SEARK icon passes away
Southeast Arkansas has lost an icon.
Bennie Franklin Ryburn Jr. passed away Monday. He was born July 26, 1934 to Bennie Ryburn Sr. and Virginia Ryburn.
Until he was 12 years old, Ryburn lived with his parents in Rison. In 1946, after World War II ended, he and his parents moved to Monticello and his father purchased what is now Ryburn Motor Co.
Upon graduating college from the University of Arkansas at Monticello (then Arkansas A&M College) in the late 1950s, Ryburn partnered with his father at the car dealership.
“During those times, banks would close at 2 p.m. each day and you could not get an automobile fi - nanced until the next day,” Ryburn said in his biography, obtained from friends of the family. “My father and I became interested in acquiring a fi nancial institution where we could offer extended banking hours. My father began to acquire stock in Commercial Bank in 1964 and, in 1967, he had acquired suffi - cient holdings to infl uence banking hours and thus, the image of banking in Monticello.”
During this time, Ryburn became a member of the board of directors for Commercial Bank and Trust.
In the 1970s, Ryburn—along with his father—gained majority interest in First National Bank of Warren. Ryburn was elected to the board of directors in 1976.
From 1972 to 1984, Ryburn was majority owner of Ryburn Motor Co. While running the automobile dealership, he reconnected with a friend and distant relative, Reginald Glover. He offered Glover a job at the Motor Co. and eventually at Commercial Bank.
“We were kinfolks and we grew up together in Rison,” Glover remembered this week. “When I graduated from Rison High School, I came to UAM and then got a job in Crossett. I went up to the motor company one day to trade in my car, he saw me and we talked for a while and he asked me if I wanted to come work for him there at the dealership. I thought about it for a few days and my family and I decided that was what we wanted to do. He was a great person to work for and with. He pretty well let me do what I wanted to do and I always kept his best interest at heart.”
Ryburn always had advancement on his mind.
“In 1978, we made the decision to exchange our national bank charter for a state bank charter, becoming the First State Bank of Warren, this was one of our best moves ever,” Ryburn once said.
In the next decade, Ryburn acquired majority ownership of the Bank of Star City where he served as Chairman of the Board.
After his oldest son, Bennie Ryburn III, had spent several years managing Ryburn Motor Co, Ryburn transferred his interest to his son and, since 1984, Bennie Ryburn III has owned the car dealership.
For 14 years, Ryburn served as an Arkansas State Representative. During his time in offi ce, he sponsored the legislation that ultimately moved what was Arkansas A&M into the University of Arkansas system and became the UAM.
Throughout every stage of his personal and professional life, Ryburn was a supporter and contributor to UAM.
Ryburn was the father to four children, Bennie Ryburn III, Angie Ryburn Barron, Ray Ryburn and Margaret Ann Ryburn. He had four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
“He was so sweet and so supportive,” said State Rep. LeAnne Burch. “He and his wife were so supportive of me when they found out I was running for offi ce but even before that, they were the best neighbors and always so kind to our family. I will always remember his wonderful sense of humor. When I was elected, he told me to go up there and remember where I came from. I will truly miss him.”
In November 2008, Ryburn received a lung transplant in Pittsburgh due to complications from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. For the past 8.5 years, Ryburn has traveled across the country seeking medical treatment but always refused to live anywhere but Monticello, hi youngest daughter said.
“Monticello was his home; he loved it here,” Margaret Anne Ryburn said. “In spite of his frequent medical travel, he never considered moving and he always wanted to get back home as soon as possible.
“My dad loved the outdoors in Southeast Arkansas. He was an avid golfer and hunter. The year after his transplant, he was so excited to get back on the deer stand, despite an infection, that we fi gured out a way to administer IVs on the stand and he hunted 19 days!
“He was a lifelong, enthusiastic Razorback and Boll Weevil fan. Education was very important to my daddy. He supported the UAM community every chance he got. Faith was very important to him as well—he and my mom, Mimi, treasure St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Monticello. His continued involvement in the banks kept my father active. He loved meetings at the bank, having lunch with colleagues, and checking in with employees. His health kept him from working a regular schedule, but he refused to retire.”
For the past several years, Ryburn has maintained the title of Chairman of the Board at Commercial Bank and Trust Company, First State Bank of Warren and Bank of Star City, but has not been a major part of daily operations of any of the three.
“He wanted to keep those titles until he died,” Commercial Bank President George Harris said. “Within the next 90 days, we will follow protocol and elect a new chairman. I enjoyed a 36-year working relationship with Mr. Ryburn. One of my favorite things about him was he did not profess to know everything but he had a great ability to hire people who could fi ll any gaps in knowledge he might have had. He always did his part in any situation he was involved in.”
Ryburn knew the value of a hard days work, Despite his health issues, he worked up until the end of his life.
“He was still active at the bank until the week before he passed away,” said Mark Owen, president of Bank of Star City. “Mr. Ryburn was a very loyal and dedicated person to his businesses and his community. He was active in all communities where his business were located. He loved and supported UAM.”