Ben Burton first saw her in Miss Inez Couch’s freshman English class.
LaVerne Bolding was “breath-takingly beautiful.” Of the many beautiful girls he saw his first day on campus, the dark-haired beauty from DeQueen captivated him the most, especially by the intense way she listened to him.
“She seemed sincerely interested in what I had to say,” he said. “It made me feel like Christmas.”
LaVerne noticed the handsome athlete and his quiet confidence when he took a seat adjacent to hers in class that late summer day in 1947. A year would pass before they had their first date to the football banquet. After that, much of their free time was spent talking on the back steps of Nelson Hall, where the dining hall used to be or on a bench under the famed old pine tree near Overstreet that no longer stands, but once bore the initials of young sweethearts.
“The bench around that old pine tree in front of the main building heard and holds our plans and probably bears our imprints,” LaVerne said. “It is where we rendezvoused and detailed a heavenly future together which has largely, miraculously, unfolded just as planned.”
The young couple would meet at the old bookstore to share a snack of tomato juice and crackers that LaVerne bought. They laugh about the strict rules of dorm life – the curfew and lights out early were strictly enforced.
English teacher Inez Couch, must have seen their potential even before they did, according to LaVerne, because she often highlighted the two students in class as good examples even before they were a couple.
Ben had known since junior high that he had wanted to be a coach and there were few that he admired more than Southern State College’s Coach Elmer Smith.
As Magnolia football stars in high school, Ben and his twin, Len Burton, were well known in the region and were courted by larger schools, but a chance to work with Smith won out. Coach Elmer made sure that football was like a full-time job for his players. As a member of Coach Elmer’s Quartet, Ben, along with James Etheridge, Prentiss “Duddy” Waller and Len, recruited by entertaining at area schools. He was also a member of The Musical Muleriders, who performed on an early morning radio show for Magnolia’s KVMA.
Keeping busy as part of the newspaper staff, LaVerne majored in home economics and science. She was Miss SSC and was crowned homecoming queen, but since Coach Elmer prohibited player participation in homecoming activities, Ben’s only glimpse of that homecoming was of his LaVerne being accompanied by another. “I only remember wondering, who is that guy escorting LaVerne?” he said.
“What a thrill and an honor it was,” she said.
After graduating, Ben followed his dream and coached football in Arkansas and Texas for 15 years, before going to work for Weyerhauser. Ben served a short time in the Arkansas legislature, became a public speaker and has written a book.
LaVerne taught school in Mena until they married and taught Home Ec and Science wherever he coached in between the arrivals of their four children.
Ben and LaVerne, were inducted as Distinguished Alumni, as well as Len Burton. They have made visits to the modern-day campus where they find themselves searching for familiar buildings and landscapes where memories and futures were forged so many years earlier. The Burtons now live in Hot Springs and are nostalgic, yet proudly impressed by how their intimate campus has been enveloped by expansion and growth.