HI developer honored with park dedication
Over the past several decades, Tom Dees helped build a town in Northwest Arkansas. In fact, he’s still helping.
If they can get him to sit still long enough, he’ll happily tell visitors all about it — the struggles, the triumphs, the deals — as he spent the past several decades shepherding Holiday Island, a simple, high-end housing development based around a golf course, into a full-blown community.
Thing is, he doesn’t really want any of the credit — at least publicly. He knows what he did, and that’s enough.
“I’m not a fan of it,” said Dees, a fast-talking octogenarian with an Arkansas drawl, a salesman’s patter, a wry sense of humor and a deeply instilled sense of responsibility that has driven him to see Holiday Island become more than just another golf-course community. “There’s not a single thing out here that has my name on it. You don’t see my name anywhere.”
After Friday, that’s no longer true.
Dees, a Dyess native, was honored by Holiday Island business owners Brad and Donna Handley, the new owners of Veterans Memorial Park in Holiday Island, who rededicated the outdoor space Friday in honor of Dees and his wife, Kathy, in a special ceremony attended by a number of local residents and members of the Holiday Island Chamber of Commerce, along with a handful of more far-flung representatives, including Dean Lee of the Greater Berryville Area Chamber of Commerce.
“Tom and Kathy Dees took a leap of faith to invest and build not only this park, but the entire community,” Brad Handley said. “Tom and Kathy were so committed to honor our veterans, as well as recognizing the importance of providing a place for our families together for relaxation and allow our children to play. As a matter of carrying on the dedication of their commitment, it’s fitting that the Veterans Memorial Park be dedicated to Tom and Kathy Dees in recognition for their hard work, dedication and sacrifice, because without their vision and commitments, none of this would be here.”
Dees originally conceived the park — now named the “Tom & Kathy Dees Veterans Memorial Park” — years ago when several veterans service organizations came to him seeking space to build something in the area.
“I said if you want to come to Holiday Island, to the shopping center, I’ll give you the land if you want to put your park in there,” Dees said. “Something happened and they couldn’t get the money together and I took it over and built it.”
Later on, Dees attempted to gift the park to the development district, and then to a veterans organization, before it finally passed to Handley, who Dees said was willing to invest in the park.
“My wife and I wanted to invest in Holiday Island and the park became available for sale, so we purchased the park,” Handley said.
Handley owns and operates several businesses in Holiday Island, including providing training facilities for a number of private security firms, which he plans to do at the two-acre park. The park features a playground and memorial wall in addition to a building he’s remodeling into an indoor firing range, store and training center.
“Doing that will bring people here and when they’re here for training, they’ll eat in our restaurants, get gas for our gas station, stay in our hotels,” Handley said. “So it’s a good opportunity for everybody.”
In addition to the park dedication, Tom and Kathy were honored by the Holiday Island chamber, represented by Sheila Wolf. Wolf presented them with a crystal plaque recognizing their service to the community.
“When I think of Tom and Kathy, the first word that comes to mind is generous,” Wolf said. “Tom would give a potential Holiday Island business owner the shirt off his back if it would help convince them to come be successful as a business owner here in Holiday Island, especially because it helps fulfill his dream of building a town. As more and more families find Holiday Island … and decide to make it their home, the town that Tom built will continue to thrive and offer generations to come a safe and affordable and beautiful place to live.”
Lee, a longtime friend of Dees and his wife, acting in his official capacity as executive director of the Berryville chamber at the ceremony, presented Dees with the key to the city, saying the City of Berryville was “thrilled” to see him honored for his contributions.
“I’m just blessed to see them receiving the recognition that’s so well deserved and watching firsthand over all those years the things that they have done for so many and changing lives,” Lee said. “I know their former employees would tell you the same thing. The impact you’ve made goes well beyond Holiday Island and what you’ve built here.”
And now, there’s something in town with his name on it — at least for now.
“Somebody’s likely to throw rocks at it or tear it down tomorrow,” Dees said.