Ralph Johnson, the force behind the revival of the retirement/recreational industry in Arkansas,


            The development of recreational properties first began in Arkansas in the early 1900s. With the onset of The Great Depression, however, these promotional activities all but disappeared, not only in Arkansas, but nationwide as well.  The industry slowly revived when, in the early 1950s, a few large land development corporations, principally in Florida, Texas, Arizona, and California, began mass-marketing lots for retirement/recreational purposes in those states.

In 1953, Ralph Johnson, a real estate promoter and developer, living in Hollywood Hills, California, decided to visit his brother, Jimmy Johnson, who owned a car dealership in West Memphis, Arkansas.  As he, and his wife, Mary, drove east through northern Arkansas, he was enthused by the exciting possibilities he saw in the beautiful, peaceful Ozark hills.

Ralph Johnson had a vision.

While in West Memphis, Lady Luck played her card; he was introduced to John Cooper, a Memphis business man who owned property on the Spring River, near Hardy, Arkansas.  He and his family used it for a summer retreat.

When he told Cooper of his idea, Cooper was skeptical at first.  However, Johnson was an excellent salesman and he soon convinced Cooper that he could make a pile of money by developing this property into a retirement community.  The picture Johnson painted of a luxurious retirement village, and the millions that could be made, convinced Cooper who, like most business men, was always interested in turning a buck.  He agreed to Johnson’s proposition: He would provide the land and Johnson would develop and promote “Cherokee Village” (Johnson got the name from the Cherokee Indian Trail of Tears which runs through the area).

            Once terms and agreements were decided upon and contracts signed, Johnson returned to California to put his affairs in order.  In the spring of 1954, he returned to Arkansas and got busy.  Once he went to work, things moved rapidly.  Before you could say “Jack Robinson,” the development of Cherokee Village was underway.

            When he and I met, Ralph Johnson was watching a bulldozer make the first excavations for Cherokee Lake, (the first of a proposed five),.  I had parked my car on the road above and walked down to the site hoping to sell him an ad for “Cherokee Village, Sharp County’s new retirement community”, on my radio show “Spotlighting Hardy,” (broadcast out of KALM, Thayer, Missouri).

He didn’t buy an ad but, after learning I had other skills, retained my services to perform publicity and promotional assignments such as designing a brochure, write the news letters (the first Cherokee Villager), and representing Cherokee Village at Sport, Boat, and Travel Shows (Chicago, Kansas City and St. Louis).

Johnson was a big man with a protruding belly and a perpetual cigar jutting out of the corner of his mouth.  To say he was an outgoing personality is putting it mildly.  Pompous, loud-mouthed, he rubbed a lot of the gentle, easy-going Ozarkians the wrong way.

The folks in Hardy sort of smirked behind his back as he talked of building lakes—5 of them for heaven’s sake!  Not to mention a golf course, an airport, a hospital, and who knew what else?

To the natives in these quiet, peaceful Ozark hills, Johnson was considered nothing but a “blow-hard.”  Cherokee Village would bring thousands of people to Hardy from all over the world, he said.  It would bring prosperity to everyone!

        Yeah, they thought.  Like that’s gonna happen.

            Not that people disliked Johnson; it was just that he was like a big blustery bug that disrupts the tranquility of a peaceful summer afternoon.  One that you want to stomp on—to make it go away.

The fact that he hailed from Hollywood, California may have added to the skepticism as it branded him as a “big city” promoter.

Actually, having been born in Maynard, Arkansas, he was a native Arkansawyer himself.

Excerpt from


We were married in February.

What could be more fitting, Carl reasoned, than to fly his new bride, in his new airplane, home to Marysville, and show them off to family and friends?Two months later he was granted a weekend leave.

We took off at four o’clock on a Thursday afternoon.  The L-2 climbed smoothly into a bright, clear sky and. as we flew eastward the sun cast an iridescent glow on the silver wings.  The air was smooth and a light west wind, blowing across the plains, rippling the green wheat fields below, provided us with a welcome tail wind.

We landed for the night in a small town in central Kansas.  The next morning, we woke at sunrise and hurried to dress and be on our way.

“Darn!” I said.  “My hair isn’t dry.  I guess I’ll just have to leave the curlers in and comb it out before we get there.”

As I tied a scarf around my head, I decided I might as well wait until we were airborne to apply my make-up as well.  I wanted to look nice for that all-important first meeting with my in-laws.

 “A perfect day for flying,” Carl exclaimed as we walked out into the fresh morning air.  We’ll have a tail wind again today.”

Mike picked us up promptly at seven.

“Put my make-up case on the table so I can reach it,” I cautioned as Carl stowed the bags in the plane.

As Carl had said it was, indeed, a beautiful morning.  The plane sailed smoothly through the air and I felt a mounting excitement as I surveyed the rapidly changing landscape below.  The rolling green hills and tree-lined streams were immensely different from the expanse of square fields and the flat prairie of southwest Kansas.

An hour and a half into the flight, I reached for my cosmetic case and was just balancing it on my knees when Carl tapped me on the arm and pointed ahead.  Beyond the whirling propeller, surrounded by green fields, was a beautiful, tree-studded town.

“That’s Marysville!” he announced proudly above the roar of the engine.  “We’ll be landing in a few minutes.”

“But it isn’t time yet!” I said frantically.  “I don’t even have my hair combed!”

“We had a strong tail wind,” he shouted.

I fumbled with the catch on my cosmetic case.

“Don’t bother with that, hon,” Carl said.  “We’ll land in a few minutes and you can fix up when we get to the house.”

“But I want to look nice when I meet your folks,” I wailed.  “Can’t we fly around—just long enough for me to put on my make up and comb my hair?”

“You look fine,” he said, reaching back and patting my knee.

I looked at him helplessly.

“You’re beautiful just as you are,” he consoled.  Then the clincher:  “Besides, ‘The Old Man’ likes his women to look natural.”

Although not totally convinced, I did as he suggested, put my cosmetic case back on the shelf and peered out the windows, first left, then right, the better to see the town that would be my future home.

There were trees, green gardens and colorful flowers everywhere.  As we flew over, people on the streets stopped to look up and wave.  Carl responded by dipping the wings of the plane from side to side.

A short distance east of town he pointed to a square of pasture land.

“That’s my Uncle George’s pasture,” he said as he eased back on the throttle and glided down until we were barely skimming the ground.

“It’ll do!” he announced, pushing the throttle forward.  We headed back toward town, flying just over the tree tops.

At the edge of town, he pointed to a two-story frame house surrounded by trees and flowering shrubs.

“There it is!” he said proudly.  “That’s home!  We’ll buzz the Old Man and tell him where to pick us up.”

Flying low over the house, he eased the throttle forward, then back, then forward again then, pushing the throttle full forward, he made a sharp, climbing turn and glided down to fly low over the house again.

As we passed over, I did a double-take.  In the back yard, a broad grin on his face, stood a middle-aged man, dressed only in a suit of baggy, white flannel, underwear, waving both arms wildly.

Carl opened the window and cut the throttle.  The only sound was the wind whistling through the wing struts.

“George’s pasture!” he shouted.

The man nodded his head and waved his arms again.  As Carl shoved forward on the throttle, I couldn’t resist a backward glance at the baggy white drawers disappearing into the house.

Back at Uncle George’s pasture, he landed and taxied toward the road, skillfully dodging rocks and prairie dog holes.

I saw a car drive up.

“They certainly got here fast,” I said.

By the time he’d turned the plane into the wind and cut the motor, two more cars had arrived.

“Looks like we’ve got a welcoming committee,” he said, indicating others speeding toward us in a cloud of dust.

“Not the way I look!” I wailed.

By the time we were out of the plane, cars lined both sides of the road and more were approaching from both directions.

“Looks like you’re a celebrity, honey,” Carl said.

As people swarmed into the pasture, he began shaking hands while I forced back tears of frustration.  I managed to smile and nod as he introduced me to friends and relatives, all the while wishing I could crawl into one of those prairie dog holes.

This was one of the most important events of my life and I had never before appeared in public looking so unsightly!

I seethed inwardly while Carl, blissfully unaware of how I felt, was having the time of this life.

To make matters worse, a photographer and a reporter arrived insisting we pose for pictures, one of which was later published in the newspaper over the caption:



(Local Air Corps Lieutenant Flies Here with Bride In Own Plane)

The picture was a masterpiece.  There wasn’t a shadow or a blur.  It captured every wrinkle in my pant suit; each curler came out in sharp detail, and my bare face shown rosily.

My embarrassment was obvious.

The reporter, an attractive girl about my age, was interviewing Carl when his father arrived.

He had donned overalls and a blue denim shirt.  A battered felt hat, cocked forward over his eyes, revealed shocks of unruly grey hair sprouting from the crown of his head.  He chomped furiously on a well-used cigar as he shook hands with Carl then, tears streaming down his cheeks, turned and folded the newspaper girl in his arms!

Carl set him right and I received a very wet, affectionate kiss.  The smile felt frozen on my face as Dad, his arms around both of us, chomped on his cigar and wept.





The prairie is said to be

a land of struggle

A land of ongoing mortal rivalry

between man and nature.


But only man struggles.


Once he passes on

the prairie quietly, steadfastly,

rights itself and heals its scars.


Implacable, ever-changing,

the prairie, like the sea, endures,

taking sustenance from the refuse of its past,

layering its skeletons to be pondered over

by future generations.





A storm sometimes

Rages over the prairie.

Roiling dust

Funnel clouds

Howling winds

Driving rains

Snow blizzards


Though havoc and mayhem

Rage about me.

I know that God is in his universe

And my soul is calm


A storm sometimes.