David Leech and his mother, Louine Leech are among four University of Arkansas at Monticello graduates who have been selected to receive alumni awards at an inaugural dinner for UAM Chancellor Karla Hughes on October 21.

David Leech will receive the 2016 UAM Alumni Award for Achievement and Merit.

Louine Leech, one of UAM’s oldest living graduates, will receive the Continuing the Connection Award for best keeping alive the connection between UAM and Arkansas A&M.

David and Louine Leech, along with Roger McClellan and Clarence Denmark, will be recognized on Friday, October 21 at 6 p.m. in the John F. Gibson University Center. For tickets, contact Christy Pace at (870) 460-1020 or [email protected] before October 12, 2016.

David and Louine Leech

David Leech learned the value of a dollar at an early age. Leech started making money about the time he removed the training wheels from his bicycle. By 12 years old, he had $3,200 in his savings account, accumulated through an assortment of odd jobs. By the time he finished college at the University of Arkansas at Monticello in 1972, he had more than $40,000 in the bank, which he used to finance the purchase of a grocery store in McGehee, beginning a long and lucrative career in the retail grocery business.

“I learned early on that it’s not how much money you make, but how much you keep and how you let the capital work that matters,” he said.

Leech is retired now, living next to a golf course in Stuttgart less than a block from his 99-year-old mother, Louine. The family’s history dates to the earliest days of UAM when it was known as the Fourth District Agricultural School. Louine’s mother, Hattie Bell Moseley Selman, graduated from UAM in 1912 while it was still a high school. Her uncle, Marvin Bankston, was teaching agriculture at what was then Arkansas A&M College when Louine Selman enrolled for classes in 1934. Bankston became president of A&M in 1938, the year Louine graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English. Today, a residence hall bears her uncle’s name.

David Leech’s wife, Jimmie Jo, is the granddaughter of long-time Arkansas A&M Dean of Students James H. Hutchinson. The couple’s son, Charles Robert, graduated from UAM in 2003.

“When you look at the history our family has with Arkansas A&M and UAM, these awards mean so much to both of us,” David said. “UAM is a special place.”

The country was in the throes of the Great Depression when Louine began her freshman year at Arkansas A&M. Tuition was $12.50 a semester, a gallon of gas was 15 cents and most students had to work on campus to make ends meet. Louine worked in the cafeteria and later in the business office while living in a brand-new girls’ dormitory named for long-time A&M President Frank Horsfall, who resigned Louine’s freshman year. Louine knew Horsfall — “He was very strict. He believed if a boy kissed a girl, they were going to have a baby the next day.” — as well as Stewart Ferguson, the controversial coach of the Wandering Weevil football team. “I liked Ferguson,” she remembers. “He was very personable.”

Louine attended Chillicothe Business College in Missouri following graduation from A&M, earning a business degree in 1939. She met her future husband, Bob, a star football player at the University of Missouri, at a USO dance in Little Rock when he drew her name out of a box. A few days later, he asked a friend for her telephone number, the couple began dating and were married on March 22, 1941.

Bob and Louine owned and operated Sunflower Grocery Stores in Monticello, Dermott and Hamburg for 40 years and celebrated 74 years of marriage last March before Bob’s death on July 29, 2016.

David Leech combined a relentless work ethic and a nose for business to become an entrepreneur at an early age. In the ninth grade, he negotiated a deal with Frank Jackson, publisher of the Advance Monticellonian, to handle all the newspapers vending machines around town. He purchased the vending machines himself from his savings and placed them on every street corner in town, receiving a cut for every newspaper sold.

As a student at UAM, Leech was out of bed at 5:30 a.m. to work as a janitor cleaning the local USDA office before heading to class. When class was over, he sold “upgraded” textbooks to students. “When I say upgraded, I mean I went through them and highlighted the important information, particularly information that I knew had been on tests,” he says. “The bookstore wouldn’t touch those books, but the students loved them.”

With a freshly minted business degree from UAM, Leech opened his first Sunflower-Mayflower Food Store in McGehee on April 1, 1973. He later added stores in Dermott, Monticello, Star City, Cherokee Village, Carlisle, Stuttgart and Searcy. He retired from the grocery business in 2015 and spends much of his time heavily involved in civic activities in Stuttgart.

He credits his success to his father. “I got my work ethic from my dad,” he said. “I’ve always liked to work. Still do.”