'Shocked and disappointed': Community reacts to firing of senior center director
The agency that operates the Carroll County Senior Activity Center abruptly fired Director Jerri Marlowe last month, and a new director will soon take over.
Marlowe returned from a rare sick leave on July 7, and received the news of her termination. She had to immediately collect her personal effects, which she found heaped on the floor in the middle of her office. She was told she could not enter the Senior Center for a year.
The harsh treatment surprised a community that has repeatedly honored Marlowe for her service to seniors. The pile of belongings on her office floor included plaques for the Community Humanitarian Award, the Community Service Award and the Berryville Business Woman of the Year.
Justice of the Peace Ron Flake expressed the outrage many felt, saying the decision "shocked and disappointed" him.
"She put her heart and soul into making the Senior Center what it is," Flake said. "She drove the van, cooked, worked her booth at every occasion, sold quilts, led the team to victory at the Senior Olympics, competed personally in every conceivable event and made the Senior Center a welcoming, comfortable place for all us 'older' folks."
County Judge Sam Barr said he has enjoyed his lunchtime visits to the Senior Center, and he has appreciated Marlowe's service to seniors and to the county in general.
Berryville Mayor Tim McKinney also expressed his surprise, saying Marlowe "has done a great job for so many years."
Support also came from patrons of the Senior Center, and from the community at large. Marlowe received a petition with more than 100 signatures protesting her termination.
The Office of Human Concern, a nonprofit agency based in Rogers, operates seven senior centers in Northwest Arkansas for the Area Agency on Aging. AAA Executive Director Jerry Mitchell said the AAA has no voice in the OHC's decisions, but the AAA inspects the centers, and the Carroll County center has operated at a level similar to the other centers.
Tim Ensley, director of operations at OHC, would not comment on the firing, but he confirmed that OHC had hired a new director, and a formal announcement might come by the end of the week. Arkansas is an "at-will" employment state, meaning that few employees have any protection against arbitrary firing.
Marlowe worked as program director beginning in 1984, and she took over as director in 1986. She built a reputation for working tirelessly to raise the funds needed to operate essential programs like Meals on Wheels. She had a fundraising goal of $101,000 last year, and with $61,000 in lunchtime donations and $77,000 in fundraisers, she totaled $138,000.
Marlowe has volunteered with many community agencies, often finding ways to leverage her participation to benefit the Senior Center directly. She was a founding member of the Carroll County Resource Council, which has secured many grants to benefit programs ranging from drug prevention to low-income assistance.
Rob Kerby, executive director of the CCRC, said Marlowe has been a valuable asset to the community, and he added, "Her senior center has been a model that other senior centers look at to see how to do it right."
In addition to the honors already mentioned, Marlowe was featured in a 2000 publication of Carroll County News, "The Top 10 Most Admired Women in Carroll County." She has served on the board of the Federal Emergency Management Agency for 25 years, and she was a founding member and served 10 years on the board of People Helping People. She served two terms on the board of the Berryville Chamber of Commerce and four years on the Drug Task Force.
Marlowe said she is starting to recover from the initial shock, and she is considering her options for the future.
"I'll miss the people at the center very much," she said. "They're my family."