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.





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.