After contemplating this for several days I’ve decided to put a hold on this note-a-day project. How do you put a “hold” on a project where you intended to write a note a day for a year? I don’t know. I suppose I’ll learn what that means later.

It’s not because there aren’t plenty of people left about whom I can write. There surely are.

It’s not because I don’t appreciate how good it is to begin each day with these kinds of thoughts.

And it isn’t because I don’t like doing it any more and just want to quit.

I’ve neglected a few other important early-morning habits lately, and can sense a void. The voids are mostly physical and spiritual and I’m not willing to live in either. I’m not spending nearly as much time in the bible as I prefer, and am not taking early-morning walks. There’s also a final two chapters and an epilogue to write for Pilgrim Strong, and those chapters contain important messages. They need me to be on my A game.

Thank you for coming along on these past 91 days of notes. We’ll reset and reframe this another way in the months ahead. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about life lately, it’s that there really are no rules.

As always, my deepest appreciation to anyone who reads.



Day 90: Dr. Ruth Hawkins


Dear Ruth,

Before there is creativity, there must first be a creator.  To the great shock of many, there is no magic fairy with pixie dust who makes the big stuff happen.

In a world where so many just want the limelight and credit, it’s comforting to remember there are some who just keep getting things done, oblivious to all the accolades they truly deserve – they just keep plowing new ground.

Dr. Ruth Hawkins. Pioneer. Mentor. Friend.

Thank you for making a difference in everything you’ve ever touched. You were raising real charitable money with real numbers long before the charitable fundraising business learned how to inflate its numbers and exaggerate its impact for its own glory. You were seeing amazing opportunities on the distant landscape before most ever saw land. You were venturing down unknown avenues where no one ever set foot, and that most of us in retrospect now say, “…of course, it was there all along.” Truth is for so many expeditions, you drew the map.

It’s been a privilege in the years I’ve known you to watch a modern-day pioneer blaze so many trails. Thank you for being someone we all can admire.

A hundred years from now when our grandchildren take their children on a long weekend getaway through Arkansas they’ll visit the places where your fingerprints will forever remain. The Southern Tenant Farmers Museum in Tyronza, Lakeport Plantation in Lake Village, the Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum and Educational Center in Piggott, and the Historic Dyess Colony: Johnny Cash Boyhood Home in Dyess. I have no doubt you’ll leave your mark on the Sultana project in Marion. It would be easy to cite more, but there are too many to recount.

And with sincere gratitude, thank you for all the opportunities you gave me along the way. From interviews to a young college newspaper reporter, to summer intern, to employee, to counselor in business, and so many other ways you contributed to my livelihood. I am grateful beyond measure. You never, ever forget the people who give you a chance.

Happy birthday to one of my most favorite, admired and respected people ever.

Your fan,

Steve Watkins



Day 89: Pat Conroy

“I prayed hard and only gradually became aware that this fierce praying was a way of finding prologue and entrance into my own writing. This came as both astonishment and relief. When I thought God had abandoned me, I discovered that He had simply given me a different voice to praise the inexhaustible beauty of the made world.” ~ Pat Conroy

(Note: Generally, these notes are reserved for people I’ve known personally and with whom I’ve shared some personal experience. Pat Conroy was within an hour’s driving distance of my home twice and I never went – one of my life’s great regrets. Though we never met, it feels I know him personally. If you ever wondered if you can love someone you’ve never met, I can tell you the answer is ‘yes.’)

Dear Pat,

Until you, I never knew words could be so beautifully assembled. I’d never known the kind of writing where one must occasionally must stop and breathe because the prose is overwhelming. You showed me take-your-breath-away good.

Gosh, Pat, the talent in your little finger would be good enough for me.

I’m so sorry for the experiences you endured as a child and young man. So thankful you shared them for a greater good giving us all permission to feel at the deepest depths. “The times weren’t all tragic,” I can just hear your response. “Just the ones involving any member of the family.”

Never has there been a writer whose fans loved him more. A man who couldn’t type, hated the word ‘blog,’ and who knew depression in ways most will never comprehend. Charming, funny, unapologetically Southern, sophisticated, cosmopolitan, and a rebel who pushed every boundary – that was our Pat.

When you passed last March I wept. If only you could write us once more about what it was like, that experience walking into the next realm. What a great next story you have to tell. I still miss you so much, but I have your words. They will have to do for now.

I hope to shake your hand firmly and give you a big hug some day. There has never been a man with bigger and more humble heart.

You are my hero.

All my love,

Steve Watkins






Day 86: J.R. Blackburn

Dear J.R.,

Having good neighbors is such a pleasure. It’s difficult calling it a neighborhood without the good neighbor part.

We will miss you so much in our little Culberhouse Cove.

The “For Sale” sign remains, but you and Terry are gone now. I love the way you cared for everything – the grass, neighborhood common areas, a clean truck at least once a week – always busy, always doing something. We’re so glad you were here for a time.

Best wishes in the new home, and thanks for leaving our neighborhood a better place than you found it.

Your friends and neighbors,

Steve and Dana

Day 85: David Landis and Anna Dintaman Landis

Every morning’s typical breakfast routine, planning the day ahead and thinking just a bit about tomorrow.

Dear David & Anna,

Everyone approaches things differently, I suppose. Some people try planning every detail as much as possible. Others go at it knowing almost nothing. Getting ready to solo walk 40 days across a country, I wanted a balance somewhere between the two. Your guidebook was the perfect planner.

It may be true that anticipation of an experience like pilgrimage is one of the very best parts. As part of my anticipation, I searched all the popular guidebooks and chose yours as my companion before, and during, the walk. It seemed it had everything a person could need.

Adventurers and authors, David and Anna Dintaman Landis

Reading through the sections in the weeks before departure, your descriptive narratives, elevation charts, beautiful photos, and historical sidebars only increased my excitement. If the trip was as good as the book, I was bound for a great experience. Just before departure, we purchased two additional books for my wife and mom, and for their own daily account of my progress across the Iberian peninsula. Dana carried hers a year later in 2016.

On arrival, and from Day 1, the guidebook was among my top three most valuable possessions. There was a quick routine study every morning, lunchtime, and just before bed. Your work became a trusted daily planning tool, and even remedied a few jams along the Way.

I still have it. It survived a nearly white-out, seven-hour blizzard down O Cebreiro, the constant dampness across the Basque countryside, and even a few accidental spills of a refreshing second-breakfast San Miguel. Dog-eared, worn, and crinkled from so many wet-dry-wet cycles, it sits on the bookshelf as a prized, trophy-possession of perseverance and the best of times with new friends and great adventures.

Thank you for your gracious endorsement of my own book due out in a few months. It’s such an honor. In a different sort of way, I hope it contributes something just as special to the body of literary works dedicated to the place that means so much, to so many.

Buen camino, y vaya con Dios.

Your friend,

Steve Watkins

Day 84: Monette Class of 1984


Dear Classmates, (all 23 of you)

How can Day 84 pass without each of you coming to mind? My original society. My gang. My tribe.

Weren’t we the lucky ones living in the heart of small-town America, free to come and go and find as much trouble as we could, even though there was honestly so little trouble to be found? For 12 years we propped one another up, laughed until we cried, and tasted the beginnings of how we’d write our individual life stories.

When I think of you all, I think not of who I wish to be, but rather the heart of who I truly am – a small-town farm boy from rural Arkansas.

Cruising main, ball games every Tuesday and Friday night, maybe a Saturday night movie and pizza in Jonesboro if it had been a good week. There was much predictability to our young lives. I think we rather liked it that way.

If you have as many fond memories of those 12 years as I, you occasionally get lost in your thoughts as you sit in the stands at a grandchild’s ball game or a sixth-grade graduation. You reflect on the most innocent times when your priorities were consumed with things such as finding time for your next car wash or who wouldn’t completely turn you down for a date to the junior prom.

Memory still smells the hallway smells, and hears the familiar voices, and it still hears young cheerleader voices reverberating through that old gym I called home:

We’ll be loyal to you, MHS, to your colors be true MHS; We’ll back you to stand as the best in the land, for we know you have pep, MHS, rah, rah. So, answer the call, MHS; We are backing you all MHS. With brain and with muscle, we’ll get right down and hustle, and win for you all MHS, Rah, Rah!


(In memory of Shawn Perrin, student council president, teammate, friend.)


Day 83: Paula Miles


Dear Paula,

I’m not certain if everyone does this, or even if it’s good or bad, but at some point a few years ago I realized a subconscious pattern where I’d file away certain thoughts, and even create categories about the people I’ve known.

Paula Miles (left) and Linda Hinton.

There’s a small file for the troublemakers, a special file for the mentors, one for the people whom I really need to do something nice for some day, and another that I just call “the good people.” There are dozens more files actually, but you get the idea.

During the times I’ve reflected on you and Rick, you’ve both always been at the front of “the good people” file. It may not sound like much, but it’s one of my favorite, most treasured files.

This all came to mind a few days ago when you volunteered to send a letter of support for something I’d asked about, and shown an interest in pursuing. You went out of your way in doing something really nice, and it was such a kind gesture. We live in a time when that kind of thing should really be more appreciated. Some people have a better understanding than others that the mission field begins right outside our front door.  I’ve always seen you and Rick as two people who get that.

Well, I do declare…

So many great things in Arkansas have been set in motion with your help – treasured histories helping us recall our connections to Ernest Hemingway and Johnny Cash, the Southern Tenant Farmers movement, Lakeport Plantation, and the Sultana tragedy.  The low-key role you’ve played in so many things is the true indication of a pure servant’s heart.

Thank you for all the big things, and for all the small things. Your gesture toward me a few days ago may seem small to you, but it was a big deal to me.

Thanks for being one of the “good people.”

Your friend,

Steve Watkins

Day 82: Sophie, Averie, and Maggie


Averie, Sophie, and Maggie

Dear Girls,

Well, it’s time to pack up and hit the road for home. Another spring break at the beach has come and gone.

When this season rolls around every year I’m afraid you three will be too grown to let me share this trip with you. The day is coming, but luckily for me this is not that year, and I pray it won’t be the next. We’ve made some good memories at this place.

It’s always a pleasure to be in the company of good kids. Thank you for being the kind of kids where there are never any worries or concerns. Thanks for just letting me come along. You three are the best. You’ll always be the darlings of Period Key to me.

How long will I bring you on spring break at the beach?

As long as you’ll let me.





Day 80: Stephanie Curton Kenley

Dear Stephanie,

When it’s time to assemble a team, you’re always looking for people with diverse qualities and individual talents. The pieces and parts should come together to complete the whole.

Stephanie and husband, David.

When it came time to hire a new development officer for a growing and diverse team eighteen years ago, you entered the picture at a moment when we needed something fresh. Some energy. Some spunk, if you don’t mind my saying. Every team needs a bright, young, spunky player who will challenge the old ways of thinking. I knew it would be you before the applications were ever mailed – before you even graduated, honestly.

Life moves so quickly.

A few days ago, Dana mentioned from across the room that you were off on a 40th birthday celebration vacation. It bewildered me.

“She’s not 40. She’s not even 30. You’re way off on that one,” I said.

“Well, that’s what it says,” she said.

“Something’s wrong. There’s no way that’s right.”

Sure enough, you’re celebrating the Big Four O today. I’m so happy for all the ways you’re still using your gifts and talents.

Stephanie and sons.

You have the family you always dreamed about and I know the responsibility you take most seriously is wife and mom. You’ve always known that family is the core of everything real. I suspect you learned that as a child.

You’re now a successful medical professional – a labor and delivery nurse ensuring the safety and care for new moms and babies as God creates new families at Arkansas Children’s Hospital every day. It’s hard to imagine you fulfilling a calling that fits you better.

I’m glad we were on the same team for a time. We all learned some lessons in fundraising we can apply to whatever it is we pursue, wherever we might pursue it.

It’s not even my job to be proud of you. I’m proud of you, nonetheless. I hope that’s okay.

Happy, birthday, kiddo. You’ll always be that spunky kid to me.

Your friend,

Steve Watkins



Day 79: Dan Wagaman


Dear Dan,

It’s funny how times change.

When I was a teenager spring break meant my dad got a week of free labor as we readied for cotton planting season. The suggestion of a vacation would have been laughable. My kids have almost always thought spring break is an automatic ticket to the beach.

It was a late-season, last-minute call last week and I knew it wouldn’t be easy finding a place. Thank you very much for going out of your way to accommodate a condo for a few days. I have to take these opportunities when they come. Every year I fear my youngest daughter will be too old for me on the next.

Thank you for helping us, and again, for going above and beyond the call. That’s increasingly a lost art in this world.

See you in about 8 hours. We’re Perido Key bound for SBMMXII.

Bringing the check,

Steve Watkins