of a bridge dedication.
Inside the Lake City Museum, Brenda preserves history for future generations. She approached the town's mayor to create it. He gave her one room. Within a month, she had it filled.
"He said, 'Let's just locate you to the old city hall,'" Hutcheson said. "So now we have about ten rooms filled with memorabilia from the Lake City area."
Some of that memorabilia includes a bridge dedication over the St. Francis River that she orchestrated to involve her students. The Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department director said it could never be done. But, he didn't know Brenda!
"We stopped traffic. We cut a ribbon," Hutcheson explained. "We let doves go. We let balloons go. I said 50 years from now, they'll look back and say, "Wow! They dedicated a bridge."
"She's excited to share that history of Lake City," Diane Montgomery said. "All of her students know what happened in the past, as they look to the future. Montgomery also nominated Hutcheson for the GR8 Acts of Kindness.
"And nobody knows how to tell her 'no' either," Buren Knight said.
Her next project is a veteran's memorial to be added at the Lake City Museum.
"On the city council, we have already discussed it," Hutcheson said. "We already have a place for it. We've secured about three-fourths of the funds. I'll be asking for donations and the names are what's important."
"The greatest act of kindness is giving back and that is what you do," I told Hutcheson. "And that is what you've done for a very long time."
"I became a teacher," Hutcheson said. "The Lord blessed me with that. I was able to do what I loved for 34 years. And I can safely say, 'I loved every day of it!'"
Copyright 2017 KAIT. All rights reserved.