Charlotte Tillar Schexnayder, age 96, retired editor-publisher of The Dumas Clarion and former state representative, passed away in Little Rock on December 11, 2020.
With her late husband, Melvin Schexnayder, she owned Clarion Publishing Co. for 44 years and published The Clarion and Delta Advertiser before retiring in 1996. She served in the Arkansas House of Representatives from 1985-1999.
Born on Christmas Day, 1923 in Tillar, Arkansas, she was the daughter of Jewell Stephen Tillar and Bertha Terry Tillar. She graduated from Tillar High School, attended Arkansas A. & M. College (now UAM) and the University of Chicago before enrolling at Louisiana State University where she earned a B.A. in sociology and journalism.
Her interest in journalism began in the seventh grade when she created a hand-written newspaper as an English assignment. During her college years, she was advertising manager of the Weevil Outlet at A & M College and campus editor of The Reveille at LSU. She worked as an assistant editor of The McGehee Times in the summers. She served as assistant editor for the LSU Extension Service in 1943 before becoming editor of the McGehee Times in 1944-1946.
She married Melvin J. Schexnayder on August 18, 1946, and they returned to LSU to complete their studies there. They came to McGehee in 1948 to become editor and advertising manager of The McGehee Times where they worked until purchasing The Dumas Clarion in 1954 which they owned for over four decades.
Mrs. Schexnayer was elected president of the Arkansas Press Women in 1955 and was the first woman elected to membership in the Little Rock chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists before becoming the chapter president in 1973. She served as president of the National Federation of Press Women from 1977-1979. She became the first woman president of the National Newspaper Association, Arkansas Press Association, the Little Rock Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, and the Dumas Chamber of Commerce. She was also the first woman appointed to the Arkansas Board of Pardons and Paroles. She was honorary chair, National Newspaper Association government conference in 2008.
She served as chairman of the Arkansas Rural Development Commission, chairman and co-founder of the Dumas Area Community Foundation, president of Main Street Dumas, and was a founding board member and vice president of the Desha County Museum Society. She was a founder of the Dumas summer festival, Ding Dong Days, which was named after a famous song.
One of the seven founders of the Arkansas Endowment for the Humanities, she was also a board member of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, Women’s Foundation of Arkansas, Governor’s Commission on the Status of Women, Capital Arts Commission, Arkansas Waterways Association, Central Arkansas Radiation Therapy Institute, Arkansas Transitional Employment Assistance Council, Arkansas Main Street, Historic Preservation Alliance of Arkansas, Arkansas I-69 Association. She had been a juror for the William Allen White Awards, University of Kansas, and a member of the Board of Visitors, Manship School of Mass Communications, Louisiana State University.
Chosen Arkansas Press Woman of Achievement in 1969, and Woman of Achievement by the National Federation of Press Women in 1970, she was the Arkansas Journalist of the Year in 1978. Her other honors included the Emma McKinney Award for National Outstanding Community Newspaperwoman, 1982; first journalist award, Arkansas Chapter, National Conference of Christians and Jews, 1989; George Washington Honor Medal, American Freedoms Foundation, 1973; Alumni Hall of Distinction, Louisiana State University, 1994; Eugene Cervi Award for outstanding service, International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors, 1996; Distinguished Service Award, Arkansas Press Association, 1993; Hall of Fame, Manship School of Mass Communication, Louisiana State University, 1998; Horizon Award, Arkansas League of Women Voters, 1998; Distinguished Alumnus, University of Arkansas at Monticello, 1970; Distinguished Service Award, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, 1992; Rural Advocate of the Year, 1999; State Leadership Award, Arkansas Waterways Association, 1996; Outstanding Affiliate Board Member, Arkansas Community Foundation, Outstanding Board Member, Arkansas Main Street program; and was inducted into the Arkansas Women’s Hall of Fame, 2019. She received more than 500 newspaper contest awards. In 2012, she published her memoir, The Salty Old Editor: An Adventure in Ink.
She was chosen among the top 100 women in Arkansas for five years; she was recognized as an Arkansas Professional Woman of Distinction by Worthen Bank, received the Arkansas State Chamber Award of Exceptional Accomplishment, and was honored for outstanding leadership, Women’s Foundation of Arkansas.
In her political career, she focused on rural development and Southeast Arkansas. Her first bill was for a compact to build a Mississippi River Bridge from Desha County, Arkansas to Bolivar County, Mississippi. Other legislation she sponsored included the establishment of a rural advocacy department in Arkansas, a mixed drink tax to finance a research building at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, state financing of political primaries, Adopt a Highway program, after-school programs, and ethics and campaign finance reforms. She was an assistant speaker pro tem in 1995 and member of the U. S. Electoral College in 1992. In 2016, she was honored by the Arkansas Democratic Party for her service in the state House of Representatives for 14 years.
She was a member of Holy Child Catholic Church where she served on the church council and formerly on The Guardian, Catholic newspaper, board. She had been on boards for the Dumas Library, Dumas Park Commission, Jodie Partridge Center for Developmentally Disabled, Desha County Bicentennial Commission, Dumas Area Arts Council, and the Dumas Economic Development Committee.
Preceded in death by her husband, she is survived by two sons, John (Deanna) Schexnayder of Austin, Texas, and Steve (Becky) Schexnayder of Little Rock; a daughter, Sarah (Mark) Steen of Frisco, Texas; nine grandchildren, Charles Schexnayder, Edward (Aliza) Schexnayder, David (Jessica) Schexnayder, Lauren (Graham) Smith, Emily (Jose) Gutierrez, Allison (Brian) Tabberer, Daniel Schexnayder, Annie (Hunter) Biram, and Amy Schexnayder; and twelve great grandchildren.
A private family burial will be followed by a grand celebration of her life when public health conditions improve, likely during the summer of 2021. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to the Desha County Museum Endowment, Delta Area Community Foundation, P.O. Box 894, Dumas, AR 71639, or the Arkansas Food Bank to fight hunger during the pandemic.