Always something to learn: Gibson reflects on years of public service

Friday, August 10, 2018
Joel Gibson will be stepping down at the end of his term this year after serving for more than 25 years on the Berryville City Council. Gibson will be celebrating his 99th birthday on Sept. 13.
Photo by Tavi Ellis/Carroll County News

After serving on the Berryville City Council for a little over 25 years, alderman Joel Gibson will step down at the end of his term this year.

Mayor Tim McKinney said Gibson was originally appointed to the council on Aug. 4, 1992, to fill a vacancy after another alderman had resigned.

“He came onto the council then and has been here ever since,” McKinney said.

Gibson said his wife had encouraged him to join the council after he retired from the Soil Conservation Service.

“I didn’t know anything about the council,” he said. “I came home, and my wife, who was still working for the department of finance and administration in Little Rock, said ‘What are you gonna do now?’ ”

Gibson said he had originally planned to work on his garden and lawn during his retirement.

“I always took care of my own garden and my own lawn,” he said. “My wife suggested I join the council. She said ‘You need to do something to help the city. Why don’t you help Tim and see if he can get you on the city council?’ ”

Gibson continued, “I talked to Tim, and the first opening they had they appointed me. I’ve never had any opposition. I just do what I need to do.”

McKinney said Gibson has never had an opponent throughout his 25 years of service to the city.

“I remember one year we had some citizens upset with us over an annexation issue,” McKinney said. “They went out and found an opponent for everybody on the city council and myself, except Gibson. They couldn’t find anyone who wanted to run against him, even to put their name on the ballot.”

Gibson said he has enjoyed his time serving on the council but decided he needed to step down this year because of health concerns.

“I’ll be 99 years old on Sept. 13. If someone had trouble out here some place and the city needed to do something about it, I used to go look at it,” he said, “and see what I could help with. I’ve gotten to the point with my legs where I can’t go.”

Gibson joked, “From my hips up, I’m in good shape. From my hips down, I’m gone.”

He said he told McKinney the other day he needed to be off of the council.

“I’m not doing what I need to be doing,” Gibson said. “I told him unless he wants someone else right now I’ll just work the rest of my term.”

Reflecting on his time on the city council, he said he could remember only one squabble about putting a water tower on Hailey Road.

“We got that settled pretty well,” Gibson said. “I’ve really enjoyed most of my time here. I don’t enjoy fussing. I never did in the soil conservation service, and I don’t here.”

He continued, “If we can’t settle something pretty quickly, I don’t want to be involved in it. There’s no reason to be sitting around, looking at people and fussing. That’s a waste of time.”

Gibson said he’s most proud of the work the city has done to maintain and improve sidewalks and streets, such as College and Freeman avenues.

“Streets and sidewalks are some of the things you’ve got to keep up and keep going,” he said. “One I can think of right now is the College Avenue project out through Cisco Road. That one I’m proud of. We put in a new bridge down there and got that fixed up. It looks nice all the way out through there.”

Gibson said he’s also enjoyed working with the other council members and the mayor.

“I’m going to miss the committee here on the council, and I’ll miss working with Tim,” he said. “I think he’s the best leader this city has ever had. When you work with him long and try to keep up with him, you know that because he’s already been there and figured out what needs to be done. All you have to do is get ready and do it. He’s the best I’ve ever seen.”

McKinney said Gibson has been an outstanding alderman for the Berryville City Council.

“We’ve been blessed to have him,” McKinney said. “He has great institutional knowledge and good judgement.”

While they have agreed on issues most of the time, he said he and Gibson haven’t lined up on one or two issues, but Gibson never let disagreements affect his relationships with people.

“It’s never in any way been personal or carried over. There’s never been any anger or resentment,” McKinney said. “He just takes care of people’s business in a good common sense way. That’s something we don’t see much of anymore.”

Gibson said he believes it’s important for everyone to participate in the public service.

“We all need to participate in our government, not just in our city but also in our state and in the federal government, too,” he said. “Get out and vote. Know what you’re doing.”

Through the soil conservation service, Gibson said he has worked in many counties throughout Arkansas, including Carroll, Madison, Searcy and Stone counties.

“I’ve worked with all types of people,” he said. “One thing I’ve learned by going to these places and working with people is that there are more good people in this world than we realize.”

Gibson continued, “We still have people that go out and find a farmer all dirty and don’t want to stay around. That’s wrong. It doesn’t make a difference how bad they look or how hard they work trying to make a living … you can learn something new from everybody you go see.”

He said getting out in the community is one of the most important parts of public service.

“You can’t sit here at this table and squabble,” Gibson said. “It’s not for your own benefit. It’s about trying to help people in the city and people who want to come into the city.”

“We’re going to miss Joel,” McKinney said. “He’s always served with a very humble spirt and never looked for any recognition, but he certainly deserves some.”

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