Never Let the Road Dust Settle

Story by Jeannie Stone

“He’s the wild one,” Marie said and pointed to James. “He’s had a motorcycle ever since, well, before we dated.” James chuckled.

Although he came to Russellville a banker, James Biggers has shared his expertise in developing the area’s resources, as well as strengthening the banking community. Both Marie and James Biggers are heavily invested in the community and the region’s most valuable asset, the youth of the River Valley.

James rose from humble beginnings. Growing up the son of a widow in Tuckerman, Ark., there were extras they simply couldn’t afford. A motorcycle was one of those extras. As a young boy, he clipped a picture from everyman’s wish book, the Sears and Roebuck catalog, and placed it under his pillow. Although, a bike didn’t spring forth spontaneously, James’ lifelong fascination with motorcycles had taken hold.

Leaving the small town in northeastern Arkansas, he also took with him the experiences of growing up in a tight community but fatherless.

James and Marie met at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. They didn’t begin dating until Marie moved to Little Rock to fulfill her student-teaching requirement, and James transferred to the University of Arkansas at Little Rock to complete his accounting studies. Ten months later, they married.

James’ imprint on the River Valley is marked by his penchant for starting things up. His career in Russellville began in 1984 as a lending officer for the former People’s Bank, then owned by Worthen Bank. A dozen years later, as the bank faced the prospects of new ownership, James realized the need for a strong, locally-owned bank. He, along with six other organizers, founded River Valley Bank in 1997.

“You know, the bank encouraged him to sell the motorcycle for safety purposes, so he bought a little sports car as a substitute,” Marie said.

“It didn’t last for six months,” James said. “It just wasn’t the same.”

Although, James knew about banking, he didn’t know much about the workings of an office. He accepted his wife’s offer to help out.

“I didn’t think it was a good idea, to tell you the truth,” he said with a smile, “but we didn’t have a logo – or even a stapler to our name. We had to start from scratch, and we needed help.”

A marketing company was hired to develop the logo and take care of the marketing needs of the grand opening, and, from there, Marie acted as the bank’s public relationships officer along with employee and friend Judy Lawton.

“I did all the advertising,” she said and laughed, “but I paid the bills, too. It was a little bit of everything. You know it was a learning experience for both of us. After all, my degree was in teaching, not marketing.”

The relationships the couple formed with the bank personnel have remained strong over the years.

“Everyone who has ever worked with James loves him,” Marie said. “He just cares about each one of them, and it shows.”

James served as the chairman of the board until the bank was purchased by Bank of the Ozarks in 2003. He currently serves on the board of directors at First State Bank in Russellville.

Outside of the banking industry, James served as president of the River Valley United Way, president of the Russellville Chamber of Commerce, two terms on the Russellville School Board and served as the chairman of the board of directors for City Corp.

While associated with City Corp, an appointed commission of the city of Russellville charged with the management of the water and sewer systems. The Board oversaw the construction of the Huckleberry Dam which created a reservoir ensuring a safe water supply for the next 50 plus years.

His solid reputation as a professional and upstanding member of the community could be a bit misleading. James is, after all, an authentic HOG.

In this case, HOG stands for Harley- owners group, and James is an avid member of the international club, even attending the annual rally in Sturgis, South Dakota.

“It’s indescribable really,” he said. “There were half a million people in that little town for a week doing all manner of things.”

“No, I didn’t have to go,” Marie said and shook her head.

They have participated in HOG group rides, however. Last year, they made a 900- mile road trip and got caught in a hail storm.

“It felt like you-know-what, too,” James said. “We were in the middle of nowhere, so we had to just keep on going.”

But the couple does enjoy traveling together, particularly to visit national parks. They are especially fond of Colorado in September.

“The Aspen area is the prettiest when the leaves start changing,” he said. “I can’t describe how beautiful the mountains are. The mountains shine like Vegas lights. That’s the only way I can describe it,” James said.

Their fondest travel memory didn’t occur on the open road but rather the sea. The couple took a Mediterranean cruise and is hoping to try another.

“We woke up in a different port every morning, and when I opened the curtains, I felt as if I was living in a book,” James said.

Once her talents were no longer needed at the bank, Marie was able to pursue other interests as well. Service and art are her passions. She has been involved with the Manna House community pantry which operates as an outreach project of First United Methodist Church, served as an officer with the United Methodist Women, and has a long standing association with the Philanthropic Educational Organization and the Culture Club. She is a life member with the Junior Auxiliary.

Marie has spent years trying different artistic endeavors from the numerous talented artists in the community but has settled on oil painting and is currently studying under Sarah Keathley.

Their daughter Jayme and husband Carter Jones, of Charlotte, North Carolina, are expecting their first baby, and their son Coe is studying conservation administration at the University of Arkansas.

Over the years, the Biggerses have invested their resources toward developing a healthy community for the youth of the River Valley. James had prior experience working with the Boys and Girls Club in Benton before moving to Russellville.

“I was impressed with how much good the club did for the kids in the community who had nowhere to go after school because both parents were working,” he said. “Russellville is such a nice place to live, but I couldn’t believe it didn’t have a boys and girls club when I moved here. When I started talking about the need, though, people hooked on to that idea, and it just took off,” he said.

James was one of the initial developers of the Boys and Girls Club in Russellville and served as its first president. The club, which opened in 1989, offers character and leadership development, education and career development, the arts, sports, fitness and recreation, and health and life skills. It serves to fill a hole in the fabric of modern day communities and serves over 3,000 youth in the area.

Marie and James were also instrumental in the development of ValleyFest, the annual fundraiser benefiting the club. Cathy Andrasik, executive director, is quick to elaborate on the event‘s impact on the club.

“ValleyFest has been a major fund-raiser for the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Arkansas River Valley since 1990. We have been very fortunate for all of those years to have an event that has been supported greatly by our local communities, and it wouldn’t have happened without the visionaries in the community like James Biggers.”

The funds generated through the event help defray costs in the club’s everyday operations. Last summer, the event raised $77,000.

James’ mother, Roberta, retired from her teaching position and moved to Russellville to be closer to her son and daughter-in-law. “But she is very independent,” he said and chuckled. “She plays bridge several times a week, goes to the fitness center every day and reads four or five books a week. She’s hard to keep up with. She loves this community, too.”

James and Marie continue to volunteer for ValleyFest every year. “We have worked well together for 34 years,” Marie said.

“And there are a lot more roads to travel,” James said, winking.

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