Community remembers beloved businessman for his voice, philanthropy

Businessman and philanthropist John Robert Arnold died Wednesday at North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo after entering hospice care a few weeks prior. He was 94. (courtesy)
By: 
CHARLIE BENTON
Staff Writer

A Starkville legend died on Wednesday and left a legacy not soon to be forgotten.

Businessman and philanthropist John Robert Arnold died Wednesday at North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo after entering hospice care a few weeks prior. He was 94. Arnold was heavily involved in the Starkville community, including the Rotary Club, Boy Scouts of America, Starkville Christmas Parade and at First United Methodist Church, where he sang in the choir and taught Sunday school classes.

First United Methodist Church Pastor Giles Lindley said Arnold’s legacy would be one of “hard work, enthusiasm and singing.”

“We don’t know how many years he taught the seventh grade Sunday school class,” Lindley said. “There are people who are 70-years-old that he taught in seventh grade Sunday school. Up until last year, he taught seventh grade Sunday school. “

Despite the obvious age difference, Lindley said Arnold had no problem at all getting through to his pupils.

“The young people just loved him greatly,” Lindley said. “He could relate to kids who were 80 years younger than he was. He just had that kind of spirit.”

THE BUSINESSMAN

Professionally, Arnold was involved in several business ventures throughout his life, including a stint as CEO of the Herschede Hall Clock Company, which merged into his enterprises in 1973. Arnold led Herschede until 1984. Arnold also served as president of the Starkville Chamber of Commerce in 1974.

Dan Barkley, a Herschede restoration representative at Covenant Clocks in Portland, Oregon, praised Arnold for his business sense and compassion.

"He helped us to reintroduce a new generation of Herschede ... that history that John Robert was responsible for will never ever be repeated in our time and time beyond," Barkley said. "He was remarkable, an element of history and brought the finest clocks to us on the planet. His business brain was impeccable."

In addition, Arnold operated Starkville Tours, a bus transportation company that was contracted for most transportation needs of Mississippi State University.

MSU Chief Communications Officer Sid Salter said many former MSU students would remember Arnold’s transportation services.

Salter, who knew Arnold through FUMC, Rotary and service to the Boy Scouts of America Pushmataha Area Council said despite his wealth and success, Arnold was never one to show it off.

“He was modest in all things,” Salter said.

Salter also commended Arnold’s treatment of his employees, and his giving employment opportunities to people who needed them.

“I know of very few people in this community who touched more lives than John Robert Arnold,” Salter said. “He spent a lifetime giving back to others.”

A SERVANT AND A SINGER

Greater Starkville Development Partnership President and CEO Scott Maynard remembered Arnold’s tradition of singing Christmas carols on the back of a flatbed truck along with MSU students in the annual Starkville Christmas Parade, as well as his community involvement.

“He was a fixture at FUMC, the Fourth of July celebrations at the Park, singing on the back of a flatbed truck in the Christmas parade, and working with the Boy Scouts of America,” Maynard said. “He was a great man.”

In scouting, Arnold served as the president of Pushmataha Council from 1979 to 1981. In this capacity, he was instrumental in the construction of Camp Seminole.

“It’s going to be a very grave loss to the council,” said Pushmataha Council President Andy Gaston.

Arnold was a member of Troop 14 in Starkville and attended the first ever National Scout Jamboree in 1937.

Arnold was perhaps best known as a singer, spending several years in the FUMC Choir and other ensembles.

“Up until his last illness, he sang in the choir,” Lindley said. “He would walk up the steps of the choir room on the third floor.”

Brian Hawkins, who sang in the choir with Arnold, shared his memories.

"He had a gorgeous singing voice,” Hawkins said.

Hawkins also reminisced about Arnold singing in the Christmas Parade.

“If there was a way John Robert could give back to this community, he found it,” Hawkins said.

Visitation is scheduled for 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Friday evening at the FUMC Family Life Center. A second visitation will be held in the FUMC sanctuary Saturday from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m., with the service immediately following.

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