A life well lived: Brashears remembered for positive spirit, love of family
By Kelby Newcomb
Carroll County lost an icon this month.
Vol Brashears II of Berryville, longtime owner of Brashears Furniture, died Wednesday, May 15, in Fayetteville. He was 96.
Vol was born Jan. 4, 1923, in Poteau, Okla. He grew up in Berryville, traveling the surrounding area with his family as his parents, Vol and Ida Nell Brashears, sold various products.
“He traveled around with them and basically stayed in hotel rooms,” said Susan Brashears, his daughter-in-law. “That’s how they made a living and how he grew up. He did not go to school until second or third grade. He had a very unusual upbringing.”
She said the family eventually settled in Berryville and Vol graduated from Berryville High School.
“He went to the University of Arkansas for a short time before the war,” said his son, Doug Brashears.
Doug said his father attended flight school and served as a pilot in World War II. Vol later worked in the Pentagon for a few years after the war, he said, and moved back to Berryville to help take care of his mother, who was in poor health.
“He loved flying,” Susan said. “He had some amazing stories about it.”
During his time in the Air Force, Doug said Vol came back to Berryville on a four-day leave and married his wife, Helen.
“He got the marriage license prior to asking her,” Susan said, laughing. “He knew he only had the four days to convince her.”
“He had to be back on base at a certain time,” Doug said. “The funny thing about the marriage license was in a small town of course everyone knew. [Vol and Helen] were in church together, and everyone was staring at her because she was the only one who didn’t know he had taken out a marriage license.”
He said they got married and took off on a four-day adventure before Vol returned to the base.
“Mom passed away after 71 years together,” Doug said. “They were really inseparable.”
“His relationship with Helen was amazing,” Susan said. “They were always holding hands. They worked side by side forever. They were truly an inspiration.”
Doug said his parents loved each other and loved what they did.
“When [Susan and I] came back in the business in 1987, they were 65 years old,” he said. “They were still delivering furniture in the evening. They did literally everything.”
Doug said Brashears Furniture began as a lumber mill in 1935 and was run by his grandparents.
“It was where they shipped hardwoods throughout the Midwest,” he said, “mostly wagon parts. When wagons became less and less prevalent, they had to figure out other things to do. After the war, that was making bowling pins, baseball bats and bows.”
During the Great Depression, Susan said Brashears was the largest employer in Carroll County.
“They would buy and sell anything at that point,” Doug said.
According to an interview with Vol in the Aug. 29, 2005 issue of Arkansas Business, that included exporting live rabbits and bullfrogs. Vol said a good pair of bullfrogs would fetch $10 at the time.
“That was one of the things they did to get through the Depression,” Susan said. “They would ship bullfrogs. [Vol and his father] even wrote a book on raising frogs.”
“They printed it on their own press,” Doug said.
Susan said they became such experts that for decades the Library of Congress would refer people to the Brashears for questions on raising bullfrogs.
Doug said his grandparents converted the lumber mill into a general store in the 1950s. In 1969, he said his grandmother was in poor health, so Vol bought the business.
“It became Brashears Furniture at that point,” Doug said.
He said his father was “always a salesman.”
“He was always selling just to the end,” Doug said. “Up until a year and a half ago, he still came in and took the mail every day. He’d also stop at Arvest, where he’d been on the bank board, and bring popcorn over every Friday.”
Susan said Vol loved life and loved people.
“He wanted to know about you and connect,” she said.
Doug said his dad’s positive spirit and smile stand out the most in his mind.
“I never remember dad actually being angry in all of his life,” he said. “He was always smiling. He never raised his voice. When you asked how things were going, he’d always say ‘Things are good!’ ”
Reuben Smith, a longtime friend of Vol, shared what an inspiration Vol was at the funeral service Monday, May 20, at the Charles M. Nelson Memorial Chapel.
“Vol Brashears was an inspirational man who lived his life with integrity and joy,” Smith said. “You could sense these attributes whenever you met or spent time with him.”
He said everyone in the room could tell story after story of how Vol inspired them and made them feel special.
“Whenever I had the privilege of spending time with Vol, he would exude joy,” Smith said, “and I knew he believed in me and those around me. … Vol was able to be himself around anyone, but at the same time, lift the other person up by his words, encouragement, wisdom and smile.”
He said Vol recognized the value of every person.
“You can see the influence of Vol in his family today,” Smith said. “His awe-inspiring legacy lives on through them.”
Kristy Noble, a longtime family friend, said she sees Vol as “an icon and a pillar in this community.”
“I grew up knowing Vol and Helen because they were friends of my parents,” Noble said. “I would describe Vol as a kind and gentle man with a sweet spirit.”
She said some of her fondest memories of Vol were when she would pick him up to attend Berryville Rotary Club.
“He knew everyone, and everyone knew him,” Noble said. “He always had a canny way of making everyone around him comfortable. He laughed not only with his smile but most importantly with his eyes.”
Doug said his father was active throughout his life, exercising four days a week and line dancing on Fridays at the Cowboy Church in Green Forest.
“This past Christmas, this group of line dancers decided they would go dance at some local nursing homes,” he said. “Of course, dad was older than most of the people there, but [the line dancers] had T-shirts that said ‘Aged to Perfection.’ ”
Susan said the group wore the shirts to the service in honor of Vol.
“He danced his whole life,” Doug said. “He’d dance with mom in high school at the Grove on Fridays, and he was still dancing at the end.”
Vol was a member of the United Methodist Church in Berryville and was also a 50-year member of the Ashley Masonic Lodge #66, a former Arvest Bank Board member and was also honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Arkansas Furniture Association.
Vol is survived by his three sons, Vol Brashears III, Kent Brashears and Doug Brashears and his wife, Susan, as well as nieces and nephews.
Susan said Vol was proud of what the business had become and so proud of his sons.
“He always told us the only thing he gave us was a good reputation,” she said, “but of course that wasn’t true.”
She said he always taught his family and employees to sell quality furniture at a good price, to treat people with respect and not to buy merchandise you couldn’t stand behind. She said his motto was “If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse. Nothing stays the same.”
Doug said his father lived an exemplary life, being active and independent up until his sudden death.
“At 96, he took no medications, worked out four days a week and line danced on Fridays,” he said. “He was married 71 years to the love of his life.”