“When I first attempted to go to college, I didn’t do very well. In fact, I think it would be accurate to say that I was really unprepared for that first experience,” Cummins said. “After my first freshman year elsewhere, I was fortunate enough to come here. My second freshman year went a lot better, and the big difference was relationships. I received a lot of coaching and encouragement.”
Cummins grew up in Marked Tree, Arkansas, and played several sports in high school. He was on the UCA football team and helped the Bears win two Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference titles. He also served his country as a member of the United States Army Reserve 489th Engineering Battalion.
After earning his bachelor’s degree in elementary education, Cummins went on to earn his master’s degree in special education and taught for one year. Around that time, the state of Arkansas began implementing a kindergarten program. UCA was designated as a laboratory school under the direction of Walter Hodges, a nationally recognized authority in childhood education. Cummins was among the teachers recruited to teach students and develop the kindergarten curriculum, which earned him an additional master’s degree. In 1993, he earned his doctorate in education from the University of Arkansas.
Before he retired in 2017, Cummins’ 50-year career spanned across disciplines. He has been a teacher, principal, assistant superintendent and deputy director at the Arkansas Department of Education. He worked as executive vice president at Worthen Bank, senior vice president for business development at First Security Bank and as a financial consultant for Stephens Inc.
Cummins has served the Conway area and the state of Arkansas through several organizations including but not limited to: Conway City Council, Chamber of Commerce, Conway Civic Orchestra, Rotary Club and the Boys & Girls Club. He also served for five years as Toad Master for Conway’s Toad Suck Daze.
“Like his one-name celebrity status as ‘Woody,’ his occupation, regardless of the title or location can also be described in one word – ‘teacher,’” said UCA Distinguished Alumni awardee Raymond Simon ’66. “He has always possessed that special gift to make learning fun and the ability to convey information in a way that makes sense. He teaches not only by word but, more importantly, by example. He is the conscience of any organization with which he is affiliated.”
Cummins’ hard work and ambition make him no stranger to accolades, including an elementary school bearing his name. Still, he exudes humility when he is recognized, saying “there are so many others who deserve it before me.”
“When I got a call from Dr. [Houston] Davis I was in shock and disbelief,” Cummins said. “I began thinking about people who meant so much to me when I was in school. This institution represents a major turnaround in my life.”
Cummins has served as a member of the alumni board and the UCA Foundation board of directors. He is currently serving as a member of the campaign steering committee for UCA Now, the largest fundraising campaign in university history.
Cummins says his single best experience at UCA was meeting Cora (Barnes) Cummins ’68. They’ve been married 53 years and have an adult daughter and three grandsons. Today Cummins enjoys mentoring and will occasionally visit and have lunch with students.
“It was important for me when I was their age. I think it gives them an opportunity to bounce questions off someone they’re not accountable to,” Cummins said. “I was not blessed with a lot of talent and skills, but I think I have been well-served by working hard and working long. Sure, it helps to have above average intelligence, but social skills and empathy are paramount. At UCA, I was mentored by people with high emotional intelligence and I’d like to think I adopted some of their behaviors.”