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Fort Smith
Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Legendary Historian, Educator Retires

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In the newspaper business, we often get asked questions which are historic in nature. There is a gentleman I often refer people too, Dr. Curtis Varnell. He is without a doubt one of the areas most renowned and respected historians and equally esteemed educator.

Varnell recently announced his retirement from the Guy Fenter Education Service Cooperation. Where, for the past 18 years, he has spent time traveling the region providing educational opportunities to students and teachers alike.

He has always had a unique, hands-on teaching style. Students find his methods of learning about science exciting and most importantly, FUN!

“I want to thank the many teachers I have had the privilege of working with over the past several years,” shared Varnell. “I also thank the parents who shared the wonderful students I was able to work with. This region is blessed with both- you don’t fully realize that unless you’re out visiting schools across the state and nation.”

For Varnell, education isn’t about the financial payoff. “What do I receive from teaching? Here are 200 kids from Alma intermediate school (pictured below) eagerly awaiting to learn science. No money, no award, nothing is as valuable as seeing and hearing young people interested in learning! This is why I TEACH!”

Eagar and excited Alma middle school students ready to learn about science!

The news about his retirement spread quickly across the state. Teachers and students expressed their gratitude towards Varnell and for his many contributions to education. “God has blessed me to be able to live a life doing what I set as a goal to do at the age of 14, to teach. Garvin Green, Coach Jim Clay, Bentley Allen, and John Ross demonstrated what a teacher should be and provided a poor kid from the south side of the tracks encouragement to become a college student. Dennis Baltz, Ray Douglas, and Jack Hatcher gave me a job to enable me to work through college and Mr. Ehren and Mr. Harris gave me a job in Paris where I wanted to be. My mentor Joyce Hander taught me to do and not talk science. So many people that have meant so much to my life and career.”

Retired teachers, family, friends and members of the CO-OP recently held a surprise retirement party in Varnell’s honor. They presented him with a video from area students thanking him for fun-filled learning opportunities he has provided throughout the years. He was also presented with a cedar crafted rocking chair with an engraved plate commemorating his service.

The hardest part of changing jobs is leaving the kids and teachers that are like family,” shared Varnell. I said bye to my Hackett family, and one of the kids told me I was the grandfather she never had. I got so many hugs and a few tears- some from me.”

Varnell will officially retire on June 30. He plans to work as a consultant part-time with AIMS (Arkansas Initiative for Math and Science), write more books, and work as an adjunct at Arkansas Tech University. “That will keep me occupied and out of trouble,” Varnell joked.

These are letters to Dr. Curtis Varnell from the middle school students at St. Joseph School-Paris. The letters are thoughtful and well-written. An opening line says “thanks for taking us on adventures and not killing us.” 

We join the many others wishing Dr. Curtis Varnell well in his “retirement,” although chances are he will be busier than ever finding ways to continue sharing his gift of teaching with others.

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Tammy Teague
Tammy Teague
Tammy is the heart behind the brand. Her tenacity to curate authentic journalism, supported by a genuine heart is one her many wholesome qualities.
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