City & County

Tribute to Charles Summerford

In that classic southern novel by Harper Lee, “To Kill a Mockingbird” the main character, the protagonist, Atticus Finch, unsuccessfully defended an innocent black man in 1930’s Alabama. Atticus took on an unpopular case and skillfully defended the innocent man before a biased jury. Atticus conducted an excellent defense but the all- male, all-white jury voted guilty.

At the conclusion of the sentencing Atticus, packed his briefcase, and disappointed, walked out of the courtroom. The black spectators, remained silently in the segregated balcony of the court room until Atticus started to leave. They recognized and appreciated that Atticus has done his best. As Atticus left they rose in unison. They stood as a sign of their respect for the work this man had done for this wrongfully accused defendant and for their race in those times of America.

Charles Summerford, a local civil engineer passed away after a long illness this year on December 4th. Charles was probably more responsible for the progressive development of our area of Arkansas than since the pioneer settler, Jacob Barkman, brought much needed supplies to Arkadelphia from New Orleans aboard the his vessel the “ The Dime”, the first steamboat to navigate the Ouachita River.

Allyn Cox, the first mayor of the new town of Caddo Valley, first contacted Charles Summerford of Brinkley Arkansas back in the 1970’s. Summerford’s engineering business was at the time was located in Brinkley. Mayor Cox was trying to bring to Caddo Valley much needed treated, potable water.

Summerford agreed to take on the challenge. Summerford even moved his office to Caddo Valley. He became part of the community. He bought a home in Arkadelphia. Later he moved to the Degray Community. He was one of us.

Besides the lack of a water system in Caddo Valley in the 1970’s, the town likewise had no sewer system. Citizens were drinking and washing with water from contaminated wells. At the request of Mayor Cox, Summerford came to the Caddo Valley Town Council and explained to the town how he could help them obtain water and, even later, a sewer operation for the town. He convinced them that there could be Federal and State help with the financing for safe water systems and sewer systems.

Congress had passed legislation which provided grants to communities like Caddo Valley and rural areas to help provide clean water. This is the great thing about America, building a better country, a better, safer place to live with our tax money.

Summerford and Mayor Cox spent untold months, weeks, days and hours attending many meetings and talking to government officials in an effort to procure the financing for a water system. The process took years of work not to mention the expertise and knowledge of Summerford to achieve success. Without Summerford it would never have happened.

There were those who opposed Caddo Valley’s proposal that the town construct a water system. These persons reasoned that Caddo Valley should first solve the sewer problem before offering a safe water supply to the citizens. They thought that if the town provided more water to residents then there would be more growth. More growth would mean more use of excessive water which would tax the environment’s ability to absorb extra sewage seeping to the top of the earth. After all during those years the entire town often smelled like open sewer just driving through. But Mayor Allyn Cox knew that water had to come first and sewer second. Mayor Cox had the complete plan and he also intended to follow through with his plan to ultimately get a sewer system. Mayor Cox was unstoppable.

Allyn Cox was the most optimistic, indefatigable and patient person in his pursuits for the betterment of the town. Allyn Cox also spent untold time in his leadership of the all town projects. However, nothing could have happened without the difficult and persistent work of Summerford. Both Summerford and Cox actively pursued and called upon the political powers of our Arkansas’ Congressional delegation for help in behalf of financial aid and environmental permission for these town projects.

Caddo Valley was ultimately successful in obtaining both a water and a sewer system which were both implemented under the design and oversight Summerford Engineering. Soon Summerford’s reputation of success was responsible for more communities in the area to seek help to obtain clean water. Diana Rodgers Dodson Cox, who resided in in the Cedar Grove community, contacted Summerford to attend an organizational meeting, in the den of her home, with other Cedar Grove neighbors who desperately needed city water.

Diana had the dream to build a swimming pool at her house for her children but needed a reliable water supply. Motivations to begin a difficult project often come from strange, even frivolous, pipe dreams. The other neighbors just needed good drinking water. Summerford told them it was possible. It could be dreamed. It could be done.

The plan lingered for a while without progress, then Ross Whipple who had saved and renovated the historic Bozeman House on Hwy. 51, lent his support. The landscaping project around the Bozeman historic house included hundreds of azaleas plants. These plants in our climate, of course, needed sufficient irrigation. To irrigate to that degree would require a sufficient water source. Ross went to work and gave the smaller Cedar Grove Project new life. Suddenly the map for its water coverage was expanded to the Bozeman House all in between and beyond. Summerford advocated for and continued to work on the expanded project.

More and more areas requested coverage and the water lines were extended west to near Amity and south to near Gurdon. A non-profit corporation was needed. A corporation document was needed to create the organization. A corporation name was needed for the new system. The plan was to acquire water from Arkadelphia, which had become an area water supplier since the Caddo Valley water system’s inception. The new rural water system would be using the “city water” sold to the system from Arkadelphia. What would the new corporation be called? The neighbors were called upon to suggest a name. Margaret Brazil from the Cedar Grove Community suggested we call the company “Country Water”. Margaret reasoned that most water coming from a treatment plant was called “city water”.

The system would indeed be using the “city water” but the treated water would be conducted through a new Rural Water Company. With a compromise play on words “how about Country Water”? So it got its name.

Neighbors from all over Clark County volunteered to give, at no cost, rights of way which would be necessary to run the miles and miles of water lines. Many of you reading this tribute signed these documents to further the dream of water for our friends and neighbors in Clark County. Any landowner could refuse to allow easements and it would cause a difficult problem to run the lines those miles of water pipe. The new company received almost complete success in collections of signatures on all of the easements. There was a common cause and the people, in our pioneer spirit, stepped up to the challenge.

Summerford and his partner David Holcomb engineered the entire project drawing up the water routes, and placement of water tanks and stations. Summerford, as he did with all of his projects, wrote and obtained the governmental grants necessary to complete the work.

Summerford engineered an even larger and more ambitious project in Hot Springs and Clark Counties, The Kimzey Water System. That system uses water from Lake DeGray and serves homes and families in Clark County north of Caddo Valley and on into Bismarck and then eastward in Hot Spring County.

These area projects only touch the tip of the works and accomplishments of Charles Summerford in improving life for so many people in Arkansas.

Few people know, also, that Charles Summerford found the time from his busy schedule in Arkansas to travel to poor Caribbean Islands to share his engineering expertise in a missionary/humanitarian type of work. In some of these blighted lands he engineered and built life-saving water wells for the poor people of impoverished villages. We will never know how many lives were spared from the parasites and bacteria of the diseased ground waters and polluted streams which were traditionally used in these backward places.

Charles was one of the friendliest, most accommodating and “down-to-earth” of men. If anyone needed help Charles Summerford was there to help. He gave good, sound advice and left as a legacy fresh, clean and safe water for thousands of people everywhere he traveled. He helped in the development and expansion of towns and rural areas of this part of Arkansas. There is no progress without water.

Summerford was a man, as was Atticus in the Harper Lee’s novel, a man for whom that we should all, figuratively, rise and stand in our respect as he passes. Respect for the great things which he accomplished for us and for others. Imagine just what we could accomplish if everyone were as dedicated to the principles which Charles Summerford cherished, which he possessed and to which he adhered!

To paraphrase Churchill “never in the story of the progress of our community have so many owed so much to just one man.”

Thank you Charlie Summerford. I have heard it said so often, especially at funerals, “why didn’t I tell the lost one when I could?” I regret that I failed to tell Charlie of my respect and admiration for him and all of his efforts for us. Still, I do not think that great praise and accolades were what really mattered to or were important to Charles Summerford. He did not require the compliments of people to motivate his good character or his yearning for progress in our community’s growth. It came from his heart. Some people have it but most do not.

My deepest condolence and sympathy to Martha, his wife, and to his children, Tommy and Amy, for their loss. I missed his funeral because, in this time of covid and isolation, I did not know he has passed away. Yet I do not have an excuse for failing to tell Charlie, while he lived, how much that I appreciated his service to Clark County.

What a life he had! What accomplishments to be proud of! Thank you, Charlie, for the plentiful, clean and safe water which I drink and use every day!

An appreciative customer of Country Water,

Henry Morgan

4 replies »

  1. Thank you for bringing to light a story a lot of people, me in particular, have never heard.

  2. Charles was truly a great man. When I was a newbie reporter, he was always willing to patiently explain all the background information I needed for stories. It’s a statement of his importance to this community that our paths crossed so often that I sometimes just dropped in at his office to say “hey.” I was really sorry to hear he died and my condolences go to the family. And thank-you, Henry, for the heartfelt story.

  3. Thank you for putting into words some of the contributions Mr. Summerford made to our community and beyond.
    When I think of a southern gentleman, I think of Charlie.