Dr. Joe E. Walthall (‘62) fell in love with the school that became the University of Central Arkansas while he was still a high school student. When the Magnolia native moved to Conway with his family in 1956, Walthall, a senior in high school, frequently ventured onto the college campus to watch athletic events and “girl-watch.”
When it was time for Walthall to choose a college, UCA, then known as Arkansas State Teachers College, was the obvious choice, he said. Walthall enrolled with a band scholarship in 1957 and joined the Sigma Tau Gamma fraternity.
"Since that time, UCA has been a big part of my life,” Walthall said. “I think this university is a great place to be.”
Walthall graduated from the college in January 1962, but his love affair with UCA never stopped, even after he left Conway.
Walthall spent two years, from 1962 to 1964, working as a technical Illustrator for Martin Marietta Corp., a California-based company building missile silos in Arkansas. He drew missile parts and had a top-level security clearance.
Also in 1962, he joined the 100th Airborne Division of the U.S. Army Reserves and went to basic training at Ft. Chaffee in Fort Smith.
After the missile project ended, Walthall joined the Arkansas Children’s Colony, now called the Human Development College, as the administrative assistant to the director from 1965 to 1967. He left that job and became the administrative assistant to the director at the Southwest Regional Diagnostic Center in Magnolia from 1967 to 1968.
He went on to further his education and earned a master’s degree from Oklahoma State University in 1971. While in Oklahoma, he worked as a rehabilitation counselor and helped rehabilitate young American Indians, many of whom suffered from alcohol-related problems.
When a UCA teaching position opened the same year he earned his master’s degree, Walthall jumped at the chance to move back to Conway and to UCA. He joined the university as a special education instructor in the Early Childhood and Special Education Department. Walthall stayed with UCA for 30 years.
While a professor at UCA, Walthall took a sabbatical and picked up his doctorate in special education from the University of Northern Colorado in 1975. He also began writing textbooks.
Walthall co-authored and published “Habilitation of the Mentally Retarded Individual” with Dr. Harold Love in 1974. Three years later, the authors published another textbook, “A Handbook of Medical, Educational, and Psychological Information for Teachers of Physically Handicapped Children.”
For his service to and support of UCA, Walthall, 74, of Wooster, was awarded this year's UCA Alumni Service Award. The award, established in 2007, goes to a person or couple who has shown dedication to the UCA Alumni Association. The award will be presented at the fourth annual Night of Distinction awards gala on May 10.
After his retirement in 1999, Walthall continued to focus on improving UCA. He joined the Alumni Association Board of Directors from 2002 to 2008.
Walthall helped build up the Alumni Association by bridging relationships between students and alumni. He served on several alumni association committees, was president of the association board from 2003 to 2005 and helped secure the location and construction for the Crafton Alumni Pavilion.
Under his leadership, the association evolved into an interactive community that reaches out to alumni and students.
"It gives you a lot of positive feelings that the work you are doing is providing help to students and graduates," Walthall said.
People who know Walthall say his leadership was good for the Alumni Association board. "He was a knowledgeable and steady leader," said Mickey Prince, of Conway, who served on the association board with Walthall.
"Some people are just a good anchor for the group, and he was a good, strong leader during his term," Prince said.
He didn’t stop with being a leader in the association. Walthall served UCA on many levels — he was on the Class of 1962 Reunion Committee, was inducted into the Half-Century Club in 2012 and started a scholarship fund that became fully endowed.
The Dr. Joe and Charlene Walthall Scholarship Fund is for students pursuing a degree in early childhood education or special education. Walthall helped incoming students choose UCA over other institutions, he reached out to alumni who lost touch with the school and he created camaraderie among the Alumni Association’s membership to develop a greater focus on improving UCA’s image.
Walthall and his wife, Charlene, who is a UCA alumna, remain active Alumni Association members. The couple, who wed in 1962 and have one son, Brooks, are sponsoring members of the Reynolds Performance Hall, UCA Purple Circle members and “general fans of the university,” Walthall said. They visit the campus once or twice a week.
"I've stayed active with the university for so long that it’s become a big part of my life and always will be," Walthall said.
Walthall is proud of what the association has accomplished and sees more and more alumni who choose to remain connected and loyal to the university. Those connections can make powerful, positive changes that touch the lives of individual students and create a stronger, more educated community, he said.
“If all alumni contribute a little, great things can be accomplished,” Walthall said.
Together Alumni can create opportunities for UCA and students, he said. An endowed scholarship, for example, can make the difference in whether a student goes to college, Walthall said.
“I truly hope that the University of Central Arkansas Alumni Association will continue to instill in students a relationship that doesn’t necessarily end when they graduate, but becomes a continuing part of their lives,” Walthall said.