Evelyn Ammons (1937–2017)
Evelyn Ammons was county and circuit clerk for Scott County from 1979 to 1994 and served in the 80th, 81st, and 82nd Arkansas General Assemblies (1995–2000) as a state representative.
Evelyn Ammons was born on October 2, 1937, in Scott County to Omer Brian Ammons and Maud L. Gimlin Ammons. After Ammons’s father died when she was eleven months old, she, her two older sisters, and her mother left the farm and moved in with Evelyn’s grandmother, Hattie Sedalia Nunn Gimlin. Her mother went to work on a Works Progress Administration (WPA) program to support the family.
Ammons and her family moved to Waldron (Scott County) when she was in the first grade, and she attended public schools, graduating from Waldron High School in 1956. She spent a lot of time with her grandmother and loved sports, playing basketball and cheerleading. She belonged to school clubs, including Future Homemakers of America and Beta Club. She always worked when she was in high school, including as a waitress, as a summer hay hauler, and then as a part-time switchboard operator, noting, “It was a good place for a girl to work at that time.”
After high school, Ammons worked at the Waldron Furniture Manufacturing Company doing upholstery panels and then as a secretary for the Cooperative Extension Service at the Scott County Courthouse. Ammons decided to seek public office, running for county and circuit clerk in 1978, when the incumbent ran for county judge: “I decided I’d just run for office and if it worked out fine; if not, I would just go somewhere else. Sure enough, it worked out, and it was an interesting adventure. First run for office.” She ran her campaign out of her home, with family members volunteering to help. Gary Ashford, her nephew and chair of the Scott County Democratic Committee, managed her campaign.
Ammons served as county and circuit clerk for Scott County from 1979 to 1994, running unopposed in all races after the initial one, which she won with seventy-three percent in the Democratic Party primary. While serving as clerk, several people encouraged her to run for the legislature. When Representative W. R. “Bud” Rice decided to retire from the legislature after eighteen years of service, Ammons became interested in running. Her main concern was to provide constituent service and ensure that her district received its fair share of state funds. A distant cousin, Floyd Lee, had previously represented Scott County in the Arkansas House in 1949–1952.
In her 1994 campaign for the District 16 legislative seat, Ammons ran as a Democrat against two preferential primary opponents and garnered forty-nine percent, won the primary runoff (fifty-seven percent), and then won with fifty-eight percent against a Republican opponent in the general election, in a seat that had been targeted by Asa Hutchinson, then chairman of the Arkansas Republican Party. The first time she had ever been to the Arkansas State Capitol was the day she was sworn into office. She remarked of her time in office, “There wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t learn something.”
During her first term, Representative Ammons sponsored legislation to change the composition of the County and Circuit Clerks’ Continuing Education Board (Act 986 of 1995), and co-sponsored bills to require county governments to bid all purchases above $10,000 (Act 431 of 1995) and to allow public employees to purchase credit in the state retirement system for time lost due to injuries (Act 962 of 1995).
Ammons worked well with Representative Ed Wilkerson, also in his first term; later, she noted that if she and Wilkerson had doubts as to which way to vote, they would vote with Ode Maddox, an older representative from Mena (Polk County).
In 1996, Ammons easily beat her Republican opponent, who was the son of one of the opposing candidates in her 1994 race. In this second term (1997), House Speaker Bobby Hogue appointed Ammons as assistant speaker pro tem of the House of Representatives. In 1997, she also was a member of the Arkansas Tuition Trust Authority and the Natural Heritage Commission. She was passionate about funding for rural water systems. Ammons passed legislation to help home buyers by exempting from the real estate transfer tax purchases by those who had not owned a home within three years (Act 833 of 1997). In 1997 and 1998, she served as chair of the Small Business Subcommittee of the Agriculture and Economic Development Committee and as a member of the committees on Energy, Public Transportation, Agriculture and Economic Development, and Legislative Audit.
Ammons always had an opponent in her House races. In 1998, Ammons was challenged in the primary by the mayor of Waldron, who was running on “family issues” and criticizing her effectiveness in securing funding. She easily won the primary with sixty-nine percent of the vote and faced no opposition in the general election. In the 1999 session, she sponsored legislation providing funds for improvements and repairs at Sodie Davidson Park in Waldron (Act 800 of 1999). She served on the Legislative Council; the Joint Interim Committee on Energy; the House Public Health, Welfare and Labor committee; the Insurance and Commerce committee; and the House Management committee.
Ammons supported the closure of the Ouachita Wilderness Institute, a minimum-security facility for juvenile detainees, because of the potential for danger to the surrounding community and advocated its relocation to Fort Chaffee. She supported Crooked Creek, a tributary of the White River, being designated an Extraordinary Resource Water to stop commercial mining in the stream bed, but the legislation was defeated in committee. She wrote several requests to the Arkansas Attorney General for opinions on behalf of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.
Ammons retired from the House due to term limits in 2000. After her legislative service, the Scott County Democratic Women held an appreciation dinner to honor her service. “It was a good way to end my political career,” she said.
Ammons died in Waldron on January 28, 2017.
For additional information:
Evelyn Ammons video interview by Lindsley Armstrong Smith, March 12, 2006. “Women in the Arkansas General Assembly,” University of Arkansas Women’s Giving Circle and Diane D. Blair Center of Southern Politics & Society project. David and Barbara Pryor Center for Arkansas Oral and Visual History, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.
Obituary of Evelyn Ammons. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, January 29, 2017.
Lindsley Armstrong Smith and Stephen A. Smith
University of Arkansas, Fayetteville
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