Mary Acklin of Conway holds the Marion Baker Lifetime of Service Award she received Tuesday from the Faulkner County Democratic Party. Acklin has been a member of the group for decades. Retired from the Conway Human Development Center, she manages Acklin Rental Property and is active in her church and other civic groups.
Mary Acklin of Conway is full of stories about her work on political campaigns and growing up as a black woman in the South.
But she’s a closed book when it comes to sharing many of them.
“You can’t write that,” she said more than once, laughing. Acklin said she doesn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, for one thing, and for another, she doesn’t believe in dredging up the past.
“You can look back, but don’t dwell on what happened. I don’t think it’s good for our soul,” she said, sitting on the couch in her living room. “If you look back, you’re going to break your neck, or you’re going to run into something. Look forward. Do what God wants us to do.”
Acklin was honored Tuesday with the Marion Baker Lifetime of Service Award from the Faulkner County Democratic Party.
Former state Rep. Betty Pickett, D-Conway, who introduced her at the event, said Acklin has been a lifelong Democrat and “has just been very loyal to the party. She has been, in her time, very, very active in the party.”
Acklin manages Acklin Rental Property, which she has done for more than 50 years, and she has been a member of the Faulkner County Democratic Party for about that long, too, she said. Acklin said she’s been involved in politics since she was a teenager.
“I worked in the polls since I was 18; I’m still working the polls,” she said.
She was born in Conway — her mother was from Arkansas, and her father was from Syracuse, New York — but her father didn’t like Arkansas and moved the family back to New York.
She’s lived in Arkansas since she graduated from high school, but Acklin said she and her mother worked for the Rockefeller family in New York before Acklin moved to Arkansas.
“We’d go fix up for the parties,” Acklin said. “We did all the setting up, decorating and served the food.”
She met Troy Acklin in Arkansas while she was visiting her grandparents, G.W. and Beulah Anderson of Conway. He worked on the railroad with her brother, who introduced her to Troy.
“He had on overalls and all that,” Acklin said of Troy. She was not that impressed at first. However, her family kept pointing out what a good man Troy Acklin seemed to be and how he came from a nice family, and Mary Acklin agreed. She married Troy in 1953, and they had been married 58 years when he died in 2011.
Acklin has five daughters, five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Daughters Deborah Acklin Blackwell of Atlanta and Diane Foster of Maumelle were present to see their mother accept the honor.
“The one thing I admire, she has worked diligently in the community and has done things, and I hope one day I can pattern my life after that,” Blackwell said. “I’m proud of her; I really am.”
Acklin’s three other daughters are Barbara Edwards of Texas, Beverly Bunting of North Carolina and Sandra Acklin of Washington, D.C.
Mary Acklin said moving to Arkansas was a good decision, although she didn’t want to come here at first.
She recalled that once when her grandparents visited her in New York, she overheard them ask her mother if she’d let Acklin come back to Conway with them. Acklin, whose father’s nickname for her was Puddin’, said she remembers she was eating homemade ice cream at the time. When her mother called for her, she walked slowly, nervous about what was going to be asked of her.
Her grandparents said they needed someone to help them in their older years, and they also offered to pay for Acklin to go to school. Acklin said she had been taught not to disrespect her elders, so she went without an argument.
“I’m so glad I did,” she said.
Acklin said she attended State Teachers College of Arkansas, now the University of Central Arkansas, for two years. She worked in the cafeteria while she was enrolled in college. She stopped taking classes when she and Troy started their family, but she continued working in the cafeteria.
“That wasn’t my story to do,” she said of the food-service job. Acklin became a licensed practical nurse and worked for 40 years as a supervisor at the Arkansas Children’s Colony, now the Conway Human Development Center, and she was one of its first black employees. Acklin said she still has a heart for special-needs children and adults.
Acklin said she also worked for Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller on the weekends at Rockefeller’s operation on Petit Jean Mountain.
“I’d get there at 6 and work till 2, 3 in the mornings, Friday,
Saturday and Sundays,” she said. Acklin said she decorated, set up tables and prepared for parties and gatherings. “We did those big meetings when he’d bring those people from overseas.”
She said Rockefeller called her Smiley. “He’d say, ‘Here comes Smiley — things’ll get done,’” she said.
Acklin said she also helped with all of Rockefeller’s campaigns when he ran as a
Republican for governor.
“I didn’t know if I was Democrat or Republican at that time — didn’t really care,” she said. “I looked at what this man could do for the country.”
In addition to working for the Union-Pacific Railroad, Troy had about 40 head of cattle when they married, and sometimes he helped Rockefeller
with his cattle farm. Acklin said Rockefeller gave her husband a cow many times as a Christmas gift.
“People loved Winthrop,” Acklin said. “He didn’t care if you were black, white, gray, who you were. He taught us — it’s not so much about winning, he’d say — it’s about helping.”
Acklin said that in the North, the color of someone’s skin was not a big deal. When she came to the South, she said it was “black here, white here,” she said, pointing in different directions with both hands.
She recalled hurrying to get a drink of water once at the whites-only water fountain.
“I didn’t look up at the sign,” she said. Acklin also recalled being asked to give up her seat on a bus for a white child.
Her grandfather, a longtime schoolteacher, told her to take it in stride, saying, “Let’s go forward; let’s not go back.”
Something Acklin said she has appreciated about the Faulkner County Democratic Party is the camaraderie.
“We would work together, side by side. It was good to me, and it made me grow,” she said. Acklin said she recalls women hugging each other and bringing food for events. “Those things I won’t forget; I cherish those.”
Acklin said the color of a candidate’s skin — or even his or her political party — isn’t the most important issue to her.
“A person that’s going to give us a better life, help us get on the right track, that’s the person you want. I don’t care if you’re Democrat or Republican,” she said.
Acklin said she was happy to see Barack Obama elected as the first black president, though.
“He was educated, and he seemed like he was down-to-earth,” she said. Acklin said she believed he wanted to do the right thing.
Former President Bill Clinton is her favorite politician, Acklin said, and she also helped prepare for parties in the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion when he was in office,
Donald Trump’s win over Hillary Clinton in November “just hurt my heart,” she said. “I prayed and asked God to turn it over to his hands.”
Acklin said people need to cleanse their hearts of hate, and she patted her chest.
Acklin said she believes the Democrats “helped with a lot of that, showed how loving you can be.”
The service award from the Faulkner County Democratic Party means a lot, she said.
“I love … just us being together,” she said.
Acklin said she doesn’t often get to attend Faulkner County Democratic Party meetings because the day conflicts with the Pink Rose Arts and Civic Club, of which she is a longtime member.
“Every once and a while, I tell the Pink Rose Club — I’ve got to go to my Democratic Party [meeting] because I love them,” she said. “I love all those clubs.”
Acklin is also a member of the Eastern Dawn Chapter No. 175, Order of the Eastern Star, where she was worthy matron for 15 years and president for several years. She is a longtime member of the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce and has been active in Mount Gale Missionary Baptist Church for many years. In 2000, she was selected to the International Who’s Who of Business and Professional Women’s Hall of Fame.
“I love people,” she said.
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Niche Publications Senior Writer Tammy Keith can be reached at 501-327-0370 or email@example.com.